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Kennington Park - - 1009307.jpg
Kennington Park
Grid reference: TQ305775
Location: 51°28’53"N, 0°7’11"W
Post town: London
Postcode: SE11
Dialling code: 020
Local Government
Council: Lambeth

Kennington is an urban town of Surrey within the metropolitan conurbation spreading out from London, a place absorbed early into the swelling metropolis and thoroughly contiguous with it. To the northwest is Lambeth and to the northeast Newington. Vauxhall lies south, across the vanished River Effra, now culverted beneath.

Kennington is best known as the home of the Surrey Oval and of the Imperial War Museum. The Oval is the home ground of Surrey County Cricket Club and serves too as an international cricket ground.

Kennington is a primarily residential area. It is also a Royal manor.

Name of the town

Kennington takes its name from Old English, presumed to be Cyning tun; "King-estate". It is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Chenintune, and later appears as Kyning-ton.


Early history

How long man has lived here we cannot tell, but the ancient road from London Bridge to the southwest, known as the Portsmouth Road elsewhere in Surrey, suggests a long history, as does a tumulus of uncertain date.

As recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, Chenintune was held by Teodric (Theodoric) the goldsmith. It contained: 1 hide and 3 virgates; 3 ploughs, 4 acres of meadow. It rendered £3 annually.[1]

The manor of Kennington was divided from the manor of Vauxhall by the River Effra, a tributary of the River Thames which today flows through an underground culvert.

Harthacnut, King of Denmark and King of England, died at Kennington in 1041. It was at Kennington that Harold Godwinson took the Crown the day after the death of Edward the Confessor; he is said to have placed it upon his own head. King Henry III held his court here in 1231; and, according to Matthew Paris, in 1232, Parliament was held at Kennington.

Edward III gave the manor of Kennington to his oldest son Edward, the Black Prince in 1337, and the prince then built a large royal palace between what is now Black Prince Road and Sancroft Street, near to Kennington Cross. In 1376, according to John Stow, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster came to Kennington to escape the fury of the populace of London. Geoffrey Chaucer was employed at Kennington as Clerk of Works in 1389. He was paid 2 shillings. The manor house of Kennington remained a royal palace until the time of Henry VIII. Kennington was the occasional residence of Henry IV and Henry VI.

Henry VII was here before his coronation. Catherine of Aragon stayed at Kennington Palace in 1501. In 1531, at the order of King Henry VIII, most of Kennington Palace was dismantled, and the materials were used in the construction of the Palace of Whitehall.[2]

The manor of Kennington continues to be owned by the current monarch's elder son (HRH the Prince of Wales as Duke of Cornwall. The Duchy of Cornwall maintains a substantial property portfolio within the area.

18th century development

In 1726, the title Earl of Kennington was assumed by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland.

In 1746, Francis Towneley and eight men who had taken part in the Jacobite Rising were hanged, drawn and quartered at Kennington Common.

The development of Kennington is attributable to the construction, in 1750, of Westminster Bridge. In 1751, Kennington Road was cut from Kennington Common (as it then was; now Kennington Park) to Westminster Bridge.

On 10 May 1768, at approximately the site of the Imperial War Museum today, the Massacre of St George's Fields took place. A riot started, because of the detention at the King's Bench Prison of the radical, John Wilkes for writing an article in The North Briton attacking King George III's government. The Riot Act was read, and soldiers fired upon the crowd, killing seven people.

Several houses forming a terrace on the east side of Kennington Road were constructed in the 1770s. This was the unstoppable beginning of the spread of metropolitan development; first with smart houses for the rich and to be followed later by the houses of poorer folk.

Cleaver Square (then called Prince's Square) was laid out in 1788. Michael Searles, architect and developer, built semi-detached houses along Kennington Park Road in the 1790s, and is credited with Marlborough House on Kennington Road.

In 1796, a house in West Square became the first station in the optical telegraph, or semaphore line, between the Admiralty in London, and Chatham and Deal in Kent, and during the Napoleonic Wars transmitted messages between Whitehall and the Royal Navy.

A fraudster from Camberwell, by the name Badger, was the last person to be hanged at Kennington Common, in 1799.

19th century

Chartist meeting on Kennington Common in 1848
Surrey Music Hall
St Mark's Church

The modern street pattern of Kennington was formed by the early nineteenth century; the village had become a semi-rural suburb with grand terraced houses.

In 1824, St. Mark's Church was built to the south of Kennington Common, where once there had been gallows. One of the four "Waterloo Churches" of south London - so named following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo - the church was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The vicar of the church was instrumental in enclosing the Common as a park.

The Royal Surrey Gardens, which occupied 15 acres of land to the east of Kennington Park Road, were created in 1831 by Edward Cross. There were separate cages for lions, a rhinoceros, tigers and giraffes. The gardens included a lake of about three acres and contained a variety of exotic trees and plants. In the face of competition from the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, the site was redeveloped in 1856 for the Surrey Music Hall: with a capacity of 12,000 seated spectators, this was the largest building of its kind in London. The music hall was destroyed by fire in 1861, and the site was used temporarily by St Thomas' Hospital before being sold for residential development in 1877.

