Restoring The Canals

London, Observatory

London’s Regents Canal is 8.5 miles long, has 13 locks, 7 basins, 50 bridges and 2 tunnels. It was opened on August 1st 1820, and horses pulled barges along it, making deliveries in London until the railways took over. The riverside people regarded the boat people as ‘water gypsies’, but were friends with the bargees (the working men whose horses pulled the barges), and who had nickmanes like ‘Blossom’, ‘Long Tom’, ‘Trunky’, ‘Skippo’ and ‘Paddington Poll’.

The canal companies continued to deliver the items the railways couldn’t handle until the 1960s, when the canal fell into disuse and became a disease-ridden backwater. Kids would play here in gangs of up to a hundred.

One good side effect of the London property boom was realising that the warehouses lining the canal would be valuable. But in order to attract buyers, the canal had to be cleaned up.

If you walk along the Regents canal now you’ll see fish, wildflowers, herons, geese, moorhens, ducks and swans. And the barges are all back, but this time they’re used for living on and leisure pursuits. Quite a change in forty years.

Battlebridge Basin 1960s


The Same View Now

By the way, as you walk along the canal, which cuts right across central London, you’ll often see one of these things. It’s called a Horse Slip. Sometimes the horses lost their footing and fell in the canal. They would be brought along to the slips, where they could regain their footing and climb out. Today, over-eager bell-tinkling cyclists sometimes miss them and shoot straight into the canal. How we laugh.

10 comments on “Restoring The Canals”

  1. Alan Morgan says:

    ‘Today, over-eager bell-tinkling cyclists sometimes miss them and shoot straight into the canal. How we laugh.’

    Very good!

    I admit though that when the title popped up (and quite irrationally) I thought that to escape the snow you had taken a seasonal break to Mars. Perhaps to attract that all important Barsoom readership. The snow has gone now, up here at least and away from the fells and mountains.

  2. Reuben says:

    I’m sure this has been suggested numerous times before, but I’d love to see a book collecting all your pieces on London (hidden or other wise).
    Maybe a guide to London written by Arthur Bryant , although you may have to ghost write that one….

  3. Anne Hill Fernie says:

    Yup, tipping rain up here in Lancashire! I too have thought that a collection of the ‘hidden’ London things on the blog would be really good. I have noted lots of them and posted them to friends who live in London. They have followed them up and were impressed until I told them it wasn’t me who had ‘discovered’ them……..oh, while I’m here just to wish all the ‘usual suspects’ on this site and of course you too Chris (I’m getting to know certain ‘names’ and it’s weird how you start getting gradual little pictures of your lives and where you live etc. from reading the postings…)a very happy 2011!!!!

  4. Vickie Farrar says:

    Another delightful mini-view of London, with the final sentence bringing a whoop of laughter. Snarky does it!

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Glad to hear things are improving (if rain sufficient to wash that snow away is an improvement). One of our local mountains (peculiarly called Mt. Washington) has had so much snow you couldn’t see through it, people’s cars were buried in snow and they had to cancel skiing. We’ve just had rain, but it stopped whenever we had to go out so I’m not complaining. Yes, I’m getting some – sometimes odd – pictures of others on this blog too, Anne. Happy New Year to you all.

  6. Andy says:

    Lived for 15 years in Devizes in Wiltshire, next to the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet and Avon canal. Now that’s impressive, 29 locks over 2 miles with a rise of 237 feet. Got reopened by the Queen after decades of disuse on 1990, the year I started work at the Devizes Museum. They got a backpumping station after a few years that allowed them to operate the locks for more than one day a week without the danger of emptying the canal. Loved cycling along the dead flat 19 mile “Long Pound” canal towpath through the Vale of Pewsey above Devizes. Good pubs.

    Not visited the London canal network much and I ust. Another new years resolution…

  7. Helen Martin says:

    You can see another shot of this part of the Regent Canal in the Wooden Boats magazine. I’ve heard of shopping carts being dropped into canals but that’s a car in that 60’s shot!

  8. Alan Morgan says:

    Oh hey, Andy. I know Devizes – I lived in Shrewton before moving up here.

  9. JudyQ says:

    I always thought that London was amazing but you make it seem very mysterious. If you were to write a book on the mysteries and adventure to be had in London I would buy it!!

  10. Lynne says:

    Hello, is this photo really from the 1960s? It’s just that the car doesn’t look very 60ish. Also, I remember someone telling me that the basin was drained sometime in the 1980s when the flats in nearby Tiber Gardens were renovated. Being a local resident I’d love to know more…. I have photos of the basin dating back to 1992 when it looked very different to how it does today – but nothing earlier than that.

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