The Boroughers, 9+10/6/18: Kingston upon Thames Home advantage

No rest for the wicked, eh. Just a couple of days after returning from a Caribbean adventure, I'm here to tell you about our visit to the 12th different London borough so far in 2018, as part of our attempt to visit all 32 that we call The Boroughers.



Kingston upon Thames, a royal borough don't you know, down at the deep south western edge of London in the zone 6 sticks.


  • The first ever king of England, Aethelstan, was crowned in Kingston
  • Surbiton station featured in some Harry Potter movie or other
  • Underground metal legends Dark Heresy were formed, and played often, in the borough, occasionally with the even more underground and legendary act Halibutt Sharon


Saturday 09/06/18

It's quite hard to treat Kingston like the other boroughs, because we live in the borough. I've done so for like 18 years or so, having spent a lot of my social life here in the years immediately prior. That means there's no realistic need for a breakfast picnic to sustain our travel, because there is no travel. We also don't need to start particularly early, because we're already here.

Good job too, really, 'cos we didn't get going until about 2pm on the Saturday. Apparently suffering from delayed jetlag, Helen needed a ton more sleep than usual. Still, better late than never, let's make a start. The second we leave the flat I'm trying to view the borough through a Boroughering pair of eyes, not letting my couple of decades of time spent here sway my views as to how fun, educational, and nice it is around here.

First impressions

Surbiton station is just down the road – it's 4 minutes from door to platform, I've timed it (many times) – and is a bona fide attraction, as it goes. It's a listed art deco masterpiece of railway architecture.

Also there's a big car park 'n that.

So we've reached 2pm and all I've eaten is a banana, the calories from which I more than burnt while out doing parkrun. Helen's had nothing. Accordingly we are both absolutely starving, so lack-of-picnic be damned, let's go to The Press Room and buy some pastel de nata plus an egg mayo with avocado bun.

Then, straight on the intra-borough transport. There are 2 buses direct from Surbiton to our first deliberate destination, but about another 8 more that go to Kingston which will also do. There's something worth looking at in the ancient market square anyway.

We're Art Fund pass holders, and that organisation has just announced the shortlist for museum of the year 2018. As it happens, one of them is Brooklands Museum a few miles south of us (it's a great place, full of cars and planes and with an old banked racetrack). Celebrating their shortlisting and attempting to gather votes to be the eventual winner, they've parked some old shiny car here for the day.

Honestly I have no idea what this is except for "shiny old car", but even as a never-driven-non-driver I admit it looks kinda cool. And is obviously a vote for Kingston being a place that appreciates culture, otherwise why not just park it in Weybridge or Walton?

There's other old(er) stuff around here too, like the 1st-3rd floors of Jack Wills, and a statue of some woman holding an urn.

Just up the way is the Clattern Bridge, and the place where Aethelstan was actually crowned. But we've no time to go see such important historical venues because Helen's still hungry, ending up with a ham and cheese baguette from Paul's.

An 85 arrives seconds after we get back to the bus stop and while I regale Helen's understandably deaf ears to tales of "that's the pub where the barman put a swastika in my Guinness head" and "that's the university campus where I beat my brother over 5 sets of tennis once". Up Kingston Hill then down it again, we're off and looking for Dorich House.

Found it!

One of our "rules" for The Boroughers is that we should do stuff neither of us have ever done before, and in Kingston I thought this would be tougher even than Merton. But Helen had found this place, the home of sculptor Dora Gordine and now a museum dedicated to her life and work.

No, I'd never heard of her either, but whatever. A smiley woman at an outdoor desk greets us into the grounds, asking if we're there to visit the gardens - it's also Open Garden Squares weekend across London, where many gardens are open to the public which otherwise tend not to be, like an outdoor version of Open House weekend. We knew about it in advance; what we didn't know, and what I still don't understand, is that this somehow made visiting the museum 20% cheaper than usual. Well, fine, take our £4s.

What the garden thing means in practice, here, is that we get a single page map listing 6 trees and a big Yatis. That's that thing above, with Helen scratching her head wondering "what the fuck is this?". It's a Yatis. Apparently. Neither Google nor DuckDuckGo will back me up on this but I'll persevere with the claim anyway. It's a big artistic thing made by the architectural department of Kingston college or uni, I can't recall. Didn't take much notice, did I? Apart from looking at it from numerous angles throughout our visit.

This is what happens when you can see it from the stairwell of a 4-storey building.

On the lawn there are some loud ladies sat on chairs, arguing about Brexit. We've not much interest in the 6 trees so go into the house itself, where another smiley lady greets us and gives us a bunch of papers 'n that. There's an introductory movie that lasts about 10 minutes but some people are midway through, so we hang around talking to her before it next starts.

Seeing a load of footwear on the ground I ask if we're meant to take our shoes off but no, this is an exhibit - Dora was very particular about slippers and insisted on her guests wearing them, while silently judging them based upon which pair they'd choose from the 25 or so she would offer.

