Kingston was built at the first crossing point of the Thames upstream from London Bridge and a bridge still exists at the same site. Kingston was occupied by the Romans, and later it was either a royal residence or a royal demesne. There is a record of a council held there in 838, at which Egbert of Wessex, King of Wessex, and his son Ethelwulf of Wessex were present; and in this record it is styled Kyningestun famosa illa locus. In Old English, tun, ton or don meant farmstead - so the name Kingston may have been thought to mean farmstead of the kings. Seven Saxon kings are traditionally said to have been crowned at Kingston, while seated on a large stone - The Coronation Stone - that stands outside the Guildhall. There is a local rumour that these Saxon coronations gave Kingston its name, but the records of the 838 council disprove this.
Kingston upon Thames appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Chingestone and Chingetun(e). It was held by William the Conqueror. Its domesday assets were: a church, five mills, three fisheries worth 10s, 27 ploughs, 40 acres of meadow, woodland worth six hogs. It rendered £30.
The first of the charters given to the town of Kingston was granted by King John in 1200 but the oldest one to survive is from 1208 and this document is housed in the town's archives. Other charters were issued by later kings, including Edward IV's charter that gave the town the status of a borough in 1481. Some interesting relics have been discovered to support this history, and statues of some of the Saxon kings and of King John were preserved in a chapel. In 1730 the chapel containing the royal effigies collapsed, burying the sexton, who was digging a grave, the sexton's daughter and another person. The daughter survived this accident and was her father's successor as sexton. Another chapel, The Lovekyn Chapel, still exists. It was founded in 1309 by a former mayor of London, Edward Lovekyn. It is the only private chantry chapel to survive the Reformation.
Kingston sent members to early Parliaments, until a petition by the inhabitants prayed to be relieved from the burden.
Kingston was one of the Boroughs to be reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, becoming a municipal borough. It retained this status until the London Government Act 1963 came into force in 1965, merging Kingston upon Thames with Surbiton and Malden & Coombe Councils to form part of the London Borough of Kingston upon Thames. At the request of the Council, Queen Elizabeth II granted Kingston another Royal Charter in 1965 entitling it to continue using the title "Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames" for the enlarged Borough. Before becoming part of Greater London in 1965, Kingston was in the county of Surrey, and some confusion continues because the county hall and offices of Surrey County Council are still in Kingston. For river users, Kingston is still on the "Surrey" bank.
The growth and development of Kingston Polytechnic and its transformation into Kingston University has made Kingston a university town.
Central Kingston is a busy predominantly retail centre, with a small number of commercial offices and civic buildings. It has a great many car parks, connected by a notoriously difficult one-way system. It is one of the main centres of the south west London bus network, and it is connected to Twickenham, Richmond, Wimbledon, and London Waterloo by overground train.
Shopping is well catered for and is generally towards the upper end of expectations, with a good mixture of familiar High Street chains and more select boutiques. The shopping centre includes a shopping mall, "The Bentall Centre", containing the Bentalls department store and large branches of chain stores found in many British high streets. There is a large branch of the John Lewis department store group, with a Waitrose supermarket, located in the basement. The Rotunda, located in the former Bentalls furniture depository building (a local landmark), includes a bowling alley, fitness centre, a 14-screen Odeon multiplex cinema and some restaurants. Recent developments along the riverside south of Kingston Bridge have added bars, restaurants and a theatre, the Rose of Kingston which opened in 2007 with Sir Peter Hall as the director. The ancient market is still held daily in the Market Place.
Kingston's civic buildings include the Guildhall which houses Kingston Council and the magistrates' court, There is also the county court, a local museum and public library. A short distance away is the new crown court building, adjacent to the County Hall Building which houses the main offices of Surrey County Council. Until local government re-organisation in 1965 when Kingston became one of the 33 boroughs of Greater London, it was the County Town of Surrey. Guildford now has this title as Kingston is no longer administered by Surrey. Plans to move these offices to Woking have been scrapped.
Kingston's main open space is the River Thames, with its lively frontage of bars and restaurants. Downstream there is a walk through Canbury Park to Teddington Lock. Upstream there is a promenade crossing the Hogsmill river and reaching almost to Surbiton. Across Kingston Bridge is a tree lined river bank fronting the expanse of Hampton Court Park.
One of the more unusual sights in Kingston is several disused red telephone boxes that have been tipped up to lean against one another in an arrangement resembling dominoes. This sculpture by David Mach was commissioned in 1988 as part of the landscaping for the new Relief Road, and is called Out of Order.
Another recent spectacle is the Toilet Gallery, a minimalist art gallery housed in an ex-public lavatory near the Phone Box sculpture.
Kingston is also the home of the Kingstom Synagogue
Kingston Green Fair has been held annually since 1987 in Canbury Gardens, next to the river, on the Spring Bank Holiday. The word "Green" in the title refers to the ethos of the fair as promoting sustainable development. For instance no meat or other products derived from dead animals are allowed to be sold, and no electricity is permitted on the site unless generated by wind, sun, or bicycle power.
There are many schools in Kingston including Surbiton High School, The Hollyfield School, Southborough High School, Chessington Community College, Richard Challoner School, Tolworth Girls School, Kingston Grammar School, Canbury School, The Holy Cross School, Coombe Girls' School, Coombe Boys school, Marymount International School (MMI), Tiffin School (boys) and Tiffin Girls' School. Kingston is also home to Kingston University and Kingston College.
The town is served by two railway stations on a line into Waterloo Station via New Malden and Wimbledon or via Richmond upon Thames (the long way round). The local stations are: Kingston and Norbiton. An additional railway station is located on the main line in nearby Surbiton, and has a more frequent service.
The A3 road runs from central London towards Kingston before by-passing the town to the east. The "Kingston bypass road" was one of the first arterial roads to be built in Britain. It was originally proposed in 1912 to relieve the pressure of traffic in the town centre, but World War I delayed the start of work until 1924. It was opened by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin on 28 October 1927. Kingston is also served by the A240, the A307 (Portsmouth Road), A308 and A310.
Riverboats run regularly between Kingston and Hampton Court as well as Richmond all during the summer season. There are also direct services to Putney and Westminster from Hampton Court.
Kingston has been covered in literature, film and television. It is where the comic Victorian novel Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome begins; cannons aimed against the Martians in H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds are positioned on Kingston Hill; in The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence the youngest Brangwen dreams of a job in Kingston upon Thames in a long, lyrical passage; Mr. Knightly in Emma by Jane Austen regularly visits Kingston, although the narrative never follows him there. Kingston is referenced (and used as a filming location) in episodes of Monty Python. More recently, a scene from Mujhse Dosti Karoge, a Bollywood film, was filmed by the toppled telephone boxes. This had Hrithik Roshan as the leading actor. A scene in the television programme The Good Life sees Richard Briers get on a 71 bus in 'The Avenue' towards Kingston town centre, albeit this route never served that east side of Surbiton. Nipper, the famous "His Master's Voice" dog, is buried (1895) in the town under Lloyds Bank. His owners lived nearby in Fife Road. Also, the 2008 series of 'Primeval', shown on ITV1 in January, featured almost an entire episode filmed inside the Bentall Centre and John Lewis department stores.