Many a time have I stood peering over its back fence as a helicopter has come in to land, waiting to see the recognizable face of a royal. Kensington does have its fair share of celebrities and multi-millionaires but it is also one of London’s most densely populated areas. Maybe the saying is true: in Kensington, you are never more than 10 feet away from a…..millionaire! Or did I make that up?!
Does Kensington hold many secrets? It is such a large area, that I am sure we can dig out a few. When I look at the houses, the white stucco buildings sometimes feel a little too perfect. A quick peek around the side streets reveals some quaint spaces and a feeling as if you are not in the midst of a large and unruly metropolis. My favourite thing to do is to walk along Kensington Court, where I linger outside the beautiful red brick mansion block, former home of TS Elliot. He died here in 1965 having created some of his most amazing poems under its roof. Who can forget Bustopher Jones: The Cat about Town? When I reach St Alban’s Grove, I turn right into Launceston Place, staying for a moment to peer in at the restaurant of the same name. Once I have stopped drooling, I head off to Kynance Mews, a wonderfully hidden part of Kensington and yet so close to the Cromwell Road. If you walk up the steps through the wall and back into Victoria Road, the first house you see on the right hand side is the former home of Roald Dahl. I can only imagine the fun and frolics they got up to behind closed doors. The best time of year to do this is late spring when the wisteria is out and framing the doors, windows and porticos. Heaven!
Kensington has been a bustling place since the palace was remodeled in 1689 after William III and his wife Mary purchased Nottingham House to get away from the bad air around the river Thames. The house, set in a pleasant rural setting, was then transformed and enlarged by architect, Sir Christopher Wren and renamed Kensington Palace. The palace has been the scene of some of the most interesting, and sometimes, unpleasant events in British history. Did you know that it was here that Queen Victoria first met and fell in love with Albert, the love of her life? The palace was also the location where George II died, rather humiliatingly on the lavatory! The palace was requisitioned during WWII and apparently used as a place of interrogation by MI9 and there is even some rather rude Edwardian graffiti to be seen, if you know where to look!
If you walk away from the palace towards Knightsbridge, you will see the wonderful round pond. Imagine the Llewelyn-Davies boys playing around the park, observed by author J.M. Barrie. They were of course, inspiration for his famous book, Peter Pan. This was a rather dark tale so, if you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do! It is nothing like the Disney version. In the middle of the park, in a clump of long grass, you can just about make out a couple of stones – one with PP etched into it and the other W St M. If you have a very active imagination you could possibly think that these are the gravestones of Peter Pan and Wendy but if you know parts of Westminster, it simply marks out the edge of the Parish of Paddington and the start of Westminster St Mary’s. Not so romantic but still fun to try and find.
If you continue across the park and into Hyde Park, we will continue finding secrets in Belgravia.