Search

A look back at Regent’s Canal history 200 years after plans were approved

15:36 13 July 2012

Murky past? A tug tows a barge laden with timber on the Regent

Murky past? A tug tows a barge laden with timber on the Regent's Canal. Probably 30s-50s though we don't have a date for this.

Archant

A world famous Islington waterway celebrates a special anniversary tomorrow.

On July 13, it will be 200 years to the day since Regent’s Canal got the go-ahead.

The canal was given royal assent by the Prince Regent while his father George III lapsed into mental illness. Although it wasn’t completed for another seven years, to mark the occasion events are taking place at the London Canal Museum this weekend.

As well as a special guided tour and talk about the history on Friday afternoon, a folk opera at the museum that night will trace the life of the canal through song.

Then, on August 23, a 100-year-old barge will be tugged to the canal museum by horse and cart.

Martin Sach, chairman of the museum, said: “It’s all going to be a lot of fun and Friday should be a great day. To hear the history of the canal told in song is quite unusual. It’s not often history and music go together. Maybe we should do it more often.

“The guided walk will be very good – one of our experts Lester Hillman will be doing the honours, and a 100-year-old boat being drawn by horse and cart should be a special event for everyone.”

Construction was beset by problems when work began in 1812, including embezzlement, faulty inventions and the challenge of constructing the Islington tunnel.

Mr Sach said: “At Camden, an experimental lock designed by William Congreve was built but didn’t work properly. Everybody blamed everybody else and the whole thing had to be scrapped.

“Another disaster happened in 1815 when a man called Thomas Homer ran off with all the shareholder funds. He was eventually caught and deported to Australia – a pretty harsh sentence. And the Islington tunnel is without a doubt the major work of the canal. It’s three quarters of a mile long and was a huge undertaking without today’s modern equipment.”

The project had the support of celebrated architect John Nash, who enlisted the help of his friend the Prince Regent, who in turn allowed his name to be used. “It was a bit of a double edged sword, because the prince wasn’t universally popular,” said Mr Sach. “He was seen by some as a womaniser and an extravagant philanderer.”

More helpful was the Poor Employment Act of 1817, to provide work for the poor and ex-servicemen after the Napoleonic War. It meant the canal could borrow money from the government when the project ran out of cash again in 1817.

In 1820, Regent’s Canal finally opened to great fanfare – with a brass band playing on boats to mark the occasion.

Around 120,000 tonnes of cargo was shipped in the first year and the canal flourished until after WW2, when road travel took over.

The waterway never closed though – unlike many across the country – and in the 1960s interest began to increase from those keen on walking, cycling and fishing.

In 1987, developers wanted to fill in City Road basin and build on it – but campaigner Crystal Hale successfully fought the plans and went on to start the The Angel Canal Festival, now in its 26th year.

The London Canal Museum in New Wharf Road, Islington, was opened in 1992 by patron Princess Anne. The building was previously used by Swiss entrepreneur Carlo Gatti, who stored ice imported from Norway, before selling it on to caterers and hospitals.

Now the museum has exhibitions about the history of the canal, the horses and the people who worked on it, sometimes in terrible conditions, as well as a historical map and a tug boat. Call 020 7713 0836.

0 comments

Latest Islington News Stories

16:40
Jeremy Corbyn gets shown how to fix a cracked phone screen

Jeremy Corbyn took a seat next to some Islington teenagers last week to learn how to fix cracked phone screens.

16:11
Arlington Square in Islington. (Picture: Google Maps).

Two teenagers were stabbed in an Islington square on Wednesday night.

13:42
Emergency services and displaced commuters outside Caledonian Road and Barnsbury station (Picture: Sam Gelder)

A 15-year-old boy has been charged with attempted murder after a man was stabbed on the platform of Caledonian Road and Barnsbury Overground station on Thursday.

13:37
Masjid Al-risaalah mosque and Islington Islamic Centre. (Picture: Google Maps).

A man has been charged with attempted murder after a stabbing outside a mosque in Parkhurst Road last week.

12:31
Cllr Diarmaid Ward, Islington's housing leader, back left, with Islington Council leader Richard Watts, back right, and new tenants in the council housing in King Henry's Walk, Canonbury

As the UK’s most densely populated borough, Islington is particularly exposed to London’s housing crisis. It means the council is getting creative with its locations for new houses.

Yesterday, 09:00
Islington Gazette: August 29, 1986

Daredevil Gooners seeking a bird’s eye view of Arsenal games were warned they were dicing with death.

Sunday, August 28, 2016
Peter and Alan Arthy at the Mears Group HQ in Caledonian Road

“I was 14 and the career officer came round. He said to me ‘right you’ve got three options; making women’s handbags, a dustman or a painter and decorator’.”

Friday, August 26, 2016
Fabric nightclub in Charterhouse Street. Picture: Polly Hancock

Embattled Farringdon nightclub Fabric is “a safe haven for the supply and consumption of illegal drugs” with lax security, licensing chiefs will be told on September 6.

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now

Newsletter Sign Up

Most read news

Competitions

You could win £15,000 to spend on either their mortgage or a deposit towards the home of their dreams

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a period of time when you simply don’t have to worry about finding the money each month to pay your mortgage? When you don’t have to put money aside from your monthly income, or worry about having to afford other essential outgoings?

Which book character do you share cleaning habits with?

Whether you have more in common with put-upon Cinderella, emotionally turbulent Jane Eyre, or easily distracted Mole, you’re sure to appreciate that one lucky winner will receive four sessions of free cleaning. Enter our quiz for your chance to win. All runners up will get £10 off their first clean when making a repeat booking.

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now