Sensations and History: A Sensory Trail of Kensington

The Sensory Trail | Sunday 19 August 2018 

By Andrew Mashigo and Lynn Cox

Our summer 2018 event, Sensations and History: A Sensory Trail of Kensington, was a walk exploring some heritage and historical sites in Kensington, revealing interesting facts and trivia of selected parts of High Street Kensington and Kensington Gardens while exploring their physical and aural features. This tour, on Sunday 19th of August and for visually impaired or blind people, started at High Street Kensington station, stopping at St Mary Abbots Parish Church, the Palace Gates in Kensington Gardens, the Round Pond,  before concluding at Serpentine Gallery’s Serpentine Pavilion.

Map of Kensington

Image: Aerial map of High Street Kensington and Kensington Gardens.
Credit: Google Maps

So, what is a Sensory Trail? A sensory trail is a tour that provides a series of experiences along a route designed to engage our senses and collectively immerse participants in a multi-sensory journey. Our focus on this sensory trail was to explore and share a journey that potentially creates moments and movements. We purposely designed the walk to take us through public buildings, the park, and around art installations, with the knowledge that a montage of perspectives and responses will be created.

This Sensory trail was also an opportunity to listen, touch, and smell our environment more intently, to encourage physical interaction with the environment, and to tell stories that help build memories and make connections.

The Sensory Experience

High Street Kensington Station

Our first stop was the tactile map of Kensington High Street, installed in the hallway of High Street Kensington station. This was the first station on Kensington High Street, constructed in 1867. The station was then demolished in 1906 and rebuilt complete with a shopping arcade. Kensington Arcade, currently with 15 stores, is the entrance to the station.

Sensory Trail Pix 10
A Visually Impaired participant touches the tactile map of Kensington High Street.
Sensory Trail. Pix 1
The tactile map of Kensington High Street, for sight and touch, uses colour-coding, raised letters, symbols and braille to identify buildings, roads, open spaces and bus stops along Kensington High Street.

Images: Above are two images of the tactile map installed in High Street Kensington Station, installed by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

Image description: The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, working with Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Blind, produced this robust three-dimensional map featuring colour-coding, raised letters, symbols and braille. The raised letters and braille are finished in grey colour, the park and open spaces are depicted in green colour, the buildings in purple, the roads in dark blue and bus stops are marked with round yellow symbols.

This tactile map provided a lot of discussion points. The first one was that no one seemed to know that the tactile map had been installed in the station. The tactile map is a valuable interpretation tool for both visually impaired and sighted users but does not seem to have much use. It was also felt that been tucked away in the corner of the station hall made it difficult to locate. A final observation was that the area was not well-lit meaning a visually impaired (VI) person with some vision will struggle to read and use the map visually.

Other than that, everyone felt this new map will help visually-impaired users, including those with guide dogs, people in wheelchairs and other visitors, to map their way around Kensington High Street.

Sensory Experience: Sometimes the obvious only becomes clear when we pay attention to things around us. The sound of the ticket gates swinging open and shut created an interesting and unique beat and rhythm, sometimes sounding like beats to a rock song. At other times, it felt you could hear the two-step beats to a marching band.

The synchronised sound of the tickets beeping seconds before the gates swing open and shut created an interesting melody, although sometimes jarring, and at other times sounding chaotic, especially at moments when there are multiple users.

Leaving the station and out of the Kensington Arcade, we walked past Ben’s Cookies and then Wasabi, experiencing contrasting scents. The cookies created a waft of sweet smells, the smell of chocolate, while near the exit of the station, the cooked dishes created the savoury smell of stews and seasoning. Both scents were quite pleasant and inviting, and reminded someone of grandma’s Christmas dinners.

St Mary Abbots Parish Church

St Mary Abbots Parish Church was built in 1872 by Gilbert Scott. Until the early 19th century, St Mary Abbots was the only church in Kensington.

Sensory Trail Pix 9
Participants walking through St Mary Abbots Parish Church grounds from the west entrance.
Sensory Trail Pix 8
Participants viewing the external wall of St Mary Abbots Parish Church, with a particular interest in the tombstones that have been interestingly embedded into the wall.

The current state of the church does not represent what Gilbert Scott left in 1872 but is instead the result of the repairs carried out with probably inferior materials following the bombing and burning-out of the church in WW2.

