Welcome to the
When London Became An Island
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.
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.
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. Click here for the link to the London Canal Museum. A couple of years ago the information centre in the old lock keeper’s cottage at Camden Lock was enhanced and display boards now outline the history of the canal from inception to the present. The Friends of the Regents Canal were instrumental in the improvement of the information centre. Click here for the website of the Friends of the Regents Canal.
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 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. 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 towpath. It is divided into four sections. Look at the blue buttons on the left and right 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 pages 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 song or dance. 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 (note; the Regents Canal is also called the Grand Union Canal by some sources) to the Thames at Limehouse basin, the canal towpath has been a place for leisurely strolls for many years. I have walked the towpath since the 1970s and never had any problems. However, I would suggest it is best to walk in daylight and aim to stop before dusk unless you are familiar with the place where you will leave.
These days, given the choked state of the capital's roads, it is hardly surprising the towpath is very well used as a cycle path and pedestrians should always 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.’
In the years since that was published the amount of cycle commuter traffic, which often moves quite fast, has greatly increased. Click here to read comments and observations made about the problem speeding cycles cause in a report written for a Friends of the Regents Canal meeting in March 2017.
Notes on Part 2
This part contains texts of documents from the 1811 - 20 period. They are;
Text of the Regents Canal prospectus. August 1811.
Text of Homer's letter admitting fraud. April 1815.
Text of the Times report of the opening ceremony of the Regents Canal. August 1820.
Click on the relevant button to access a document.
If you want to go directly to one of the sections of the virtual walk click on a button below.
If you would like to listen to podcasts giving a brief overview of the story of the Regents Canal up to 1820, with some biographical details of several of the main players, click the button below.
This upload was made on August 14th 2018.
Update made to Bethnal Green to Limehouse.
A view from Ben Jonson Road bridge