REVIEW OF BOOKS ON THE HISTORY OF KINGSTON UPON THAMES.

Abstract

Audrey C. Giles, 2015, It started with coffee in the Vestry.  The history of the Kingston and Surbiton Young Men’s Christian Association, 1858-1908, Kingston University Press, ISBN 978-1-899999-75-0, illustrated, total of 269 pages.

This history of the YMCA in Kingston and Surbiton largely was based on original sources. The Kingston Association was formed in the new Congregational Church in March 1858 when the Rev. Laurence Byrnes invited local young men to take coffee with him in the vestry, and between 40-50 took up the invitation. The book’s intriguing title derives from this event.  The following quotation from the back cover of the book neatly describes the background of the times, which motivated the Rev. Byrnes to take action.  “Towards the end of the 1850s there were nearly 500 young men living in Kingston and Surbiton, described in the Census as apprentices, boarders, lodgers or servants, a third being under twenty years of age.  Many of these young people laboured more than fifteen hours a day, and as they lived In the building where they worked, they rarely saw daylight except on a Sunday.  It was said of Kingston that it still clung to the customs of the dark ages.  Even in 1866, one young man referred to himself as a white slave.” The Surbiton branch of the YMCA started around 1868 because a few young men working in the area found it difficult getting to Kingston in time for the meetings.  The book outlines the ups and downs of the Kingston and Surbiton YMCAs between 1858-1908. It shows how they reacted to the challenges posed by important local issues such as the early closing movement and the temperance debate.  Furthermore, it provides information on the lives of officials, members, sponsors and supporters.   In my opinion it makes a significant contribution to the history of Kingston and provides a wider perspective of the social history of the period covered.

 

Patricia Ward with Bob Phillips, 2015, The story of Tolworth, Broomfield Press, ISBN 978-0-9933487-0-9, illustrated, total of 221 pages.

This is an account of a part of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames that some might think was almost without history.  However, the authors show that Tolworth’s origins can be traced to Iron Age settlements, one of which stood on the site of the former Tolworth Court Farm, which can be identified in Doomsday Book records. “Talworth Court” is marked on a map of Surrey, dated 1596. Kingston is also shown on this map, thus, in the opinion of the authors, suggesting the comparative importance of Talworth Court at the time.  Moreover, a hamlet called “Talworth”, close to Kingston Common, is marked on an Ordnance Survey map of 1816.  The authors outline how Tolworth was eclipsed by the development of Surbiton after the coming of the railway in 1838.   Then, they focus on the effects of the  Kingston Bypass, which opened in 1927, and the growth of Tolworth up to the present day.  This is the latest history of Tolworth, and in my opinion it makes a contribution that will be of interest to those studying the rise of suburbia.

 

Shaan Butters, 2013, “That famous place”. A history of Kingston upon Thames, Kingston University Press, ISBN 978-1-899999-79-8, illustrated, total of 569 pages. 

This can be seen as a second edition of Shaan Butter’s history, “The book of Kingston” published in 1995, although it is brought up to date, revised and much wider-ranging.  This is illustrated by a summary that is taken from the back cover of the book.  “That famous place…called Kingston was first mentioned in 838, but people lived here in prehistoric and Roman times, when today’s town centre was an island.  Saxon Kingston became a royal estate with an important church; at least two 10th century kings were crowned here.  By 1200 Kingston was a town, with a charter and a Thames bridge; it developed as a medieval market town and river port.  Reformation brought conflict: both Wyatt’s rebels and the Civil War came to Kingston.  In the 18th century Kingston was still a small country town, dominated by malting, brewing and coaching.  The railway transformed it: population soared and suburbs developed. From 1900, Kingston’s shopping and light engineering prospered.  Its aircraft industry helped Britain win two world wars.  Since 1945, industry has declined.  Modern Kingston is both commuter suburb and vibrant local economic centre: famous for schools as well as shops, it has been a university town since 1992.”   As Michael Davison, writing in December 2014 in the Newsletter of the Kingston upon Thames Society, stated, “This must surely remain the definitive history of Kingston in its totality…”

 

Michael Davison, 2012, The first 50 years. A history of the Kingston upon Thames Society, The Kingston upon Thames Society, ISBN 978-0-9505176-2-9, illustrated, total of 48 pages.

This history was written to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Kingston upon Thames Society.  It was drawn extensively from its Committee’s minutes and on research carried out Kingston’s Local History Room, which has since become the Local History Centre.   The Society was started in opposition to a plan for a local ring road which threatened completely to sever the medieval town centre from the River Thames to which it owed its birth, and its inaugural meeting was held on 2 October 1962.   The Society was successful in its opposition to the ring road and later campaigned successfully for the establishment of a riverside walk, the pedestrianisation of Clarence Street, an important shopping area, and for exclusion of traffic  from the historic market place.  It also played an important part in saving Picton House, the 18th century riverside home of Cesar Picton, a former slave from Senegal, who established himself as a coal merchant in Kingston. The Society continues to promote high standards of planning, conservation and design in the centre of Kingston and the districts of Coombe, the Maldens, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington.  In my opinion, this book will be of interest to social historians because it gives a interesting account of how a group of like-minded individuals organised themselves for a common purpose and founded a Society that thrives stil

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The Author

David A. Kennedy, PhD

About 20 years ago, I accompanied my late wife to some talks on the use of computers in historical research and began to help her with her genealogical studies. Later, I took part in a project, organised by the Centre for Local History Studies at Kingston University, to digitise the Enumerators’ Books for the Kingston Census of 1851-1891. This rekindled my interest in history, especially that of Kingston upon Thames, where I live. This website has been set up so that I can share my research findings, some based on digitised material, with others who may be interested in them.

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