Kingston was built at the first crossing point of the Thames upstream from London Bridge. The earliest surviving record of Kingston is from AD 838 as the site of a meeting between King Egbert of Wessex, and Ceolnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury. The town lay on the boundary between the ancient Kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, until in the early tenth century when King Athelstan united both to create the Kingdom of England. The town had several previous names including Kingeston in 1164, and Kingestowne upon Thames in 1589. The name means ‘The king’s manor or estate’. Two tenth-century kings were consecrated in Kingston, Ethelstan (925) and Ethelred the Unready (978).Other Saxon kings are believed to have held their coronations there.
Kingston evolved as a market town from the Saxon period with goods transported on the Thames and over land. Rights to hold the markets were granted by royal charter. A horse fair was held at a site downstream of the river north of the bridge. From Medieval times Shrovetide Football was played annually at Kingston and in surrounding towns. The windows of houses and shops were boarded up, and inhabitants would kick several balls around the town before retiring to the public houses. The last game was played in 1866. Edward IV gave the town the status of a borough in 1481. It had been known as a Royal borough through custom and this title was confirmed by George V in 1927. Kingston upon Thames was the seat of Surrey County Council from 1893 until 1965, before it became one of the 32 London boroughs of Greater London.
At the start of the English Civil war in 1642, the town was occupied for a short period by parliamentary troops. They withdrew later that year, and were replaced by royalists. Eventually they also left, and parliamentary troops returned until the end of the war. During the 18th century Kingston was an important coaching town, but the Druid’s Head is the only contemporary inn surviving from that period. The railway came to Kingston in 1863, with the opening of the town’s station. There followed extensive building developments to the south of the town, with part of this becoming Surbiton. For much of the 20th century, Kingston was a major military aircraft manufacturing centre, first with Sopwith Aviation, later with Hawker Siddeley, and eventually British Aerospace. The site was closed in 1992. Examples of the many aircraft built at the former Kingston site can now be seen at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge.
Kingston Technical institute opened in 1899, receiving university status in 1992, before which it was known as Kingston Polytechnic. The famous department store Bentalls established 1867, was fully redeveloped in 1990-2, and opened as a new shopping complex known as the Bentall Centre. With 18 million visitors each year Kingston upon Thames has the fourth highest retail turnover for comparison goods in Greater London. There have been several cinemas and theatres in the town, including The Empire Theatre which opened in 1910. It showcased twice nightly variety shows until it closed in 1955. In 2008 the Rose Theatre opened, with a design based upon a theatre once used by William Shakespeare. The town has been covered in literature, films and television. It is where the Victorian novel ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K Jerome begins.
Kingston hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics torch relay, with the flame travelling through the borough on the 24 July and aboard the Gloriana row barge in a cauldron on 27 July, on route to the Olympic Stadium. The borough was the setting for four cycling events during the games. Following the Olympics the London-Surrey Classic professional road bicycle race ran through the town from 2013 to 2018.
With a population of 175,470 (2018), its pleasant riverside setting, green spaces, good shopping, night life and transport links, Kingston upon Thames remains one of the most popular boroughs in London.