The video is actually a very interesting guide to her entire life - born in Eastern Europe, changed her name to conceal Jewish heritage, exhibited all over the world, married twice, designed the building in which we stood, etc. You shouldn't be expecting me to say much more, if you're interested go look her up. But I will say that the fake Dora voice was very bloody grating, like a crazy stereotype as if the token "woman from East (of) Europe" in an episode of Mind Your Language.

Loads of her sculptures are in the room where we watch the video. She was clearly prodigiously talented. Lots of these were made in this house, because she lived there from the 1930s or so until her death in 1991.

I think, maybe this is a good opportunity to use some of those iPhone X portrait modes that never seem to work. Accordingly, I get to make this bust of a woman look like she's from a Ready Brek advert.

On the first floor there's an artist in residence. As well as a museum in its own right and participating in Open Garden Squares weekend, it's also KAOS: Kingston Artists Open Studios. The artist herself is not here today, mind.

It's called a museum but I would say it's more a gallery. Almost all the historical aspects were covered in the video, otherwise it's just a self-guided tour of her house which is littered with sculptures. It may have been like this when she was alive, because the flat she and her husband lived in was only the second floor.

This table centrepiece is a bit mental eh?

The living quarters are fantastic. There are Chinese "moon" sliding doors linking the rooms which everyone loves. The entire building was also designed by Gordine, who basically treated architecture just like a bigger form of sculpture, and it works really well. Except, as it happens, neither of us like the building from the outside.

Up top there's a roof terrace from which you can sort of see Richmond Park, except you can't really, you can just see the rooftops of other posh properties.

Back down via a disconcerting visit to the loo; I assume Gordine didn't design "big mirror facing you when you sit down" in there. Bleurgh. Out and across the road, there's a sign that's been bothering me.

Now, a concrete fence is...a wall, isn't it? Not a fence? Unless you, like, make a fence out of concrete, but why would you want to do that? Anyway, whatever. Back on the 85 to cross the crest of Kingston Hill and we're popping into Londis for a Ribena before visiting another KAOS venue.

We're at a small house where 3 of the rooms have been turned into temporary art galleries. We chat to the artists, briefly, and have a look at their stuff. Here there's mostly painting and photography, and we're not there long – it's not a big house – but a further 5 minute walk up the road there's a much bigger house with loads more rooms open.

This looks familiar.

We get a friendly intro from a "this stuff is my wife's, not mine" man who tells us what's in each room; there's paintings in the corridors, ceramics in a couple of places, some "I do abstract stuff with paper" things, a whole variety. Here, also, we're not alone as visitors. As is expected we like some stuff and not others; we also very much like the house, which must be worth 2 million quid or so. In the conservatory, reachable by stepping over the very large, very sleepy dog, we feature temporarily in a video they're making with one of the artists.

Picking up cards from the artists whose stuff we like – there are 18 or so venues open this weekend and next, and there's no way we're making buying decisions early nor carting much stuff about – we're out and back up to the bus stop.

Whoa! Y'know?

We've only been out of the house about 2.5hrs right now, making it 4.30pm and there's one more KAOS place we want to visit. It's some proper studios rather than an open house, with tons of artists there and we've got, ooh, 18 minutes or so to wander around.

Actually that gives us kinda ample time. Lots of the studios are closed, and those that aren't aren't exactly big. We have a word with the guy who does etchings and monotypes of London landsapes, the lady who makes very special and unique ceramics on a similar theme - "they're not functional, though you could store beer in them if you wanted" - and take a quick look at more ceramics and paintings, not many of which we like tbh.

I keep saying "we", here. I dunno exactly how it's happened, but apparently thanks to Helen I'm now not thoroughly bored to fucking tears looking at art and stuff. I mean, I still don't have the vocabulary to talk properly about it, nor can I honestly say any art generates a reaction more than being on some 5-stop continuum of hate/dislike/ambivalence/like/love, but hey, apparently I (can) like some art. Or more accurately, I'm no longer instantly grumpy when "let's see art" is on the menu for the day.

Anyway, let's stop seeing art. Next up is buying art supplies at CASS because Helen's totally inspired to get her arting mojo totally back. Hang on though, since we're here, there's that phone boxes thing in Kingston isn't there? Yeah, this.

Buying art is something I am entirely not enthused with, standing around with a glum face holding a basket of watercolours. While she queues at the till I glance through the first few pages of "How to draw", a guide for complete beginners that only takes until page 4 to wind me up by referring to "your favourite drawing materials". How can I possibly know what my favourites are, as a complete beginner? Fuck you, "how to draw"!

Also grump due to hunger. So, let's go eat. Finding something new in the borough that we've not avoided due to knowing it's shit is also tricky, except not tricky today because there's a new Cornish pasty place open just opposite Kingston station.

It is a fucking bizarre experience. Outside, there's a woman not handing out free samples but just imploring people go in by shouting CHEAP PASTIES! TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE! CHEAP CORNISH PASTIES! at the bemused people waiting to cross the road to the station. Inside, we're told all the savoury goods are indeed two for the price of one. So, one traditional and one steak with gravy please.

