Historic Kensington

Early History

Choosing a Site

Surveyor General Colonel William Light and his survey party arrived in South Australian waters in September 1836. By March 1837 he had completed the preliminary survey of town acres in Adelaide. He then commenced the survey of country sections on the plains to the east of the city.

The first ballot for country sections was held in May 1838. Kensington village was surveyed by J.H. Hughes in November 1838. It was named after Kensington Palace. The surrounding sections, including Norwood weren’t settled till much later.
Diagonal street layout

Kensington was intersected by Second Creek which gave rise to its diagonal street layout. This minimized the number of creek crossings and provided a maximum number of blocks with creek frontage. High & Regent Streets are parallel to the creek.

The centre of the village

The south-western part of the village was settled first particularly Wellington Street and Bridge Street. Accordingly, the centre of the village developed along Bridge Street which was the main street until the advent of the horse drawn trams in High Street in the 1870s. Blocks in the north-east did not sell quickly until after the arrival of John Roberts in 1844.

1840s – rapid growth

Kensington grew quickly in the 1840s, attributed to John Roberts and other builders. Brick making became important. Brick and stone were the building materials of choice and a high proportion of brick and stone buildings were constructed during this period.

Building bridges

Bridge Street’s Second Creek Bridge was built in 1858 by public subscription for £96 in 1858. Two earlier wooden bridges were destroyed by floods.

Bustling life on High

The intersection of High and Bridge Streets became the bustling centre of village life as the emphasis shifted from Bridge Street to High Street.

1850s – carts and cabs

From 1850, horse-drawn carts and cabs carried commuters to Adelaide. By 1867 Council had to appoint a special constable to organize a cab rank on the northern corner beside Hughes’ butcher shop. The first street lamp in the Town of Kensington & Norwood was erected here.

1878 – horse-drawn tramway

The Adelaide & Suburban Tramway Company developed and operated the first street tramway system in Australia – a horse-drawn tramway running from Kensington to the city was opened in 1878. A single loop track ran up Regent Street and back down High Street joining the double tracks that ran down The Parade to Adelaide.

Early Residents

Prominent early residents of Kensington were: Colonel A.H. Freeling, Surveyor General & Colonial Engineer; Bishop Augustus Short, first Anglican Bishop; Supreme Court Judge Edward Castres Gwynne; Dr Thomas Taylor, one of the state’s first medical practitioners; and Charles Wilson, Commissioner of Inland Revenue.

Dr John Benson practiced in Kensington for ten years and gained the loyalty and admiration of a large number. He died of pneumonia in July 1877. On the day of his funeral shops closed voluntarily and flags were flown at half-mast. The mile-long funeral procession of many carriages and hundreds of walkers from all sections of the community followed the hearse from his home at 50 High Street to St Bartholomew’s Church, Norwood and then to West Terrace cemetery. The fountain at the intersection of High Street and Portrush Road was erected by public subscription in 1879 on land donated by the Convent of St Joseph.

Kensington Village Historical Walk brochure, compiled by Denise Schumann 2007.
City of Kensington & Norwood Historic Tour Guide, compiled by Daniel Manning 1986.
Old Kensington – A Local History Guide, R.M. Gibbs