Regent’s Canal lock keeper says Islington waterways are more glamorous than you might think

Neville Reeves is on the left. On the right is Rob Hewitt, another volunteer

Neville Reeves is on the left. On the right is Rob Hewitt, another volunteer - Credit: Archant

When you think of lock keepers, it might conjure the image of Victorian Canals from a bygone era.

But the profession is alive and well today in and volunteer lock keeper Neville Reeves, 58, has been keeping the waters of the Regent’s Canal running for more than three years after leaving his career in the City.

He said: “I had a canal boat myself and wanted to give something back. I suppose you could say I am a canal enthusiast.”

Despite the mud, Neville, who works on locks through Islington and Hackney, insists the canal can be “quite cosmopolitan” and an unlikely place to spot celebrities.

“During the Olympics I saw athletes from all over the world training and warming up all along the canal and in Victoria Park.

“Actor Jim Broadbent is a regular feature along the canal.”

But Neville insists the main draw of the canal is not the scenery.

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“The 200-year-old canal is like a working museum. Visitors are fascinated by the waterway.”

He added: “The canals are in the same state as when they were first built. They’re not electric and still very hands on.

“We get visitors from all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and of course America to name just a few. Tourists come from literally all over.”

Describing a typical day on the job, Neville said: “I arrive at 8.15am and do lots of tidying. The small team here litter pick and patrol a two mile area.”

The canals might not be as popular as they used to be, but narrowboats and barges are still a common site.

“There is more traffic in the summer, but still a lot of boats on the moor in winter.”

“We help with the mooring and answer people’s questions, for example the closest Underground stop or garage, but I’m often asked where they can find the nearest pub.”

Neville says one of the main job perks is the wildlife which populates all along Regent’s Canal.

“We get a wide selection of birdlife: ducks, geese, even parakeets – they love it round here.”

“The job is very worthwhile; lock keepers give a lot to the canal community in keeping the area tidy.”

Neville says his favourite part of the day is “meeting new people and having a good chat. It’s a pleasure to be outdoors.”

With London’s canals booming, the charity that looks after them is looking for new volunteer lock keepers. They work on a shift basis throughout the year, with their busiest period being from April to September.

If you think you could do Neville’s job, the Canal and River trust is looking for new volunteer lock keepers on City Road lock in Islington.

There are currently over 40 active volunteer lock keepers like Neville across London’s 100 miles of waterways.

Find out more at