Some of the interesting features of the church’s Cathedral-like interior are the high Nave, Aisle and Transept roofs, the flat stone floor and the splendid historic timberwork used throughout. The magnificent wrought iron font is currently positioned in the corner near the west door. All around, we noticed the stone and mosaic materials, and the elegant stained glass windows.

St Mary Abbots Church entrance
Entrance to St Mary Abbots Church via the west entrance, using the great West Door.
The Font
The Font, standing near the West door, was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and presented to the church in 1881.

Images: The top image shows the entrance to St Mary Abbots Church via the west entrance, using the great west door.
The bottom image shows the font, a wrought iron structure installed into the roof. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and has a wrought-iron canopy, presented in 1881.

Although the nave and chancel roofs were destroyed and damage was done to stained glass and the organ during WW2, the main structure was not seriously harmed. There is a story that while the fire-fighters fought the blaze, an air raid warden played the organ to keep the water out of the pipes thus perhaps preventing more serious damage.

The Sensory Experience:

Walking through the church, you immediately sense the presence and ambience that transcends the physical. Some call it ethereal, saintly or heavenly, and I’d just like to call it the divine presence.

The timberwork used in the ceiling and the pews give the space a soft and subtle echo and creating a very immersive experience. Spoken words seem to float around as whispers, almost with an eerie charm. You only have to stay here for 5 minutes and you will definitely be taken by the tranquillity and majesty of the silence. Truly transcendental!

Interesting facts: Until the early 19th century, St Mary Abbots was the only church in Kensington. Many eminent parishioners included Sir Isaac Newton, Joseph Addison, William Wilberforce, George Canning, William Thackeray and Lord Macaulay.

The Palace Gates, Kensington Gardens.

Kensington Gardens covers 265 acres and was originally part of Hyde Park. The Gardens with their magnificent trees are the setting for Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria who lived there until she became queen in 1837.

Kensington Palace Gate
A close-up view of the Palace Gates, with bright golden floral designs against the black metal gate.
Kensington Palace Gates
Lynn shares some really interesting history of Kensington Gardens.

Some Interesting facts about Kensington Palace.

The Not So Good News: King George II didn’t get on well with his son, Prince Frederick, at one point having him banned from Kensington. When Frederick died after getting hit in the chest with a cricket ball, the news was delivered to George as he was playing cards. George’s response to his son’s death? “Good.”

It has a haunted Nursery: Like any good palace should be, Kensington has its fair share of ghosts. King George II is said to haunt the palace where he lived. Another is “Peter the Wild Boy”, whom George I brought back to Hanover after finding him living in the woods. It is thought that Peter suffered from a genetic condition known as Pitt-Hopkins and it is believed that he haunts the King’s staircase. Princess Sophia is another royal ghost in the palace. Apartment 1A, home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as Prince George and Princess Charlotte, is rumoured to be one of the more haunted palaces in Kensington Palace.

It’s Rotten: A private road was built from Kensington to Hyde Park Corner that was wide enough for three-to-four carriages to ride abreast. Part of the road eventually became the major thoroughfare known as Rotten Row.

The Round Pond

The Round Pond is an ornamental lake in Kensington Gardens, London, in front of Kensington Palace. The pond was created in 1730 by George II as a fashionable addition to Kensington Gardens. It is approximately seven acres in extent, measuring approximately 200 by 150 metres. The pond is actually not round.

Sensory Trail Pix 7

Image description: The image shows some of the birds that reside in the pond.

The Round Pond is a haven for birds and contains various fish and also filled with a large variety of ducks, geese, swans and other birds all waiting to be fed by visitors. All around the birds enjoy the serene settings of the garden.

The Sensory Experience: The numbers of birds wading through the pond and flying around made the pond sometimes feel like a flying school for young birds. The cacophony of wings flapping and birds landing in the water was pretty interesting.

The Serpentine Gallery

The Serpentine continues its exploration of public art, bringing new sculptures to Kensington Gardens since 2010. The latest sculptural commission is by artist Lee Ufan, installed outside the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Lee Ufan. Relatum Stage
Lee Ufan sculpture, Relatum – Stage, outside Serpentine Gallery.

