Regent’s Canal

Camden Lock, Regent's Canal, London

Camden Lock, Regent’s Canal, London

enjoy themselves in the industrial-picturesque surroundings of the Regent’s Canal, within a short bus- or tube-ride of central London.

On my last visit I spent an unseasonably warm spring lunchtime with my mate Ants at Camden Lock, eating and drinking and gazing across the water outside the Ice Wharf

There’s much more to the scene than meets the eye.

The Regent’s Canal was originally the early nineteenth-century version of the M25, built by a consortium that included the canny architect John Nash (1752-1835), who had the ear of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, and who made the most of his royal patronage to devise a master plan for a swathe of central London that runs from St James’s Park via Regent Street to Regent’s Park.

The practical purpose of the canal was to link the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington Basin with the London docks at Limehouse.  It was begun in 1812, completed as far east as Camden Town by 1816 and fully opened in 1820.

In fact, most of its traffic came from the docks:  it was more used as an artery to deliver freight around north London than to convey traffic to the Midlands canals.

Boats floating through Regent’s Park were an embellishment rather than intrusion:  indeed, repeated attempts to turn the canal into a railway through the nineteenth century invariably came to grief.

In between the First and Second World Wars, the Regent’s Canal amalgamated with connecting waterways through the Midlands as the Grand Union Canal, a brave and partially successful attempt to revive water transport as a bulk carrier.

Since 1945, commercial traffic has given place to pleasure cruising, encouraged by recognition of the amenity value of canalside homes and leisure facilities, and the growth of some of the finest market-shopping opportunities in the capital.

Latterly, it has proved invaluable for an entirely different purpose:  since 1979 trunk cables have carried electricity at 400KV, cooled by canal water, buried beneath the towpath.

John Nash and his chief engineer, James Morgan, would be astonished.


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