In these strange times we have more time to look more closely at some of the familiar spots in our own locality. So, I had time to stop and study this over-the-top shop frontage in the historic market place of Kingston-upon-Thames – normally full of shoppers but it was very quiet as most shops were still closed.
At first sight this Grade II listed building might be thought to be Medieval or Tudor but the two dates 1909 and 1929 give away the fact that it is just over 100 years old and built at a time when mock Tudor was all the rage – think of Liberty’s in Regent Street built in 1924. This shop design comes from a time when major shops were still owned and managed by members of the original founder’s family – in this case Jesse Boot, who transformed his father’s small family business into a national retailer. The company was even grand enough to have its own in–house architect – in this case M V Trelevean.
The site was acquired in two stages as the dates on the frontage show. The elaborate decoration and statues are said to be based on a sketch by seven times Mayor of Kingston Alderman William Finney. It is jam packed with references to Kingston’s history. The borough’s coat of arms (consisting of three salmon) refer to Kingston’s entry in the Domesday Book when it was recorded as having three salmon farms. The royal fleur-de-lys are remind us that Kingston is a royal borough and an inscription records George V’s reconfirmation in 1927 of its royal status. There is a list of seven 10th century Saxon kings who were crowned in Kingston – hence its claim to be the original coronation site of English kings. Sculptures of two of them appear on the frontage – Alfred the Great’s son Edward the Elder (top left) and also his grandson Aethelstan (top right), who was the first ruler to be considered truly King of England, uniting regional kingdoms into one nation. The coronation stone (possibly older than the Stone of Scone) is still to be found outside Kingston’s Guildhall.
Other royal figures on the shop front are the ever popular Queen Elizabeth – of course Hampton Court Palace is just up the road/Thames – and King Edward III joins her in prime place in the centre. The bottom two royal statues are named as being, on the left, Henry (no indication of which one though it is likely to be Henry V, certainly not VIII) and, unusually on the right, the unpopular John, interestingly without a crown. Runnymede is not that far away – is that Magna Carta in his hand? There are also many crests and insignia to intrigue us.
How the grandeur of shops has changed in the last century. Boots in Kingston has now moved to a much more utilitarian building in Kingston. However, once we are able to travel further afield in the country look out for more existing or former Boots shops with similar mock Tudor frontages, each including details relating to local history. York, Exeter, Winchester and King’s Lynn are just some of the places to go searching for them.
Susan Baker is a qualified City of London Tour Guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Susan’s walking tours.