Kennington was a royal manor in the ancient parish of St Mary, Lambeth in the county of Surrey and was the administrative centre of the parish from 1853.
The presence of a tumulus, and other significant geographical features locally, suggest that the area was regarded in ancient times as a sacred place of assembly. The manor of Kennington was divided from the manor of Vauxhall by the River Effra, a tributary of the River Thames. A smaller river, the River Neckinger, ran through the northern part of Kennington, approximately where Brook Drive
is today. Both rivers have now been diverted into underground culverts.
Harthacnut, King of Denmark and England, died at Kennington in 1041. Harold Godwinson took the Crown the day after the death of Edward the Confessor at Kennington; 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 in the traingle formed by Kennington Lane
, Sancroft Street
and Cardigan Street
, near to Kennington Cross
. Geoffrey Chaucer was employed at Kennington as Clerk of Works in 1389 and was paid 2 shillings. The Duchy of Cornwall still maintains a substantial property portfolio within the area.
The eighteenth century saw considerable development in Kennington. At the start of the century, the area was essentially a village on the southern roads into London, with a common on which public executions took place. The development of Kennington came about through access to London, which happened when, in 1750, Westminster Bridge was constructed. In 1751, Kennington Road
was built from Kennington Common
(as it then was; now Kennington Park
) to Westminster Bridge. Houses along it were soon built.
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 – he had written an article in which he attacked King George III. The Riot Act was read, and soldiers fired into the crowd, killing seven people.
By the 1770s, the development of Kennington into its modern form was well underway. Terraces of houses were built on the east side of Kennington Road
and Cleaver Square
(then called Prince's Square) was laid out in 1788. 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.
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 1852, at the initiative of the minister of St. Mark's Church, the Common was enclosed and became the first public park in south London.
cricket ground was leased to Surrey County Cricket Club from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1845, and the adjacent gasometers (themselves an international sporting landmark) were constructed in 1853. Proximity to central London was key to the development of the area as a residential suburb and it was incorporated into the metropolitan area of London in 1855.
Dense building and the carving-up of large houses for multiple occupation caused Kennington to be very seriously over-populated in 1859, when diphtheria appeared
(recorded by Karl Marx in 'Das Kapital').
Kennington station was opened as Kennington (New Street)
in 1890 by the City of London and Southwark Subway.
On 15 October 1940, the large trench air-raid shelter beneath Kennington Park
was struck by a 50lb 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 much of Kennington a Conservation Area in 1968, the boundary of which was extended in 1979 and in 1997. Lambeth Council's emphasis on conserving and protecting Kennington's architectural heritage and enhancing its attractive open spaces for recreation and leisure is illustrated by restoration of the centre of the listed Cleaver Square
in the last decade of the twentieth century.