Regent's Canal: Little Venice to Camden
In 1985 GLIAS produced this walks leaflet, compiled by David G Thomas.
We have reproduced it here for historical interest. Links to entries in the GLIAS Database are given.
The Regent's Canal was built in stages between 1812 and 1820 to link the Paddington branch of the Grand Junction Canal (opened in 1801) with the Thames at Limehouse. It enabled goods to be moved between the industrial Midlands and the newly opened docks, and also served many wharves along its 8½-mile course.
Canals brought considerable advantages to industry in pre-railway days; a boat drawn by a single horse could haul a load of 25 tons or more compared with the 2-3 tons at most of a horse and cart over frequently impassable roads.
This walk follows the canal from Little Venice through Regent's Park to Camden — where it passes railway premises — to finish at Chalk Farm tube station. It is about three miles long and should take some 2½ hours.
① Take either exit from Warwick Avenue tube station (Bakerloo line, opened 1915).
In the centre of Warwick Avenue is one of 12 surviving shelters and mess rooms for London taximen (GTL00687). The first was erected in 1875 by a hackney carriage user who took pity on the cabmen working in all weathers; by 1915 there were 65.
Walk up Warwick Avenue towards the traffic lights. Turn right along Warwick Place, past shops and a pub.
Turn left over Blomfield Road to the 1900 canal bridge.
② The Canal Office (GTL04062) is a former toll house for the Grand Junction Canal Company, where boats were 'gauged' to check the weight of goods they were carrying. Recessed into the sides of the canal below are wooden gates which could seal a section of canal for drainage. Westward is the route for Birmingham.
On the other side of the bridge is a triangle of water, Little Venice, with the entrance to Paddington Basin beyond. Note the adjacent turn-over bridge, allowing towing horses to pass to and from the Regent's Canal without unhitching.
Continue along Blomfield Road to Warwick Avenue Bridge (1907).
Here starts the Regent's Canal. This had its own toll house (GTL04060) adjacent to the bridge (GTL04061) as it was a separate company until 1929 when it combined with the Grand Junction and others to form the Grand Union Canal Company.
Cross Warwick Avenue to follow Blomfield Road (with boats moored alongside). Turn left into Randolph Road.
Several covers in the pavement are marked 'Metropolitan Electric Supply Lmd'. Take the first right into Randolph Mews, where one of this company's sub-stations remains (built 1927, now disused); see initials in brickwork.
Turn right at the end of the Mews, then left, continuing alongside the canal.
Ahead is the 272-yard Maida Hill Tunnel (GTL00843); its 17ft 6in wide entrance clearly has no room for the towpath. Boat crews had to 'leg' or walk craft through with feet against the tunnel walls, while their horses were led over the top.
③ Cross Edgware Road, and walk along Aberdeen Place, turning right down a footpath opposite 'Crockers' public house (GTL00464).
Follow the road past the long windowless façade which, as can be seen from letters on the far end ('ST.MA') is but a fragment of St Marylebone Borough's generating station (1906-1962) (GTL00701). Both this and the nearby St John's Wood generating station (passed shortly) were sited to use the canal for delivery of coal, removal of ashes and to provide cooling water.
Return to 'Crockers' and turn right.
New (1979) housing, ahead, replaced flats built by the Great Central Railway (GCR) for people displaced by the building of Marylebone goods yard. Allegedly, Thomas Crocker thought the site was intended for the railway's passenger terminus, his 'folly' pub being built for the expected trade.
As the road curves left, take the footpath on the right to railings overlooking the canal and descend steps to the eastern end of Maida Hill Tunnel.
④ Cables from the transformer station run eastwards under the towpath. Follow the path through a short tunnel, the far end of which is straddled by a canal worker's house. Ascend the steep curving path to the left, which was the way horses crossing Maida Hill Tunnel were reunited with their boats.
Turn left into Lisson Grove, then left again onto the path above the canal.
This leads alongside Westminster City Council's Lisson Green housing estate, built when the ex-GCR goods yard here became redundant. At this point goods were transferred between the railway and barges to serve the docks and local wharves. The canal is wide enough for working boats to be moored on both sides. On the opposite bank a modern sub-station occupies part of the site of St John's Wood generating station (built by Central Electricity Generating Co. 1904, demolished 1972). Only pleasure craft moor here now, occasionally including converted working narrow (7ft wide) boats and barges.
Walk along the path past the flats and across the canal by a metal footbridge.
⑤ Opposite are the premises of the Thames Bank Iron Company, which moved here in 1926 from a riverside site near Waterloo. Several bridges used to carry railway sidings over the canal to the goods yard opposite; only the pad stones now remain. From the bridge turn left to continue along the towpath. Two bridges ahead, similar to those removed, carried GCR main line trains to Marylebone from Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester, but are now used only by local services. Pass under these bridges and a third, used by LRT Metropolitan Line trains to Watford and Chesham; this section opened in 1868 as the Metropolitan & St John's Wood Rly.
The walk now enters Regent's Park, laid out in 1812-1827 by John Nash for the Prince Regent, later George IV.
