Until the 1850s the banks of the river towards Kingston was nothing more than a gravel pit. This all changed when a local property developer by the name of William Woods saw an opportunity to build an exclusive walkway along the river between Raven’s Ait and St Raphael’s Church for residents of his new villas on the Portsmouth Road. However after the council offered to help fund its development, he agreed to allow access to the promenade for all members of the public.
Work started in 1852 and was completed by 1854, including a bandstand and a fountain surrounded by pampas grasses and impressive gardens. In August 1856, Queen Victoria was returning from the Claremont Estate in Esher when her carriage was diverted along the Portsmouth Road. She was greeted there by hundreds of cheering schoolchildren, and thus was the Queen’s Promenade officially opened. 5 years later after initial neglect, it was rebuilt and widened from 6 to 9 metres using stone from the old Blackfriars Bridge
The Promenade quickly became a popular spot for strolling by the river as well as more nefarious activities. According to one resident of Kingston who wrote a letter to the Surrey Comet in May 1891, on Sunday evenings the Parade was “given over to number of roughs, who occupy all the seats, indulge in various sorts of horse play, use disgusting language, and their general conduct drive away those for whose enjoyment the Parade intended.” In 1896 it was extended as far as the High Street in Kingston at one end and terminating at the boathouses outside Ravens Ait at the other. By the turn of the century huge crowds would gather on the Promenade to enjoy the boating regattas around Raven’s Ait.
During the course of the 20th Century, the Promenade and it’s fine gardens sadly fell into disrepair and many of the original ornaments lost to history. It remained however a popular place to sit or walk by the river, and in the last few years, the Surbiton stretch has been substantially regenerated to help make the area more pedestrian and bike friendly. The Queen’s Promenade Friends hope to maintain this impetus and help restore the gardens along the riverside walk to their former glory.