Regent's Canal: Waterway offers picturesque views of London's north side

By Bob Downing

Akron Beacon Journal

Published: Saturday, Nov. 17 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

The Regent's Canal quickly became England's busiest, and wharves quickly sprang up along it and adjoining basins. The basins — some of which survive today — became home to industrial operations.

Items being shipped from across England arrived via canal, and cargoes from seagoing vessels were transferred to horse-drawn canal barges. Those shipments were transferred at the Regent's Canal Dock (the Limehouse Basin) at the East End docks.

Coal and building materials were the most-shipped commodities.

In 1830, the 1.3-mile Hertford Union Canal opened with three locks off the Regent's Canal.

After the first railroad was built in London in 1837, the canal continued to do well. The rail and canal seemed to work together to transport goods including coal, stone, ice and manure.

There were two proposals in the 19th century to turn the canal into a railroad. But that never happened.

The British government nationalized the rail, road and canal systems in 1948 under the British Transport Commission. The use of the canal as a shipping hub continued into the 1960s when rail and roads surpassed the canal system.

In 1963, the canals were taken over by British Waterways London. The Regent's Canal Dock was shut down in 1969.

Today the Islington Boat Club offers boating and instruction on the four-acre City Road Basin where wharves and warehouses once boomed. Nearby is the Wenlock Basin.

The City Road Basin was the home of flour and timber wharves operated by such companies as Fellows, Morton and Clayton.

In the early 1900s, it was home to operations of British Drug Houses and Pickfords, the well-known removals company.

Near City Basin Lock was a stable where canal horses were housed. It was one of three along the Regent's Canal. The others were at Hampstead Road Lock in Camden and at the Old Ford Lock in Victoria Park, Tome Hamlets.

The canal includes three tunnels. The longest is at Islington and it stretches 960 yards. Shorter tunnels run 272 yards and 53 yards.

In the old days, the boats were powered through the tunnels by what was known as legging. Boatmen would lie on planks aboard the canalboat and move the vessel by walking on the side walls of the tunnel.

In 1826, a steam-powered chain tug was built to speed up getting boats through the tunnels.

Boats can go through the tunnels but walkers, joggers and bicyclists must detour because the towpath doesn't go through the tunnels.

Part of the Regent's Canal towpath is also part of the Jubilee Greenway, a 37-mile walking path through London.

The Jubilee Greenway starts at Buckingham Palace and links Green and Hyde parks and Kensington Gardens Royal Park with Paddington Station and the Grand Union Canal at Little Venice. It then follows the Regent's Canal through Camden.

The greenway connects to East London through Victoria Park to the River Thames where the Woolwich Foot Tunnel connects Greenwich and the South Bank at Tower Bridge and back to St. James via Westminster.

The walkway was launched in 2009. It is 60 kilometers long, one kilometer for each year that Elizabeth II has been queen of England. The trail is continuous and makes use of existing walking and cycling routes wherever possible.

The Jubilee Greenway is part of the Inspire program run by the London Organizing Committee of the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

The project is being managed by the Jubilee Walkway Trust.

You can get information at www.walklondon.org.uk/jubileewalkwaytrust.

For canal information, contact the Canal and River Trust at canalrivertrust.org.uk. For London tourist information, check out www.visitlondon.com.

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