|Regent's Canal (Hackney section)||Hackney|
The Regent's Canal was built between 1812-20 to connect the Paddington Branch of the Grand Junction Canal to the river Thames at Limehouse. It runs through a number of boroughs and is now an important public amenity. The 4km stretch of the Regent's Canal that runs through south Hackney has been publicly accessible only since the 1980s. One of its special qualities is that it is secret, largely hidden public space. Trees are found on some sections sometimes intentionally planted, but sometimes self sown. Although the original commercial use of the canal has ceased, it is much used for recreation, including dog walking, canoeing, fishing, running, cycling, pleasure boat cruising.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/07/2012
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
The Regent's Canal runs from Little Venice to Limehouse Basin, and is 13.5 km long and was built to link the Grand Junction Canal's Paddington Arm, which opened in 1801, with the River Thames. The Canal was first proposed in 1802 by Thomas Homer, who owned a fleet of boats operating on the Grand Junction Canal that carried coal and building materials to Paddington and took horse manure to the country. The Regent's Canal was designed to connect the newly opened Paddington Branch of the Grand Junction Canal to the Thames at Limehouse, so that cargo arriving by sea could be distributed throughout central and southern England by barge. In 1811, Homer's proposal found approval with John Nash, at the time designing Regent's Park (q.v.). Nash's associate James Morgan drew up plans for the new canal in 1811, which were passed in Parliament under the Regent's Canal Act in 1812, the Prince Regent having given his consent to the name. The Act of 1812 led to the Company of Proprietors of the Regent's Canal to be formed to build and operate it. Nash was appointed one of the directors and Morgan was appointed as engineer, and also undertook negotiations over land acquisition. Homer was initially Superintendent of Works until he was found to be embezzling funds in 1815.
Much of the land was undeveloped farmland; in Hackney this included land owned by Peter de Beauvoir and leased to speculative builder William Rhodes. The canal cut through south of C16th Balmes House at the southern end of the De Beauvoir Estate. Kingsland Basin, one of the largest canal basins in London, was built south of the planned development of De Beauvoir Town in 1822-27 and forms part of the estate leased to Rhodes, who excavated the basin, originally called Shoreditch Basin. By 1830 the De Beauvoir Estate had granted 16 leases for new wharves on both sides of the basin. While De Beauvoir Town was being built, the basin allowed easy import and storage of building materials and it continues to be associated with timber and building trades, although many of the wharves have been redeveloped for residential use. Other Hackney landowners were Nathanial Lee Acton and Mr Sturt, and the Clothworkers' Company. The first section was completed between 1814-16, with the second section including that in Hackney built between 1816-20. Haggerston Bridge dates from that time while Queensbridge Road Bridge is a little later, built in 1840. The canal originally had earth banks but it was lined with ragstone walls in 1832. North of the canal much of the land remained fields, market gardens, nursery grounds and otherwise undeveloped. The 4 km stretch in southern Hackney is 40 - 60 ft wide and has 2 locks, Actons and Sturts, built as pairs of locks for speedier journeys, named after two of the landowners. The lock cottage at Actons Lock was occupied from 1922-85 by the Woods family. Regent's Row survives as a stretch of early cobbled road alongside the towpath between Actons Lock and Queensbridge Road Bridge.
The Canal was officially opened on 1 August 1820 and was an immediate commercial success. Principal goods were timber, coal, ice and horse manure. As traffic increased so did the industrial premises built along its banks and in its basins. The latter included Northiam Basin between Victoria Park and Mare Street in the east, later infilled in 1976. The Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company built works in 1821 in Haggerston, formerly connected to the canal by Haggerston Basin, which was later infilled in 1967. New North Road Bridge was the first reinforced concrete tramway bridge in England, built in 1912 on the Hennibique system. Francois Hennibique (1824-1921), constructed the first building with a complete reinforced concrete frame and set up a branch office in London in 1897, with L G Mouchel in charge of design. The bridge at New North Road was designed by the borough engineer and erected by the contractors Higgs and Hill. Opposite Eagle Wharf lies Sturts Lock, where there used to be a pumping station that regulated water levels on the canal. As the land level rises from east to west along the canal’s course, water had to be pumped up from below Sturts Lock to City Road Basin to maintain the water level. Recently the former lock keeper’s cottage and pumping works and an adjacent Victorian warehouse, originally used to store and maintain canal barges, have been renovated and converted.
