Westminster Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066, but before William the Conqueror was declared King in what was then a newish abbey and power and prestige moved from Winchester to London, where did some of his predecessors get crowned? The clue is in the name, and the answer can be found about 10 miles south west of central London in Kingston-upon-Thames.
I went to Kingston (as it is usually known) a couple of weeks ago to watch a friend of mine in a play at the Rose Theatre, and had passed through a couple of years ago on my Thames Walk. On that occasion I had visited the church of All Saints, which had a large sign outside declaring it was ‘Where England Began’, a bold claim, but perfectly justified.
Edward the Elder (son of Alfred the Great) was crowned in Kingston in AD 900. The country at that point was still separate Kingdoms (the main four being East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex) with some of the country still under Danish rule, which is why Edward called himself “Anglorum Saxonum Rex”, the King of the Anglo-Saxons. Twenty-five years later, Edward’s son Athelstan was also crowned in Kingston and as the first King to reign over all the previously separate kingdoms, he is the first king that could be properly described as a King of England. Between AD 900 and AD 979, seven kings are thought to have been crowned in Kingston.
Outside the Guildhall in Kingston is the very stone, on which over 1000 years ago those kings sat for the early coronation ceremonies, laying the foundations for the same ceremony that saw the Queen crowned in 1953. This ancient stone was moved to its current position in 1935, having spent a great deal of its existence being rather unceremoniously used as a mounting block for horsemen in the nearby Market Place. The names of each of the seven kings are inscribed around the base of the stone with a single coin from each of their reigns, set in to the plinth.
On a slightly different note, the coronation stone stands next to a small river, the Hogsmill, which a short distance away flows in to the Thames. A small bridge, called Clattern Bridge, takes traffic over the river to and from Kingston town centre. It is actually the oldest surviving bridge in London. The name is thought to derive from the descriptive sound of horses clattering over the bridge, with the earliest known reference to it, ‘clateryngbrugge’ dating back to 1293, although numerous sources claim its origins are late 12th century. The bridge has not surprisingly received much needed amendments in more recent centuries, but with its three flint arches, is a wonderful example of a medieval multi-span bridge.
If you’d like to visit Kingston-upon-Thames from central London, trains run frequently from Waterloo Station.
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