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Regent's Canal: Camden to King's Cross

In 1985 GLIAS produced this walks leaflet, compiled by David Thomas. The area has since undergone a dramatic redevelopment.

We have reproduced it here for historical interest. Links to entries in the GLIAS Database are given.

The Regent's Canal (GTL00273; GTL00346; GTL00530) was opened in stages between 1812 and 1820. It provided a route for goods between the Thames with its newly opened docks and the industrial Midlands and also served many wharves along its 8½-mile course.

Mid-19th century railways changed the pattern of long-distance traffic on this canal. Interchange facilities were provided so that goods could be trunk-hauled by rail, with the canal providing short-distance transport to or from London's existing wharves and docks.

From Camden Town this walk follows the canal towpath past several locks to York Way, and then through side streets to King's Cross Station. Items of interest near the canal are included. The total distance is about two miles and should take some 2¼ hours to walk.

From Camden Town tube station (GTL03222) (Northern Line, opened 1907) take the Kentish Town Road exit.

Ahead on the right is the tiled 1920s façade of the offices and bakery of the Aerated Bread Company (ABC) (demolished) which at its peak had 150 shops.

Turn left into Buck Street.

On the nearby corner of Stucley Place is a four-storey factory, built in 1888 for a Mr Schuppisser, piano maker, now used by Desilu dresses. Several piano makers had factories in this area, which was convenient for canal and rail carriage of timber and other materials, and relatively close to West End stores.

Opposite the far end of Stucley Place are premises of TV-AM, opened in May 1983 in a former Henlys garage, itself a 1920s conversion of a brewery.

Turn left to Camden High Street, cross it and turn right, continuing past shops. Turn left through a gate just before the bridge over the canal, at Hampstead Road Locks (GTL00065).

Hampstead Road Locks

Note this is a pair of locks, the duplicate facilities being needed to help the passage of once heavy commercial traffic. The original 1815 castellated lock cottage, skilfully extended in 1972, is now an information/visitors' centre.
This area is described in companion walk No 6 Regent's Canal: Little Venice to Camden.

Return to the main road, cross the canal and turn sharp left through a gate.

The cobbled route was used by horses (GN 229) to reach the towing path. On the right is an open-air market on the site of one of several canal basins around the locks. An unusual masonic stone from the original 1815 road bridge is set into the present structure. On the corner an iron roller protects the bridgework from abrasion by towropes; other bridges have cast-iron rubbing bars. A mutilated foundation stone beneath the bridge is dated 1876, although there was extensive strengthening in 1909 for electric tramways. Look at other bridges along the walk for signs of widening and strengthening. From here eastwards the canal falls about 100ft to the Thames at Limehouse.

At the next (Hawley) Lock (GN 279), and others, one lock chamber has been converted into an overflow weir; the remaining one is sufficient for present-day traffic.

③ The railway on the viaduct to the left was opened in 1850 as the grandly titled East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway, joining the London-Birmingham line at Primrose Hill. A second viaduct, not visible, curves northwards taking trains via Gospel Oak. The lines' junction is by the signal box ahead near Kentish Town Road. They are still used by freight and local passenger trains.

On the right, plastic 'egg cups' cap the rear of TV-AM's premises. The section with roundheaded windows is all that remains of Camden Brewery. Beyond the bridge the canal passes behind the ABC site. A steam pipe crosses the canal from the former boiler house, left.

Former premises of TV-AM

Bridges under Camden Street and Camden Road follow closely, then Devonshire Wharf, occupied by Lawford's since the 1860s (GTL00870). The firm, initially dealing solely with slate, later became a general builders' supplier. Although no longer served by the canal, the wharf's appearance is little changed, and is typical of many which lined the canal in early days, handling commodities such as coal, lime, bricks, timber and hay.

④ As the canal turns beyond College Street Bridge, it passes a three-storey factory, which has seen a variety of uses, including a piano factory, since its construction in 1904 for a fancy box manufacturer. At one time there was a small basin along the far side — note where there were doors for loading barges.

The canal now widens at the site of St Pancras Borough's Bangor Wharf, where ash from its nearby dust destructor was brought through the (blocked-up) arch under the road and loaded into barges for disposal. Newer buildings now occupy the wharf.

Climb the steps to St Pancras Way.

By the railway line to the left is a three-storey building (now Greenham Concrete), built by the Midland Railway (MR) in the 1880s for one of its customers, George Skey & Co, brick, pipe and tile maker of Wilncote, Staffs. A very faded painted sign remains. The water tank served locomotives on the adjacent railway line. On the opposite bridge abutment a plaque commemorates its rebuilding in 1987. The boy figure is Saint Pancras, his halo denoting a saint and the palm frond a martyr.

Return to the towpath, noting the bridge foundation stone just above the water level opposite.

