Sarah Hodgson, Monday 16 April 2012
When guests visit Kingston we tell them, in all honesty, that we’ve always been a loyal lot here.
There’s scarcely a tint of republicanism in our true blue blood. Kingston, the town of kings, has been home to Royalty right from the earliest times. In fact, you might tell your guests that Royal history began here...
It’s a great story, one fit for a king - or seven! Here we take a walk down memory lane and recreate some of those right Royal moments, as well as looking forward to Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and all the local celebrations held in her honour.
The story of Kingston’s Royal heritage begins with the very first mention of Kingston in surviving written history. A document held at the British Library records the ‘Great Council of Kingston’ in 838 AD held by King Egbert of Wessex. This is, you must remember, way before the Normans invaded and we were all forced to become French. This is English history, about as old as you can get!
Carrying on our Royal tradition, no fewer than seven Saxon Kings (hence Seven Kings car park) were crowned in Kingston between 900 AD and 979 AD, and the Coronation Stone, now located in the Guildhall grounds, is believed to have been used at these crowning ceremonies. The first king crowned here was the son of Alfred the Great (but probably not Alfred himself, sadly) known as Edward the Elder in 900, followed by his son Athelstan in 925, Edmond in 940, Edred in 946, Eadwig 956 AD, Edward the Martyr in 975, and last but not least - and nothing to do with his name - Ethelred the Unready in 979.
You can go and take a look at the Coronation Stone and marvel at how ancient it is. And say a passing prayer for them all at All Saints’ Church – you will be standing on the site of a Saxon chapel, the Chapel of the Coronations. Currently undergoing an extensive programme of restoration, All Saints is the spiritual centre of the thriving commercial hub that is contemporary Kingston.
Apparently, we have King Athelstan to thank for first conferring ‘Royal Borough’ status on Kingston - we are one of only four Royal Boroughs in England and Wales - the others are Windsor, Kensington & Chelsea and Caernarvon. And the very name, Kingston, signifies that the land was a Royal estate or manor - it probably has nothing to do with the King’s Stone - but we all have our myths and legends to maintain.
Later, bad King John showed good heart and exempted Kingston from paying taxes to the sheriff. Henry VIII ‘acquired’ for his mistress Lady Anne Boleyn the wonderful Hampton Court, built by the people of Kingston in the 16th century for Cardinal Wolsey. Linking the palace and the town was Kingston’s old wooden bridge which was deliberately broken by residents in 1554 to stop rebel Thomas Wyatt from crossing. For this loyalty, then-reigning monarch Mary Tudor granted Kingston the right to hold a new fair. We’ve always loved a fair in Kingston and this year’s May Merrie on 7 May will see Kingston University students interpreting and re-enacting local May Day traditions (portrayed in the commemorative stained glass window at Kingston Museum). Watch out for this piece of living history.
Kingstonians continued to benefit from Royal Charters – Charles I gave Kingston the right to ban other markets within seven miles - and today the market is the heart of Kingston, selling fresh fruit, veg and flowers. Elizabeth I endowed Kingston’s first Grammar School in what had been the Lovekyn Chapel. Victoria graced us with her Royal presence in the 19th century, Queen’s Promenade is named after her, and our very own Elizabeth II visited us in 2002, the year of her Golden Jubilee, unveiling a commemorative plaque to her Saxon Royal ancestor Edward the Elder in All Saints Church. Most recently Prince Edward visited Surbiton to mark the completion of Surbiton’s coronation clock tower and has remained a supporter of Kingston’s artistic initiatives, singing the praises of the International Youth Arts Festival here.
There is much to love about our Royal past and much to celebrate - so raise a glass with your friends to the ghosts of ancient Royal Kingston at the Diamond Jubilee. You never know, you might just hear a faint cheer from the spirits of Kingston past. Long live the Queen...
With special thanks to Alan Brown for his research