12 September 2015

Kingston Heritage Open Days 2015

The Kingston Heritage Open Days (HODs) are a major event for the Kingston upon Thames Society and this year I volunteered again to guide people around The Guildhall. "Guide" is probably too strong a word as I did little more that usher them from one room to the next and I relied on the objects to tell their own stories, luckily most of the exhibits on the walls were well labelled.

There were several parts to the short tour. The Guildhall was built in 1935 and is typical of that period. Kingston Council has maintained the period features over the years, I suspect more because they did not want to spend money updating the building than because they wanted to retain the heritage, and so the building itself was a significant part of the tour.

One of the rooms I took the visitors was the Council Chamber where the historical crest combined nicely with the ceiling light.

The main part of The Guildhall tour was the visit to the Mayor's Parlour. This was a room steeped in history, including the ceremonial mace, and interesting objects gifted to the Council over the years. We also had the current Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mary Clark, as our host and the official Mace Bearer, Brian, as our expert on the history of the Council and all the objects in the room.

Brian's talk and explanation of the objects brought the history of the Royal Borough to life. It was fascinating even though I had heard it before.

In the grounds of The Guildhall was the Coronation Stone which commemorates the crowning of Saxon kings in Kingston. The stone probably does not date back to that time but it is old.

Pictures inside The Guildhall show the stone in its original location a few meters away in what is now the middle of the main road. At first people and horses could easily move around it, then it became a mini-roundabout and finally the increasing volume of traffic meant that it had to be moved to its current location.

Before The Guildhall was built the Town Council (as it was then) met in the Market House which survives as the centre-piece of the Ancient Market. Looking down on the market was the golden statue of Queen Anne.

Kingston owes its existence to river crossings and when John Lewis was being build just over 25 years ago evidence of a previous bridge was found just downstream from the current one. John Lewis Partnership have been good custodians of the remains and these were open to the public for HODs.

The former Bentalls shop (now the Bentalls Centre) was designed by the same architect, Maurice Webb, who designed The Guildhall and he took Hampton Court as his inspiration. When the Bentalls Centre was build the original facade was retained, and it is easy to see why.

Out of Order is Kingston's most famous work of art and probably its most famous landmark. It is often used as the symbol for the town on postcards etc. I love it.

Aviation played a large part in Kingston's history and Sopwith had his main factory just north of the town centre until the company moved about a mile north to Ham. Sadly both sites are now housing (I live in one of them!) but some of the ancillary buildings survive. This one is in Canbury Park Road and is now the home to the marvellous BalletBoyz. It's a wonderful space put to wonderful use.

In another room was an exhibition on Kingston's aviation history that was packed with informative display boards, evocative photographs, models and paintings, and enthusiastic people. Kingston's aviation history is something that people are interested in and want to learn more about. The exhibition deserves a permanent home.

Kingston Heritage Open Days were a lot of fun for me and I was pleased to see so many other people taking part. I guess we will be doing HODs again next year.

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