On the left a wall surrounds the former Agar Town goods yard of the MR, opened in 1862-5 and now the Elm Village housing development (1982-3). Further along, pad stones in the brick wall mark the site of a bridge which carried sidings across the canal to a warehouse built in 1865 by the MR to store ales of Messrs Bass & Co of Burton-on-Trent. To the left are remains of a hydraulic pumping station; fragments of typical MR lozenge-shaped window panes survive. This housed steam engines which pumped water at pressure into a mains system to operate cranes and capstans in the goods yard.

⑥ Ahead is a concrete and steel 'replica' of an 1840s cast-iron bridge which crossed the canal at an oblique angle; the older abutments remain. It carried a driveway to Elm Lodge, Mr Agar's house, the grounds of which were subsequently occupied by slum dwellings (Agar Town) before they in turn were swept awaay when the MR goods yard was built.

The canal emerges from beneath the wide railway bridge and opens out with a basin on the right.

The basin (GTL01169), occupied since 1958 by a boat club and moorings, was constructed in 1867 for transfer of coal from bottom-discharge railway wagons to barges. The wagons ran on sidings laid out on girders, of which a few ends remain. On the left, opposite St Pancras Lock (GTL01163), are goods sheds of the former Great Northern Railway (GNR), which reached London in 1850 (GTL00029). One shed enclosed a canal basin enabling under-cover transhipment of goods; the entrance was just below the lock.

A series of small windows in the wall, left, were for stables, built under a roadway in the goods yard, horses being used for shunting and goods collection and delivery. Above the sixth window are pad stones of a former bridge carrying a siding to coal drops for carts on the far side of the canal. This site has been landscaped as a 'natural park' (GN 312), (opened 1985).

The cluster of gas holders, some interlinked, dates from 1861 onwards, and includes several designs with classical embellishments (GTL00416, now resited at GTL03695). These were erected by the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Co Ltd, whose works were built alongside the canal in 1824 (GTL00416) so that coal could be delivered, and ashes and by-products despatched, via a private canal basin (see sketch). Gas production ceased at this site in 1904. The holders, still in use, together with the magnificent train shed of St Pancras Station (1868) (GTL00014) and clock tower of the adjacent hotel (opened 1873) (GTL00780) have been designated part of a Conservation Area.

sketch mapsketch map

The path curves left around the GNR goods yard wall, with its former offices above (GTL03711), to sites of two further bridges.

First was Somers Bridge, which provided road access to the goods depot; its successor is the concrete bridge ahead. Again, pad stones remain. Of the second, which carried a siding to the gas works, nothing is left. It stood where the canal narrows for a pair of stop gates, installed in the last war. They could be closed to lessen damage by flooding should the canal be breached — important, as near here the main lines out of King's Cross Station tunnel underneath (GTL00431). Another pair of gates are beyond this critical section, beneath Maiden Lane Bridge. In the wall on the left, before the concrete bridge, is a blocked wide arch, where a second canal arm led into the goods yard; this had four short basins entering the buildings. Before Maiden Lane Bridge (now carrying York Way) (GTL01244) the canal widens where barges moored at two flour mills, both long disappeared.

On the left is an Electricity Board installation which pumps cooling water surrounding under-towpath cables.

The canal continues towards Islington Tunnel (GTL00720); a walk describing this section will be published in 1986.

Ascend the steps by the pumping station to York Way.

Adjacent are gates to the goods yard (no access). Circular brick ventilation shafts for the railway tunnel can be seen.

Cross over the canal and turn right into Goods Way.

From here is a general view of the goods sheds; tallest (and oldest) is a six-storey granary (built 1851) (GTL03709). On the corner of Camley Street are former offices of coal companies (GTL03711) which used the nearby coal drops (GTL03710).

Continue past the gas holders (see above). Just before the bridges which carry the MR line into St Pancras, turn sharp left into Battle Bridge Road.

⑨ Culross Buildings (GTL00717) were built by the GNR for its employees and named after one of the chairmen; they continue in railway ownership (demolished 2008). Interestingly, there is a basement, accessible only from the rear, for railway workshops and messrooms. Turn right into Cheney Road. Between Stanley and Clarence Passages on the right are earlier flatted dwellings (built about 1855) with wide cast-iron balconies (GTL00604). On the far side of Clarence Passage is a hall opened in 1865 by a German Gymnasium Society 'for bodily exercise' (GTL00315). This thrived until 1914, when it became a railwaymen's sports and social club. It is now occupied mainly by a firm of architects. Next, on the left, is the exterior wall of King's Cross Suburban Station, opened in 1875 and enlarged in 1895 and 1924 to cater for expanding commuter traffic. Many inner suburban services now run to Moorgate via Drayton Park, and only two platforms remain.

Go through a passageway into the main part of King's Cross Station (opened 1852) (GTL00006) and turn right down the platform to the concourse. Ahead is the tube station entrance for the Circle, Metropolitan, Piccadilly, Northern and Victoria lines.

The area today on Google Maps

© GLIAS, 1985