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The Regents Canal

At Victoria Park

A qualified City of London tour guide.

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The Regents Canal - Alongside Victoria Park.

The Regents Canal flows alongside Victoria Park for part of it’s journey across London. When I was a child it was separated from the actual park completely by a tall iron fence. Now however there are gates allowing access to it which makes it an extension to the park itself. It is now a very pleasant place to be, unlike the rubbish tip of years ago. A great deal has been done to make use of both the water and the banks as a leisure facility for everyone. Boat, narrow boats and anglers make use of the water while cyclists and walkers use the bank as a shortcut across the area or simply for a relaxing stroll or ride. I won’t go too deeply into the history or usage of the old canals here as there must be many web sites for enthusiasts hungry for more knowledge of them.

The Geography

The barge horses

The Regent's Canal forms a junction with the old Grand Junction Canal at Little Venice, a short distance north of Paddington Basin. After passing through the Maida Hill and Lisson Grove tunnels, the canal curves round the northern edge of Regent's Park and bisects London Zoo. It continues through Camden Town and King's Cross Central, formerly known as the Railway Lands. It performs a sharp bend at the Camley Street Natural Park, following the street known as Goods Way. Continuing eastwards beyond the Islington tunnel, it forms the southern end of Broadway Market and then meets the Hertford Union Canal by Victoria Park, after which it turns south towards the Limehouse Basin, where today it also meets the Limehouse Cut. At this point the canal ends and the River Thames begins.

We always referred to the canal as ‘the cut’ when we were kids, no matter what part we were referring to.

The horse in the picture is pulling a narrow boat on the Kennet and Avon Canal, but we used to watch them as kids pulling great barges up and down the ‘cut’, as we called it. The ropes used to leave deep grooves in the brickwork of the bridges. This was overcome on some of the sharper bends where the rope pulled tighter, by fixing a metal post to the structure. It seemed to me at the time that the goods barges were never ending, but died out in a very short period of time. Unless it was just that I stopped looking as I got older.

There are many barges or narrow boats on the canal today but along with the small motor cruisers that are also quite numerous, they are for pleasure rather than trade. You will always find two or three moored alongside the park. They have even installed electricity supply boxes on the bank for their use.

Sticklebacks, bedsteads and the odd shotgun

As kids we spent quite a bit of time ‘down the cut’. Sometimes fishing, sometimes mucking about or just watching the barges being pulled fully laden. We were sometimes putting our lives at risk from disease or drowning, by swimming in the filthy water. Apart from the Sticklebacks there was plenty of other things to be found in the murky water. There was all manor of things thrown off the bridges and from gardens that led down to the banks. I now realise how the rivers of old London came to be filled in and disappear forever by endless rubbish being dumped over the centuries. There were no supermarket trolleys in those days but old bedsteads, bicycle frames and the odd weapon were not unusual finds with a home made grappling hook. I even heard about an angler pulling out a carrier bag containing an old sawn off shotgun. The canal had taken eight years work when finished in in 1820 and if the top layer of junk hadn’t been removed from time to time it would have been filled in again just as quickly! It has gradually been dredged thoroughly over recent years and is much cleaner now. Another thing that has gone missing is the Lock Keeper. At one time they would live in the cottage by their lock and open and close the gates. Now the narrow boat users have to do it themselves.

Using the canal locks >>


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