Regent's Canal

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Regent's Canal, West portal of the Islington tunnel
Regent's Canal
Grand Union Canal
Little Venice, Maida Vale
Harrow Road, A404
Bishops Bridge, A4206
Paddington Basin
Maida Hill Tunnel(272 yd)
Eyre's Tunnel(53 yd)
Chiltern Main Line bridge
Chapel Bridge A41
Cumberland Basin
Water Meeting Bridge A5205
West Coast Main Line bridge
1 Hampstead Road Locks
Hampstead Road Bridge A502
2 Hawley Lock
3 Kentish Town Lock
Kentish Town Bridge A400 (n)
Camden Bridge A400 (s)
North Road Bridge A503
College Street Bridge A5202 (n)
Gray's Inn Bridge A5202 (s)
Midland Main Line bridge
St Pancras Basin
4 St Pancras Lock
East Coast Main Line tunnel
Maiden Lane Bridge A5200
Battlebridge Basin
Thornhill Bridge A5203
Islington Tunnel(960 yd)
5 City Road Lock
City Road Basin
Wenlock Basin
6 Sturt's Lock
New North Road Bridge A1200
Kingsland Basin
Kingsland Bridge A10
East London Line bridge
Laburnum Basin
7 Acton's Lock
West Anglia Main Line bridge
Cambridge Heath Bridge A107
8 Old Ford Lock
Hertford Union Canal
Great Eastern Main Line bridge
9 Mile End Lock
Mile End Bridge A11
10 Johnson's Lock
London, Tilbury and Southend Railway bridge
11 Salmon Lane Lock
Commercial Road Bridge A13
12 Commercial Road Lock
DLR bridge
Limehouse Basin Marina
Limehouse Cut
13 Limehouse Basin Lock
River Thames

Regent's Canal is a canal across an area just north of central London, England. It provides a link from the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, just north-west of Paddington Basin in the west, to the Limehouse Basin and the River Thames in east London. The canal is 13.8 kilometres (8.6 miles) long.[1]


First proposed by Thomas Homer in 1802 as a link from the Paddington arm of the then Grand Junction Canal (opened in 1801) with the River Thames at Limehouse, the Regent's Canal was built during the early 19th century after an Act of Parliament was passed in 1812. Noted architect and town planner John Nash was a director of the company; in 1811 he had produced a masterplan for the Prince Regent to redevelop a large area of central north London – as a result, the Regent’s Canal was included in the scheme, running for part of its distance along the northern edge of Regent's Park.

The entrance to the Regent's Canal at Limehouse, 1823.

As with many Nash projects, the detailed design was passed to one of his assistants, in this case James Morgan, who was appointed chief engineer of the canal company. Work began on 14 October 1812. The first section from Paddington to Camden Town, opened in 1816 and included a 251-metre (274 yd) long tunnel under Maida Hill east of an area now known as 'Little Venice', and a much shorter tunnel, just 48 metres (52 yd) long, under Lisson Grove. The Camden to Limehouse section, including the 886-metre (969 yd) long Islington tunnel and the Regent's Canal Dock (used to transfer cargo from seafaring vessels to canal barges – today known as Limehouse Basin), opened four years later on 1 August 1820. Various intermediate basins were also constructed (e.g.: Cumberland Basin to the east of Regent's Park, Battlebridge Basin (close to King's Cross, London) and City Road Basin). Many other basins such as Wenlock Basin, Kingsland Basin, St. Pancras Stone and Coal Basin, and one in front of the Great Northern Railway's Granary were also built, and some of these survive.

The City Road Basin, the nearest to the City of London, soon eclipsed the Paddington Basin in the amount of goods carried, principally coal and building materials. These were goods that were being shipped locally, in contrast to the canal's original purpose of transshipping imports to the Midlands. The opening of the London and Birmingham Railway in 1838 actually increased the tonnage of coal carried by the canal. However, by the early twentieth century, with the Midland trade lost to the railways, and more deliveries made by road, the canal had fallen into a long decline.[2]

Railway projects

There were a number of abortive projects to convert the route of the canal into a railway. In September 1845 a special general assembly of the proprietors approved the sale of the canal at the price of one million pounds to a group of businessmen [3] who had formed the Regent's Canal Railway Company for the purpose.[4] The advertisement for the company explained:

The vast importance of this undertaking, whereby a junction will be effected between all existing and projected railways north of the Thames, combined with the advantage of a General City Terminus, is too obvious to require comment. By the proposed railway, passengers and goods will be brought into the heart of the City at a great saving of time and expense, and facilities will be afforded for the more expeditious transmission of the mails to most parts of the kingdom.[4]

The railway company subsequently failed, but in 1846 the directors of the canal went about trying to obtain an Act of Parliament to allow them to build a railway along its banks. The scheme was abandoned in the face of vigorous opposition, especially from the government who objected to the idea of a railway passing through Regent's Park. In 1859, two further schemes to convert the canal into a railway were proposed. One, from a company called the Central London Railway and Dock Company, was accepted by the directors, but once again the railway company failed. In 1860 the Regent's Canal Company proposed a railway track alongside the canal from Kings Cross to Limehouse, but funds could not be raised. Further schemes over the next twenty years also came to nothing.[citation needed]

