Kensington is a town and district of west and central London, England, within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Its commercial heart is Kensington High Street. This affluent and densely populated area contains the well-known museum district of South Kensington.
To the north, Kensington is bordered by Notting Hill; to the east, by Brompton and Knightsbridge; to the south, by Chelsea and Earl’s Court; and to the west, by Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush.
The area is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it was written in Latin as “Chenesitone”, which has been interpreted to have originally been “Kenesignetun” (Kenesigne’s land or meadows) in Anglo-Saxon.
The manor of Kensington, Middlesex, was granted by William I of England to Geoffrey de Montbray or Mowbray, bishop of Coutances, one of his inner circle of advisors and one of the wealthiest men in post-Conquest England. He in turn granted the tenancy of Kensington to his vassal Aubrey de Vere I, who was holding the manor in 1086, according to Domesday Book. The bishop’s heir, Robert de Mowbray, rebelled against William Rufus and his vast barony was declared forfeit. Aubrey de Vere I had his tenure converted to a tenancy in-chief, holding Kensington after 1095 directly of the crown. He granted land and church there to Abingdon Abbey at the deathbed request of his young eldest son, Geoffrey. As the Veres became the earls of Oxford, their estate at Kensington came to be known as Earls Court, while the Abingdon lands were called Abbots Kensington and the church St Mary Abbots.
The focus of the area is Kensington High Street, a busy commercial centre with many shops, typically upmarket. The street was declared London’s second best shopping street in February 2005 thanks to its range and number of shops. However since October 2008 the street has faced competition from the Westfield shopping centre at White City. The heritage bus service on route 9, using Routemaster buses, was extended to Kensington High Street in November 2010 at the Council’s urging, partly to boost the number of visitors to the High Street.
Kensington’s second activity centre is South Kensington, where a variety of small shops are clustered close to South Kensington tube station. This is also the southern end of Exhibition Road, the thoroughfare that serves the area’s museums and educational institutions.
The edges of Kensington are not well-defined; in particular, the southern part of Kensington blurs into Chelsea, which has a similar architectural style. To the west, a transition is made across the West London railway line and Earl’s Court Road further south into other districts, whilst to the north, the only obvious dividing line is Holland Park Avenue, to the north of which is the similar district of Notting Hill.
In the north east, the large Royal Park of Kensington Gardens (contiguous with its eastern neighbour, Hyde Park) is an obvious buffer between Kensington and areas to the north east. The other main green area in Kensington is Holland Park, just north of Kensington High Street, whilst Kensington has numerous small residential garden squares.
While South Kensington can be regarded as a part of Kensington, the districts of North Kensington and West Kensington are regarded as distinct from Kensington. North Kensington is separated from Kensington by Notting Hill. West Kensington is separated from Kensington by the West London railway line.
Kensington is, in general, an extremely affluent area, a trait that it now shares with its neighbour to the south, Chelsea. The area has some of London’s most expensive streets and garden squares, including Edwardes Square, Earls Terrace – an exclusive redevelopment of Georgian Houses, The Phillimores, and Wycombe Square – a new build development done to a very high standard. In early 2007, houses sold in Upper Phillimore Gardens for in excess of £20 million. Additionally, most neighbouring districts are regarded as exclusive residential areas, including Knightsbridge and Brompton to the east and the nearest parts of Notting Hill to the north. To the west is the less affluent but up-and-coming area of Earl’s Court.
Kensington is also very densely populated; it forms part of the most densely populated local government district (the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) in the United Kingdom. This high density is not formed from high-rise buildings; instead, it has come about through the subdivision of large mid-rise Victorian and Georgian terraced houses (generally of some four to six floors) into flats. Unlike other parts of the Borough, Kensington itself has almost no high-rise buildings – the exception being Holiday Inn’s London Kensington Forum Hotel in Cromwell Road, a 27-storey building.
Notable attractions and institutions in Kensington (or South Kensington) include: Kensington Palace in Kensington Gardens, the Royal Albert Hall opposite the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, the Royal College of Music, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Heythrop College, Imperial College, London, the Royal College of Art and Kensington and Chelsea College. The Olympia exhibition hall is just over the western border in West Kensington.
Kensington is part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and lies within the Kensington parliamentary constituency.
The head office of Daily Mail and General Trust is located in the Northcliffe House in Kensington. In addition to housing the DMGT head office, the building also houses the offices of The Independent series, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Evening Standard, and Metro. Sonangol Limited, a subsidiary of the Sonangol Group, has its head office in the Merevale House in Kensington.
Kensington is crossed east-west by three main roads, the most important of which is the A4 or Cromwell Road which connects it to both Central London and Heathrow Airport. To the north is the mostly parallel Kensington Road (of which Kensington High Street forms a large part), linking central London and Hammersmith to the area. To the south is Fulham Road, which connects South Kensington with Fulham to the southwest. North-south connections are not as well-developed and there is no obvious single north-south route through the area.
Kensington is well served by public transport. Most of Kensington is served by three stations located in the Travelcard Zone 1: High Street Kensington, Gloucester Road and South Kensington. All three are served by the Circle Line which connects them to London’s railway terminals. The District Line also serves all three stations, albeit on different branches; it links the latter two to Westminster and the City. The Piccadilly Line also links South Kensington and Gloucester Road to the West End in about 10 minutes, and in the other direction to Heathrow Airport in about 40 minutes. In addition Kensington (Olympia) in Travelcard Zone 2 serves the western part of Kensington, with District Line trains to Earl’s Court and High Street Kensington. (West Kensington station is not in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.) A number of local bus services link Kensington into the surrounding districts, and key bus hubs are Kensington High Street and South Kensington station.