Imperial Court, on Kennington Lane, was built in 1836 for the Licensed Victuallers' School, and from 1921 to 1992 it was the headquarters of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI). The first stone was laid by Viscount Melbourne, in the name of King William IV.

The Oval cricket ground was leased to Surrey County Cricket Club from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1845; the distinctive shape of the plot, hence "The Oval" was determined by the course of the River Effra beside it.

Dense building and the carving-up of villas for multiple occupation caused Kennington to be "very seriously over-populated in 1859, when diphtheria appeared" (at least according to Karl Marx).[3]

The church of St John the Divine, Kennington, which was to be described by the poet John Betjeman as "the most magnificent church in South London", was designed by George Edmund Street (architect of the Royal Courts of Justice on Strand, London), and was built between 1871 and 1874.

The Town Hall in Kennington was built as the Lambeth Vestry Hall for the business of the Parish, in a neoclassical style on Kennington Road.

St John the Divine, Kennington, from Vassall Road

The Durning Library, at Kennington Cross, was designed in 1889 by S Sidney RJ Smith, architect of the Tate Gallery (as it then was; now Tate Britain), and is a fine example of the Gothic Revival style. The library was a gift to the people of Kennington from Jemina Durning Smith.

Kennington station was opened as "Kennington (New Street)" in 1890 by the City of London and Southwark Subway.

The poverty map of London, created by Charles Booth in 1898-99, identifies a mixture of classifications for the streets of the district; Kennington Park Road, for example, corresponds with the description "Middle class. Well-to-do". Most streets are classified as "Mixed. Some comfortable, others poor". There are also several scattered streets which are considered to be "Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family".[4] The map shows that there existed in the district a great disparity of wealth and comfort between near-neighbours.

Twentieth century

Two social forces were at work in Kennington at different times during the twentieth century: decline and later gentrification. Decline began in the early part of the twentieth century. Middle-class households ceased to employ servants and no longer sought the large houses of Kennington, preferring the suburbs of outer London. Houses in Kennington were suited to multiple occupation and were divided into flats and bedsits, providing cheap lodgings for lower-paid workers. During the Blitz, several buildings were destroyed or damaged by the Luftwaffe, although the area was not so adversely affected as many other districts of inner London.

The town hall, inherited by the "Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth" was closed in 1908 as too small, and a new Town Hall built in Brixton.

In 1913, Maud Pember Reeves selected Kennington for Round About a Pound a Week, which was a survey of social conditions in the district. She found "respectable but very poor people [who] live over a morass of such intolerable poverty that they unite instinctively to save those known to them from falling into it".[5]

In an initiative to improve the district, between 1913 and 1915, the Duchy of Cornwall set about redeveloping land. Courtenay Square, Courtenay Street, Cardigan Street, Denny Street and Denny Crescent were laid out to a design by architects Stanley Davenport Adshead, Stanley Churchill Ramsay and JD Coleridge, in a Neo-Georgian style.

In 1922, Lambeth Hospital on Brook Drive was created by merging the Lambeth Infirmary with the adjacent Renfrew Road Workhouse. Under the control of the London County Council, Lambeth Hospital, which had a capacity of 1,250 patients in 1939, was one of the largest hospitals in London. After the National Health Service was formed, Lambeth Hospital became an acute general hospital. In 1976, the North Wing of St. Thomas' Hospital opened; services transferred there, and Lambeth Hospital was closed. A substantial part of the site has today been redeveloped for apartments, although some buildings are occupied by the Lambeth Community Care Centre.

Kennington station was substantially remodelled in 1925 to accommodate the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line. Because tram and bus routes converged at Kennington, in the 1920s St. Mark's became known as the "tramwayman's church", and Kennington was referred to as the "Clapham Junction of the southern roads".[6]

By 1926, construction of the Belgrave Hospital for Children - designed by Henry Percy Adams and Charles Holden - was complete. The hospital was subsumed within the King's College Hospital Group and closed in 1985. Restoration and conversion for use as apartments was undertaken in 1994.

The Duchy of Cornwall, in the 1930s, engaged Louis de Soissons, architect of Welwyn Garden City, to design a number of buildings in Kennington in a Neo-Georgian style.

On 15 October 1940, the large trench air-raid shelter beneath Kennington Park was struck by a 50 lb bomb. The number of people killed remains unknown; it is believed by local historians that 104 people died. 48 bodies were recovered.

Lambeth Council designated a substantial part of Kennington a Conservation Area in 1968, the boundary of which was extended in 1979 and in 1997.

21st century

In recent years, Kennington has experienced gentrification, driven by the advantages of its location and good transport links to the West End and the City of London. In "London: A Social History",[7] Roy Porter describes "Victorian villas in...Kennington, long debased by use as lodging-houses, were transformed into luxury flats for young professionals or snips for first-time buyers - or were repossessed by the class of family for whom they had first been built..."; and "Chambers London Gazetteer"[8] observes the "reuniting of formerly subdivided properties" as "decline is being reversed".