Asking to eat in makes her need to type shitloads of stuff into her till before she's able to take our cash. Having declined the "two cakes for a quid" offer, after paying for the pasties she ups the ante to "do you want a biscuit for free?". "Free, you say?" "Yes, free".

I like free, so yes, we'll have a biscuit. She gives us two. What on earth is happening here? Anyway, we sit at the back, the only eat in punters. There's a couple of tables, but way more plug sockets with USB too. Dunno why. The counter is towards the front, with a long waste-of-space corridor to the kitchen taking up 33% of the internal space.

One of the two women running the place keeps running outside to carry on screaming at people about how cheap things are. Whoever's serving is repeating all the discounts, except they seem to almost randomly be changing. Sausage rolls two for a quid comes up a lot. Some people don't even really know what pasties are, others are querying the toppings on the cakes. Business doesn't seem to be doing badly, but it feels like being stuck in an episode of the Apprentice where this 2-woman team has been tasked with "run a pasty shop for a day". I wonder what Sir Alan would make of them.

Anyway, that was Warrens Bakery. Never heard of them, even when we went to Cornwall earlier in the year, yet they claim to be the oldest Cornish pasty maker in the world, since 1860. Right you are. I thought the pasty was alright and the biscuit too dry.

Now, pub time. An even more difficult task would be finding somewhere to drink we weren't already familiar with, so we didn't even try, instead going to the Albion to have a drink with my ex-flatmate Wooj. They do good beer at the Albion.

Stouts and porters and sours and ciders and IPAs and hoppy nonsense are sunk. The place never gets particularly crowded before we leave at around 9pm. Helen wants to take action shots of me talking to Wooj, some of which look like it's actually just two photos in entirely different places, stitched together. Also, Wooj looks fucked.

Once we've decided that between us Helen and I are too tired and too pissed to carry on, we say our goodbyes and jump in an Uber back home.


Because we started so late, had more to do, and anyway we fucking live here, plans had always been afoot to continue our Kingstonian odyssey on Sunday. Not least because we needed one more signature from a KAOS artist so that we can enter our pamphlet into a prize draw for £100 of art-buying power.

Unfortunately, I woke up on Sunday feeling wretched. Second time, that is. When I first woke up I was alright, but it was very early - one of the last things to occur on Saturday night was me taking the piss out of Helen for her extreme lie-in that morning, with her accusing me of being just like Maggie Thatcher because I sleep only 4-6 hours most nights. But, yes, second time around on Sunday morning I felt awful. Not hungover, just lethargic and headachey and full of woe and malaise.

Bleurgh. Well, whatever. A very nice breakfast helped, and our vague plan was shrunk to a single venue: we'd argued yesterday about the phrase "we need to visit the garden centre", my point being that both "we" and "need" we inaccurate, but I lost. At least the garden centre in question was also a KAOS venue and near the border. So, let's go get a 406 to Tolworth station. Shudder.

Tolworth station is the wrong place to get off. It's OK for the garden centre, but the welcome sign is about half or three quarters of a mile further along, just walking next to a very busy A240 with nothing else nice to see. It was hot and I was still feeling like shit, but hey, here's a welcome, I always like welcomes.

And that's basically it. I mean, we did get to the garden centre but didn't stop to look at any of the art on display - from a distance it didn't really catch our eye, and most of it was being exhibited in the corridor leading to the loos anyway.

In the rest of the centre we spent ages looking at and measuring planters, and briefly carrying a big thing of compost around. Much to Helen's chagrin she had to admit that buying anything at all wasn't really wise today, since the bus stop is a bit of a trek, most things are heavy, but anyway there's too much stuff we have to pay people to do before she can start being creative.

Oh, something else happened too. This.

One of these things is not like the other

Someone clearly understand how plurals work until they fucking don't. God damn it! Argh!

And, that's it. Time to fuck off, back further inside the borough. There are no alpacas around, not even at Chessington Zoo which costs an exorbitant amount compared to anywhere else we've stared at animals before. To get our wildlife fix instead we go home, where Buster yawns and stretches and miaows to the point of almost-quacking, in his aggressive desire for attention. Until he decides he'd rather just sleep, tbh.


So, hmm, scoring. How do we score the borough in which we live? Can we kip a lid on our obvious prejudices, as we each rate stuff from 1-7 across the three categories we always use?


  • Fun: 6. I love charging about locally, even when I feel like hot shit. Dropped a point because we failed to actually see the Thames on our "visit".
  • Learning: 6. Mostly I learnt that I apparently now (can) like (some) art-y stuff. Was fascinated by Dorich House too as it goes.
  • Nice: 5. Tolworth is shit, isn't it?


  • Fun: 5. Moderate fun was had.
  • Learning: 6. Learnt lots about different artist techniques.
  • Nice: 5. If only we hadn't gone to the A240.

So, that's a total of 32/42. What!? Only 3rd place? I demand a recount!

Created By
Darren Foreman

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