Packington Road Bridge is unique as the only pedestrian bridge on the canal in Hackney. In 1825 John Edwards started construction work on what was to become Wenlock Basin. It was opened at first by accident in August 1826, when the dam across the entrance gave way and water flooded into the new basin, causing a 13 inch drop in the level of the water in the main canal. The accident caused water traffic to stop until heavy rains restored the normal level. In 1832 John Edwards Vaughan, the son of the original owner, extended Wenlock Basin to a total length of 360 yards. It runs parallel to and just east of the City Road Basin in Islington. Wharf Road Bridge built in 1830, leads into Wenlock Basin.
In 1927 the Regent's Canal Company bought the Grand Junction Canal and the Warwick Canals, merging to form the Grand Union Canal in 1929. The canal was nationalised in 1948 but by then its commercial use was declining and by the 1960s commercial barges were rare. Horse-drawn barges ceased in 1956, following introduction of motor tractors to pull boats 3 years previously. By 1964 it was accepted that commercial use was coming to an end and by 1967 the Grand Union Canal was classified as an amenity waterway. Locks, initially manned, were user-operated by 1974, so restrictions to use were no longer the case. Along some sections of the canal and on the basins are surviving C19th and early C20th warehouses and industrial buildings, many formerly associated with the furniture and building trades, which dominated the canal-side wharves of Hackney at this time. The canal towpath was private space until the late 1960s. Opening the canals became a national policy following the 1968 Transport Act. It was not until the 1970s that a decision was made by Hackney Council to open up the canal to public use. The GLC had established the London Canals Consultative Committee under the chairmanship of Iltyd Harrington in 1966. The government took a few years longer to recognise the amenity value of the canal. In 1967 'The Regent’s Canal - a Policy for its Future' was published by the Regent’s Canal Group, a body composed of societies interested in the waterways in Paddington, Islington, St Pancras and Hackney, together with the London branch of the Inland Waterways Association and the Civic Trust. In 1968 Westminster City Council opened the first stretch of the Regent’s Canal towpath from Lisson Grove to Regent’s Park.
The route between Islington Tunnel and Limehouse was completed in 1982 as the Canalway Project. Up to that date the canal through Hackney had been isolated from adjacent housing areas by high wire fencing and other obstacles; much of the towpath was crumbling and falling into the canal and it was considered unsafe to allow public access immediately after the 1968 Transport Act.
Although the Regent’s Canal itself has altered little since the 1820s, once commercial traffic ceased so did the industrial use of the canal. The timber and builders wharves and warehouses that long lined the banks and basins are gradually disappearing, in some cases replaced by new canalside housing. Some of the smaller industrial buildings have become studios, restaurants and live/work units, although some factories such as that of Thomas Briggs near Rosemary Branch Bridge continue to trade.
Improvements to the canalside that have taken place include enhanced planting, fencing, safety measures as well as information panels, seating and art projects. These have included mosaics created near Laburnam Basin in the 1980s by children from Laburnam School, working with Freeform Arts, and installation in 1994 of 'Canal Markers', lighting sculptures on Kingsland Road Bridge. In the early 1970s some of the privately owned Wenlock Basin had been filled in, making it much narrower. In 1974 the basin was extensively landscaped and cleaned. It is now a site where ducks and geese breed and is also one of the few sites on the eastern section of the Regent’s Canal where houseboats can be permanently moored.
On 2 July 2012, British Waterways ceased to exist in England and Wales and in its place the Canal & River Trust was set up to care for 2,000 miles of historic waterways.
Regent's Canal Conservation Area Appraisal, 2007 (see bibliography). See history section on www.canalmuseum.org.uk/history