Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Ancient Market Place, Kingston upon Thames

a Guestpost by RADHA VIJAY. We were in Kingston upon Thames, waiting for my daughter to join us, and with an hour to spare we wandered towards the market place. While most people tell you that High Streets in the UK look more or less the same, this one we could tell was definitely different.
The Ancient Market Place, has an old world charm about it. Buildings that had seemed right out of history books, the medieval street pattern, a gilded statue, a fountain, a church in the background. It was really enchanting.

And we were right in our thinking, a panel in one of the many connecting alleys traced the background of the market square. Established in 1170 in the time of Henry II, it was then the focal point of the local trade, the governance and hospitality

Kingston market place was the center of the planned town dating from Saxon times. Well connected to the river and road and thus convenient for traders. At the centre of the market place is an old Victorian building from 1840 that now houses the Tourist Information Center. An imposing gold gilded statue of Queen Anne stands in front of it.

Surrounding the hall are about 25 fixed market stalls of 3 metres by 2.5 metres. Mainly selling fresh produce ranging from meat, fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers and baked goods. And one odd store that seemed hugely popular too, selling second hand DVDs!  Not all traders operate on a daily basis so one can find a shuttered stall off and on.

Apart from this, the streets are lined with well-known brands in quaint buildings. Spas, pubs, book stores, cafes, making the area very popular with the residents.
The Jack Wills brand that prides themselves at being Fabulously British, houses their stores in historical buildings across the country. This store in Kingston, has the Tudor facades added in 1909 and 1929.

The Millet store building was also a restaurant from 1901 to 1932 when the ground floor was converted to a shop.

The Druids Head is Kingston’s oldest pub dating from the 17th Century. 
The Joules building also has the dates inscribed AD 1422 to 1922.

There was a busker playing the accordian. Musicians here do not need a license to play their music in the market place. But they need to follow certain rules to ensure they are not creating a Noise Nuisance.  These are simple. Do not stay in the same place too long. No indiscriminate use of amplifiers. Do not block pathways, entrances. Do not sell anything. 

If you wanted to pick up a coffee at Costa and not be confined to their little cafĂ©, you could walk out and use the street furniture provided by them. Or, if you were not a customer but wanted to rest in any case, there were some stone benches that you could use.

To me, it looked perfect. We had a baby to mind, and we were comfortably moving around with her in a pram. The area was pedestrianised and apart from the weather, we had little to worry about. So, it was surprising when I read about a plan for revitalisation of the area. I wondered what more they could do to improve this lovely place.

Well, it appears to be a part of the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund, to bring about vibrancy and economic growth to high streets across London. Even though it is already an important venue for traders, they think a makeover can improve trading, aesthetic and overall appearance of the Market Place and the Market House leading to increased footfall. 

They have been going about it systematically over the past two years. Consulting with businesses, stake holders and local residents. After intial concept proposals, direct interaction with people, 3000 newsletters were distributed, comments were studied to serve as further guidance to develop the proposals. Market-Trader sessions, Community Market events, workshops with stakeholders, and Drop-in exhibitions were also conducted.

There were issues of:
removal of street clutter
• lighting scheme to create inclusive public space with character and drama
• making waste storage and waste compaction part of the proposal
• more free seating
• improving safety

However, the priority was clear. The history of the area had to be protected and showcased. The present arrangement, it was felt, was obscuring the view of the Market Hall with the stalls blocking the views of the magnificent arches of the building. The image to the left is the side of the Hall as it is now - and to the right - a projection of how the place should look.

(The image at the right and the ones that follow are from literature available online on revitalisation of Kingston Upon Thames)
There is a suggestion of a technique of picking out the building lines using banding on banding in paving to encourage the eye line to look up at the building
There is a focus on non-retail activities once the stalls closed in the evening as well as lighting that highlights the architecture.
It would be interesting to see how the area will eventually be transformed. What amazes me is the pride the people have in their heritage.  In our country, we have always seen the old giving way to new. And in most cases, quaint charming old mansions were deemed to be unfit and without a thought broken down to give way to a new mall that did not blend with the rest of the neighbourhood. But here, even though I was only just a visitor, it gladdened my heart to think of the planning that went into a renovation and projects that were made public even before the implementation.

I am hoping that next year, I will be able to make a trip once again to see if the place lives up to all the wonderful ideas in the pipeline. Maybe another post then?

(Thanks, Radha…for sharing the post and for the photographs!  I really appreciate this…)

Please do check out Radha’s blogs at: A Liberal Dose of Masala and The Musings of a Night Owl

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