⑥ Several bridges cross the canal cutting around the Park's northern edge; the first carries within the depth of its deck the piped Tyburn Stream. Next is Macclesfield Bridge (GTL00049), named after the Canal Company's first chairman, the Earl of Macclesfield. It is more popularly known as 'Blow-up Bridge', for in October 1874, 'The Tilbury', carrying a mixed cargo (loaded at City Basin) including gunpowder and petroleum products, blew up as it was being towed beneath. Reminders of this explosion are a vertical gash in the plane tree on the left before the bridge, and towing rope abrasion marks on both sides of the cast-iron bridge indicating that they were turned around when the bridge was was rebuilt. Names on the Doric column heads show they were cast at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, an ironworks important during the early industrial revolution.
After Primrose Hill Bridge (1864) the towpath enters the environs of London Zoo, passing several animal houses and the aviary (opened 1965) designed by Lord Snowdon and others. Two stones set by the towpath mark the boundary of St Marylebone and St Pancras parishes; a further pair are on the opposite bank.
⑦ On the final bridge (GTL00597) note the iron founder's mark 'Henry Grissell, London 1864' cast in the arch rib; Grissell's company was the Regent's Canal Ironworks in Hoxton. Straight ahead a ¾-mile branch served wharves and the Cumberland hay market (at Cumberland basin) close to Euston Road. It was filled with war rubble in 1942/3. The canal now veers sharp left, a reminder that original plans took it across the park rather than around the periphery.
Go under the Water Meeting Bridge (rebuilt 1969).
To the right on the house at 33 Regent's Park Road are cast-iron balconies — popular embellishments in Victorian days.
Continue beneath Grafton Bridge and ascend the steps on the far side of the next, Fitzroy Bridge to Gloucester Avenue.
⑧ To the right are former railway workshops. From the bridge over the canal can be seen the offices and warehouses of Camden goods yard. This was to be the terminus of the London & Birmingham Railway (L&B), but a decision to build a more central passenger terminus at Euston meant an extension down an incline (GTL00023) over the canal. Before returning to the towpath, note older street lamps with the martyr, St Pancras, depicted on the service door. Pass under two railway bridges, the first built in 1906; abutments of the second are 1837 originals (GTL00998). To the right once stood one of several warehouses in the vicinity occupied by Messrs Gilbey, wine merchants and gin distillers (GTL00531). Canal access from the docks and good rail communications made Camden a convenient UK base. Two rail bridges (removed) crossed the canal into the warehouse; pad stones remain in the wall on the left. The local children's fantasy castle Pirate Club, opened in 1977, makes imaginative use of corner of canal-side land. Opposite, in the same style, is an installation to pump cooling water around the under-towpath cables.
At this point, look back to the railway bridge. The square tower alongside housed an 'accumulator', part of a system that used water under pressure to work cranes, hoists and capstans in the goods yard and warehouses (GTL00729).
Part of the white painted building beyond the next bridge was Gilbey's head office. Left is a large blue and red brick railway warehouse of about 1905, with a basin at basement level for rail-canal goods transfer. The small bridge over the basin entrance has the founder's name (Deeley) cast on the arch.
Walk onto the towpath bridge above Hampstead Road Locks (GTL00065).
⑨ This bridge with a span of 80ft takes the towpath to the opposite bank at an angle (GTL03696), thus avoiding entrances to several basins (see plan). The extra canal width allowed boats to manoeuvre into them. Ropes have cut deep grooves into the bridge's stone and ironwork. The locks, the first of the series which takes the canal down to the Thames at Limehouse, are 78ft by 14ft 6in to take Thames lighters, slightly larger than 'wide' (70ft by 14ft) canal barges. All Regent's Canal locks were built in pairs, to both speed traffic and save water (a central sluice allowed one chamber to partially discharge into its neighbour).
Alongside is the original 1815 lock cottage, extended in 1972, and now an information/visitors' centre. Also here is a winch, restored by GLIAS (Journal 1), which once assisted in opening lock gates on the Lea Navigation at Limehouse.
Walk back and step through a doorway alongside the basin.
From 1937 to 1971 this was Dingwall's timber wharf, loaded lighters being towed here from the docks; it is now part of Camden Lock Centre. Shops to the left were originally stables with hay lofts above.
Pass under the arch and turn right along a cobbled road.
The railway on the left was built in 1850 as the grandly titled East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway, joining the L&B at Primrose Hill.
Turn left under the bridge and walk along Chalk Farm Road to a vehicle entrance on the left.
⑩ More former stables, for horses which shunted wagons in the goods yard and did collection and delivery carting, surround this yard (GTL00086). Although private property, parts are used for a weekend flea market. To the left of the single-storey former coal merchants' offices the original stables have been expanded by providing a a ramp to additional stalls in former hay stores. A passageway led from this complex to the goods yard. To the right of the offices are arches of former coal drops. Coal was deposited by bottom-discharge wagons into hoppers, and then loaded into carts positioned below. Opposite the arches are horse-van sheds, with more stables above.
⑪ Continue along Chalk Farm Road to the 'Round House' (GTL00024).
Built in 1847 to house 23 railway goods engines, this building became redundant in 1862 when the size of locomotives exceeded that of the central turntable. It became a bonded store for Messrs Gilbey until 1964, and is now an arts centre. Note the roof, designed to let steam and smoke escape.
Follow the main road, crossing to nearby Chalk Farm tube station (Northern Line; opened 1907).
© GLIAS, 1985