New work: Kingston upon Thames revisited

Nowadays, you’ll find me in Kingston upon Thames maybe four times a week as it’s my main place of work. However, save for a driving lesson in 2003 when I passed through but didn’t actually set foot in the town, my first proper visit to Kingston was in June 2017, for a Surrey Archaeological Society Medieval Studies Forum day which focused on the later medieval town, and also to a lesser extent on its earlier medieval origins.

Kingston stands out so far as this blog is concerned because it is one of the few place in Surrey that can be said to have been of national (or equivalent) historical consequence in the early medieval period. (See also: Chertsey, Farnham if I’m being generous, possibly the great assembly and battle site of Acleah if the relevant records pertain to the same place and it was situated in Surrey.) Its prominence rests on it being the coronation place of three tenth-century kings: Athelstan, Eadred and Æthelred II (it has been claimed – and too often accepted – that four or maybe even five other Kings were crowned here despite the evidential basis for these assertions being extremely weak). Moreover, a number of extant charters were promulgated in the course of royal assemblies convened at Kingston in the same period. It also has an earlier documented history as the site of an important council meeting held in 838.


A plaque with the names and coronation dates of the Anglo-Saxon kings crowned or reputedly crowned at Kingston, on the facade of a building at the north-west corner of the town’s Market Square

This substantial recorded history may point to Kingston being a prominent, distinctive place, but, thanks in the main to important work produced over the past 30 years by Dr Jill Bourne, we know it has a name that is indicative of royal associations of an altogether more run-of-the-mill kind. In a chapter in her recent monograph, Bourne set out to square the implications of Kingston upon Thames’ name and documented functions in the ninth to eleventh centuries CE. While the case she makes is admirably interdisciplinary in nature, in the end I don’t think she cracks it – in part due to some faulty readings of crucial pieces of evidence.

Having already half-read Bourne’s book at the time of my visit (but being very familiar with her previously-published research into Kingston-type place-names), I duly succumbed to writing up some thoughts both old and new about Kingston. To assist in this process, I amassed a far greater body of published relevant archaeological data than has been presented in previous studies – of which there have been a fair few in recent decades. As a result, while I don’t claim to have proved anything (other than some errors made by previous authors), I am happy that the end product, and above all new model of post-Roman settlement development in the Kingston area proffered within, makes the best use of the various types of evidence available at the present time, and can be tested against future archaeological discoveries made in Kingston town centre and its hinterland.

Read the entire essay by clicking here. Members of the Medieval Studies Forum received an earlier but more or less identical version of it with issue 14 of the Forum Newsletter in May 2018, edited by me. A quick word to the wise first; it is very long. I would have chopped it down to size but I kept on coming across new references and the whole thing was starting to take over my life, so I used editor’s privilege to say enough’s enough and issue it at a clearly-excessive 20+ pages. I suppose the good news is that there’s more in there now than in a shorter, sharper piece, and I’m happy for it to be mined as a compilation of data and references. I’m just glad it’s done and it’s decent.

About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Charters, Folklore, History, Landscape, Latin, Old English, Place-Names, Pottery, Ritual, Thames, Topography, Trade and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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