Us kids spent quite a bit of time "down the cut". Sometimes fishing, sometimes mucking about or just watching the fully laden barges being pulled by the horses. 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.The Canal and River Trust and its many volunteers spend their free time making a major contribution to keeping the canals clean. Another organisation helping the canal is the Regents Canal Heritage.Lock keepers are now a thing of the past. 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.
The Barge Horses
I think the horse in the photo is on the Regents Canal, not completely sure. We used to watch them as kids pulling great barges full of cargo up and down the "cut", as we called it. The ropes eroded 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 round metal post to the structure. The smoother surface of the metal also stopped the fibres of the rope being worn away too quickly. It was a common site at the time but died out over a very short period.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 and accommodation rather than trade. You will find hundreds moored along most of the length of the canal since the rise in house prices. They have installed electricity supply boxes on the bank for their use.
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 in East London and then meets the Hertford Union Canal by Victoria Park. After that 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.