Image copyright: © Serpentine Gallery 2018

Lee Ufan sculpture 1
This is a reflection from the angled, mirrored steel sheets that make up this sculpture.
Lee Ufan sculpture 2
This outdoor sculpture can be touched so why not sit and become a participant in the sculptural installation, instead of just been an observer? And that’s what we did.

Lee Ufan’s minimalist works usually use only two materials – steel and stone – characteristic of the minimalist school of thought. Relatum – Stage is a philosophical term denoting things or events between which a relation exists. Comprised of two, angled, mirrored, steel sheets and two different-sized stones, It merges the natural and industrial in a poetic installation that reflects the surrounding environment of the Park.

Text: The Serpentine Gallery

The Sensory Experience: Ufan’s stones were sourced in Wales and this steel, mirrored sheet and stones sculpture are both smooth and rough, cool and hot, dull and reflective, and eerily steady and delicate.

Serpentine Pavilion 2018

Architect Frida Escobedo’s Serpentine Pavilion harnesses a subtle interplay of light, water and geometric form to create an atmospheric courtyard. The Pavilion is an enclosed courtyard, comprised of two rectangular volumes positioned at an angle.

Serpentine Pavilion 1
The lattice of cement roof tiles is supported by concealed metal rods. The tiles were cool to the touch, smooth and felt very solid to the touch.
Serpentine pavilion 2
The pond is cast into the Pavilion floor.
Ripples and shadows form an impressive part of the shallow pond as participants wade through gently
Ripples and shadows form an impressive part of the shallow pond as participants wade through gently.

Images: The top image shows the lattice of cement roof tiles supported by concealed metal rods.
The middle image shows the shallow pond.
The bottom image shows a VI and her companion walk in the shallow pond.

The Sensory Experience: Light is dispersed around this structure with an almost geometric consistency, a result of the layering of the lattice of cement roof tiles and the play and movement of light and shadow over the course of the day. The lattice seems like a trellis for the sun to drape its sunshine with, creating interesting shades in the process.

The ceiling also has the mirrored effect from reflective metal sheets installed onto it, leaving observers with a strange sense of the ground viewed from the top.

Tactile Paving, Exhibition Road.

Tactile pavings work in the same way as tactile delineators and are used as a system of surface indicators that can assist pedestrians who are visually impaired.

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The blistered pavings are tactile paving embedded into the road as surface indicators.
Sensory Trail Pix 3
The blisters in the truncated domes are textured to give better grip.

Originally pioneered for Japanese subways, tactile delineators were first designed by Seiichi Miyake in 1965 and introduced to Okayama city, Japan, in 1967. They have now become popular in Australia, the US, UK and Canada. It became called Hazard guide for Visually Impaired in 1985.

The blistered pavings work well as they are a safe road indicator and hazard warning. Tactile delineators are also directional guides and can be both concrete slabs or metal embedded in the road. Some tactile pavings are painted to add contrast, usually yellow as is used in train and tube stations, while some designs offer pavings that match the colour of the surrounding building.

The Sensory Experience: Blistered pavings or tactile delineators are very effective surface indicators, especially for visually impaired pedestrians. There have been reports that people with a spectrum of autism find them uncomfortable. They also don’t seem to work as well in shared spaces, especially when directional tactile delineators are integrated across tactile pavings. Research continues on how shared spaces can be made safer for VI’s.

Sensory Trail Pix 5

Image: The above image shows five VI participants and a companion at the conclusion of the Sensory Trail. Three other VI’s and two companions were unable to stay for the extended trail that went on for an additional hour beyond the advertised time.

Our Thank You’s
A special thank you to everyone who participated in this Sensory Trail and for all the very useful discussions and contributions. Thank you also to Merton Sports and Social club.


All the buildings and heritage sites we explored had step-free entrances, and there was only ever one moment when we chose to use the three steps at the west entrance to St Mary Abbots Parish Church as we explored the great west door.

Guide Dogs and all assistance dogs are welcome on our Sensory Trails.

There were accessible restrooms at High Street Kensington Station, Kensington Gardens and Serpentine Pavilion, our final stop.

Large print guides of this trail are available on request.



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LinkedIn: Mamomi Initiative


Facilitators: Andrew Mashigo and Lynn Cox

Large Print Guide Design and Print: MaMoMi

Copyright: Mamomi Initiative CIC 2018


#SensoryTrail #SensoryTrailKensington

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