Happy 200th to the Re­gent’s

Canal Boat - - News -

IN 1816 THE first sec­tion of the Re­gent’s Canal opened, link­ing the Padding­ton Arm of what was then the Grand Junc­tion Canal to Cam­den and to Cumberland Basin. And two cen­turies on, both of these places fea­ture in the an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions – with a cake-cut­ting cer­e­mony at Cam­den, and an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Lon­don Canal Mu­seum fea­tur­ing the ‘lost’ Cumberland Basin.

The open­ing cer­e­mony at Cumberland Basin marked the first step to­wards the 1820 com­ple­tion of a route which de­scended via 12 locks as it skirted the north side of the city of Lon­don to link to the Thames at Lime­house. It wasn’t all plain sail­ing: the Prince Re­gent may have given his name to the canal but he didn’t give it any money, and it strug­gled to raise the cash – not helped by its pro­moter Thomas Homer em­bez­zling funds in 1815, and fight­ing be­tween the navvies build­ing the canal and gar­den­ers work­ing on ad­ja­cent land.

But once it was opened the through-route to the docks pros­pered, car­ry­ing coal, tim­ber, build­ing ma­te­ri­als, and (on one oc­ca­sion) enough gun­pow­der for an un­for­tu­nate ex­plo­sion to de­stroy a bridge. It was still car­ry­ing com­mer­cial freight traf­fic into the 1970s, has been busy with leisure craft and pub­lic trip-boats for over half a cen­tury and, as the Lon­don Canal Mu­seum’s trustee Roger Squires puts it, “al­though it has changed dras­ti­cally, it still of­fers a key fea­ture in the town­scape and con­tin­ues to pro­vide an amaz­ing lo­cal re­source”.

How­ever, while the Re­gent’s Canal is enjoyed by mil­lions ev­ery year, you won’t see Cumberland Basin on the map to­day, and you might strug­gle to find many signs on the ground. The half-mile Cumberland Arm, reach­ing down to­wards Eus­ton Road and aim­ing to serve the de­vel­op­ing West End, never ful­filled its po­ten­tial. It was even­tu­ally filled in with bomb rub­ble af­ter the Sec­ond World War, and the only ev­i­dence that boaters see to­day is a sharp turn as the canal leaves Re­gent’s Park, with a small mooring basin oc­cu­pied by an un­likely-look­ing Chi­nese restau­rant boat.

But if you know where to look, traces of the arm can be found – and the Mu­seum’s dis­play (fea­tur­ing the artist’s im­pres­sions on this page, spe­cially com­mis­sioned from Lon­don il­lus­tra­tor Jane Smith) ex­plains where to look for clues to this lost Lon­don canal: al­lot­ments on the former basin site, and a bridge over noth­ing. “The ex­hi­bi­tion tells some enthralling sto­ries of lost in­dus­tries; the rise and fall of the canal arm and its re­newal as part of to­day’s Lon­don”.

The ex­hi­bi­tion runs un­til Novem­ber: see canal­mu­seum.org.uk.

It isn’t the only canal bi­cen­te­nary this year: we’ll be look­ing at the Leeds & Liver­pool next month.

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