Appearance in literature and film

  • Of Human Bondage, by W Somerset Maugham (1915) - Philip Carey, the protagonist, finds lodgings in the "vulgar respectability" of Kennington.
  • London Belongs to Me, by Norman Collins (1945) - The central setting for the novel is a boarding-house at 10, Dulcimer Street, Kennington.
  • Scenes from the film Passport to Pimlico (1949) were filmed in and around Kennington.
  • Scenes the film The Krays (1990), were shot in Kennington.
  • Snatch (2000) used a Kennington pub, "The Jolly Gardeners" on Black Prince Road, for "The Drowned Trout".
  • London Boulevard, a novel by Ken Bruen (2001) has Kennington is a setting, and it appears in the film of the same name (2010).

Kennington Common (Kennington Park)

Kennington Park

Kennington Park was laid out by Victorian architect James Pennethorne. It and St Mark's Churchyard now cover the site of Kennington Common. The Park was the first public park in south London, and was created when the Common was enclosed in 1852, and designated one of the Royal Parks of London (today, management of the Park is undertaken by Lambeth Council).

The Park, historically, was a place for executions, a Speakers' Corner for public gatherings for political and religious purposes, and a place for entertainment and sporting events.

In the 1730s, Methodists John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to thousands on the Common.

In 1746 the Surrey County Gallows at the southern end of the Common was used for the execution of nine leaders of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The Common was also where the Chartists gathered for their biggest demonstration in 1848. "The Gymnastic Society" met regularly at Kennington Common during the second half of the eighteenth century to play football.[9] The Society — sometimes claimed to be the world's first football club — consisted of London-based natives of Cumberland and Westmorland.

The tradition of political gathering at Kennington Park in advance of marches upon Parliament returned in the 1970s. On March 31, 1990, some 200,000 people amassed at Kennington Park to march upon Trafalgar Square, in protest against the Community Charge. This, during the course of the day, escalated into mass disturbances: the Poll Tax Riots. In April 1997, a march organised by Reclaim the Streets set off from the Park for central London. In March 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury preached at Kennington Park to mark the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1807. The Park had been a significant location for important anti-slave trade rallies. In March 2011, the Park was the South London starting point for a feeder march to the 2011 anti-cuts protest in London.

The Oval

Play under floodlights at Kennington Oval

The Oval, officially currently known as "The Kia Oval", is the home ground for Surrey County Cricket Club and hosts the final Test match of the English summer season.

The Oval was the first ground in the United Kingdom to host Test cricket, was the location for the England v Scotland representative matches (1870-1872), the first ever international football match, the first FA Cup final in 1872, and held the second ever Rugby Union international match between England and Scotland in 1872. England's unfortunate performance against Australia here in 1882 gave rise to The Ashes. The Oval has been labelled "the Grand Old Lady" in recognition of the significant role the ground has played in the development of modern sport.

Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum stands at the northern edge of Kennington on Lambeth Road, the leading museum of the wars of the British Empire. It stands on the site of the Bethlem Royal Hospital (also known as Bedlam).

Bedlam relocated from Moorfields to St George's Fields, at the north end of Kennington, in 1815. Buildings were laid out to a design by James Lewis, and in 1846, a cupola was added by Sydney Smirke. In 1930, the Bethlem Royal Hospital moved to Beckenham. Viscount Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, purchased the old hospital, and had the east and west wings demolished to create space for Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, which was given to the London County Council in memory of his mother. The central wing was retained, and since 1936 has been occupied by the Imperial War Museum.

Stane Street

Kennington Park Road and Clapham Road is a long and straight stretch of road because it follows the old Roman Stane Street. This ran down from the Roman London Bridge to Chichester by way of the gap in the North Downs at Box Hill near Dorking. Another Roman road branched off opposite Kennington Road and went through what is now Kennington Park and down the Brixton Road. It carried on through the North Downs near Caterham to Hassocks, just north of the South Downs.


  • Nearest London Underground stations:
    • Kennington tube station: Northern Line, Bank branch and Charing Cross branch interchange.
    • Oval tube station: Northern Line, Bank branch only at off-peak times.
    • Lambeth North tube station: Bakerloo line
    • Vauxhall tube station: Victoria Line
  • Nearest National Rail stations:
    • Vauxhall
    • Elephant and Castle

Outside links


  1. Surrey Domesday Book
  3. Willey, Russ; Chambers London Gazetteer; Chambers Harrap (2006); p. 267
  5. Mrs Pember Reeves, "Round About a Pound a Week", London, G. Bell and Sons, pp. 39-40
  6. See [2]
  7. London: A Social History (London, 1994; 1996; 2000)
  8. See ref. [2]
  9. Harvey, Adrian (2005) Football, the First Hundred Years: the untold story Routledge; p. 54