In 1883, after some years of negotiation, the canal was sold to a company called the Regent's Canal and City Docks Railway Company. at a cost of £1,170,585. The company altered its name to the North Metropolitan Railway and Canal Company in 1892, but no railway was ever built; instead it raised money for dock and canal improvement and eventually, in 1904, became the Regent's Canal and Dock Company.[3]

Twentieth century

In 1927, the Regent's Canal Company bought the Grand Junction Canal and the Warwick Canals, the merged entity coming into force on 1 January 1929 as the Grand Union Canal Company. A new carrying subsidiary was formed, the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co, with a fleet of 186 pairs of new narrow boats. A vigorous expansion policy was combined with a successful drive for new traffic much of which was carried on the Regent's Canal. Iron and steel for Birmingham, imported via Regent's Canal Dock, was won from the railways by offering a quicker and cheaper service. Other traffic commodities included grain, raw materials for HP sauce, leather waste, last blocks, cresylic acid, zinc ashes, and even cheese. The decline of the 1920s had been reversed, and tonnage rose from 8999 tons in 1931 to 168,638 tons in 1941. In August 1938 the Cumberland Basin was dammed off and drained and in the next two years it was formally abandoned. The Regent's Canal was nationalised in 1948. By this time, the canal's importance for commercial traffic was dwindling, and by the late 1960s commercial vessels had almost ceased to operate, the lorry taking over the traffic not already lost to the railway in the 19th century, and closure of the Regent's Canal Dock to shipping in 1969 was the last nail in the coffin.[citation needed]

Wenlock Basin, Islington (2004)

New uses

A new purpose was found for the canal route in 1979, when the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) installed underground cables in a trough below the towpath between St John's Wood and City Road. These 400 kV cables now form part of the National Grid, supplying electrical power to London. Pumped canal water is circulated as a coolant for the high-voltage cables.

The canal is frequently used today for pleasure cruising; a regular waterbus service operates between Maida Vale and Camden, running hourly during the summer months.

Due to the increase in cycle commuting since the 2005 London Bombings[5] and increasing environmental awareness, the canal's towpath has become a busy cycle route for commuters. National Cycle Route 1 includes the stretch along the canal towpath from Limehouse Basin to Mile End. British Waterways has carried out several studies into the effects of sharing the towpath between cyclists and pedestrians, all of which have concluded that despite the limited width there are relatively few problems.[6]

The Code of Conduct for shared use sets out the behaviour expected of pedestrians and cyclists.


Map of the route of the Regent's Canal in London
The Regent's Canal near St Mark's Regents' Park.

The Regent's Canal forms a junction with the old Grand Junction Canal at Little Venice, a short distance north of Paddington Basin. After passing through the Maida Hill and Lisson Grove tunnels, the canal curves round the northern edge of Regent's Park. It continues through Camden Town and King's Cross Central. It performs a sharp bend at Camley Street Natural Park, following Goods Way where it flows behind both St Pancras railway station and King's Cross railway station. The canal opens out into Battlebridge Basin, originally known as Horsfall Basin, home of the London Canal Museum. Continuing eastwards beyond the Islington tunnel it fforms the southern end of Broadway Market and meets the Hertford Union Canal at Victoria Park, East London. It turns south towards the Limehouse Basin, where meets the Limehouse Cut, and ends as it joins the River Thames.[citation needed]

Maximum craft dimensions

On the Regent's Canal the maximum length is 21.95 metres (72.0 ft), with a beam of 4.27 metres (14.0 ft) and a headroom of 2.79 metres (9 ft 2 in). The navigational depth is, on average 1.15 m (3 ft 6 in).[7]


In 2012, playwright Rob Inglis was awarded a £16,000 Arts Council grant to write Regent's Canal, a Folk Opera, a musical that celebrates the 200th anniversary of the digging of the canal.[8] It played in a number of locations around London in 2012.[9]

The London Canal Museum occupies Carlo Gatti's Ice House at Kings Cross, London, 12-13 New Wharf Road.[10]

See also


  1. Regent's Canal and Hertford Union Canal
  2. Islington: Communications, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8: Islington and Stoke Newington parishes (1985), pp. 3-8 accessed: 22 July 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 Denney, Martin (1977). London's Waterways. London: B.T. Batsford. pp. 79–80. ISBN 0-7134-0558-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Regent's Canal Railway". The British and foreign railway review. 1 (1): 306. 1845. Retrieved 5 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 'Cycling on London's Waterways', British Waterways London
  6. See a presentation by British Waterways following a Safety Audit study by Transport Initiatives in 2006.
  7. Boating in London (British Waterways) accessed 29 Oct. 2011
  8. ""Regent's Canal" – a folk opera". Retrieved January 9, 2014. |archive-url= is malformed: timestamp (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Peter Gruner (23 August 2012). "Musical writer Rob Inglis finishes off folk opera script from hospital bed". CamdenNewJournal. Archived from the original on January 9, 2014. Retrieved January 9, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "London Canal Museum". Retrieved January 9, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Alan Faulkner – The Regent's Canal: London's Hidden Waterway (2005) ISBN 1-870002-59-8
  • Alan Faulkner – The George and the Mary: A Brief History of the Grand Union Canal carrying Company Ltd (1973)

External links

Next confluence upstream River Thames Next confluence downstream
River Neckinger (south) Regent's Canal River Ravensbourne (south)
(Deptford Creek)