This website was initially uploaded in conjunction with When London Became An Island, which was published in 2008. The book covers the planning and construction of the Regents Canal between 1811 and 1820. Today the website features both the Regents and Hertford Union canals.
The inaugurative meeting of the canal project was held on May 31st 1811 at the Percy Coffee House, on Percy Street, which is off Tottenham Court Road. On May 31st 2011 that first meeting was celebrated by a group of supporters and enthusiasts in a modern coffee shop, which stands within a few yards of the site of the original Percy Coffee House.
Part 1 of the website features the canal as it is today. It was first created when the book was being written and is updated occasionally. There is also a section on the short Hertford Union Canal (or Duckett’s Cut as it is sometimes called) which links the Regents Canal with the River Lee Navigation. This section may be accessed from the Bethnal Green to Limehouse section or by clicking here.
Part 2 carries the texts of three documents dating from the time when the canal was being built and a link to a relevant series of podcasts. See below for more details.
Part 3 subtitled Soochong, Shoguns and the Saracen’s surveys, goes forward four decades from the time the canal was built and outlines the voyages of HMS Saracen in 1854,1855 and 1856. The Saracen was a British survey vessel that worked in the waters off China, Korea and Japan and in the Gulf of Siam in those years. The work of such small ships were essential to the safety of Royal Navy vessels and merchant ships too, so helping facilitate the expansion of international trade on which the success of the Regents Canal ultimately depended. This part is being gradually written, chapter by chapter. Click here to go to the introductory page.
Notes on Part 1
Part 1 offers a guide to a walk along the Regents Canal towpath. It is divided into four sections. Look at the blue buttons above and you will see what they are. Click on a button to go to that section.
Direct quotes are italicised in the text and there are references to events mentioned in When London Became An Island, but it is not necessary to have read the book before using the website. As you read through each page you will see various photographs. These are all linked to a bigger picture, which can be raised with a click.
In each page there are hyperlinked buttons on the the left hand side. The grey ones should take you to the website of an organisation linked to the canal in some way or to information about a nearby place to visit. The green ones should take you to websites that have relevant historical information, whereas a multi-coloured button will take you to a video featuring a song or a podcast. A yellow button will take you to a page within this website that has historical information pertinent to that point in the main text.
A note about safety
Running from the junction with the Grand Union Canal at Paddington to the Thames at Limehouse, the canal towpath has been a place for leisurely strolls for many years. Until the Covid-19 lockdown, given the choked state of the capital's roads, it was hardly surprising the towpath was very well used as a cycle path and pedestrians should still take extra care when walking under bridges in case a cyclist suddenly appears from the opposite direction. In a local magazine, Go East in London 2012, a towpath ranger was quoted as saying this about London’s canal towpaths.
‘They are Greenways, not highways, on which pedestrians have priority. Our campaign ‘Share the Space, Drop the Pace’ asks everyone to be mindful of others, take it easy and ensure the towpath remains a haven of tranquility.’
The current Code of Conduct for cyclists and pedestrians on the towpath is listed below
Cyclists - Ring with two tings, Pass people slowly, Give people space.
Pedestrians - Listen for two tings, Allow cyclists to pass.
And for both remember that - Pedestrians have priority, Considerate cycling permitted, Give way to oncoming users at bridges, Be careful at bends and entrances, Consider other users.
This upload August 9th 2020
The site seems to work best with Firefox
9 years after the Regents Canal was opened George Cruikshank etched this picture as a comment on the remorseless expansion of London. As subscribers who owned land in the area must have hoped, the canal certainly assisted the growth of land values. Moreover, the prospectus assertion that building materials would be moved at a cheaper rate than by land carriage was an added inducement to speculate in the inevitable March of Bricks and Mortar.
In the eight years since Go East in London 2012 was published the amount of cycle commuter traffic, which often moves quite fast, has greatly increased. Before London reacted to the pandemic, I am not sure ‘tranquil’ would have been the word that would have immediately sprung to mind on the towpath in any rush hour, but you will be quite safe if you simply use this website to access either of the featured canals and view from the comfort and safety of your own home. The cafes, restaurants and pubs mentioned may now be re-opening as will museums and markets but not necessarily with the same times as before the lockdown. You should bear in mind restrictions on the use of public transport and make sure you have a mask if you intend to use it.
You might consider following the route from the air via Google Earth and, if so, put Little Venice in the search box to go to the beginning. So, best foot forward on this imaginary walk. Click the button below to start at Paddington, just like the navvies on the Regents did two hundred years ago.
Two informative organisations and a Kindle edition of When London Became An Island
The London Canal Museum, housed in a canal side building at Kings Cross, is the best place to find out more about London’s canals. The Friends of Regents Canal is a voluntary organisation that cares for the upkeep of the Regents Canal. It aims to promote the benefits of the canal, monitors current and future developments and disseminates information to interested parties. Click on the relevant button below to reach the website of either the London Canal Museum or the Friends of the Regents Canal.
A text only edition of When London Became An Island may be found on Kindle. The Kindle edition is called London’s Regency Canal. Click on the button below to go to the site.
Notes on Part 2
Three historical documents and nine podcasts
In an attempt to drum up financial support a prospectus was published in August 1811. I know of only one accessible copy. It is held in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects and I would like to thank the organisation for allowing me to copy it. A note attached to the prospectus indicates it was presented by Mr John Woody Papworth in 1867, a thoughtful act that preserved a most important document.
In 1815 Thomas Homer admitted embezzling company funds and fled London. He was eventually caught in Edinburgh, put on trial and sentenced to transportation. The second document is a copy of the letter in which he admitted his guilt.
Despite all the tribulations and troubles the Regents Canal was eventually opened in 1820. The third document is a report taken from The Times about the opening celebrations.
Nine short podcasts may be downloaded from the London Canal Museum website. They are based on talks given at the museum in 2011.
The buttons below will take you to each of the documents or the podcasts