The Regent’s Canal, to which the Prince Regent lent his name, was the “London Canal” that would finally link the London docks at Limehouse with the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington Basin. Only then was the world’s greatest port linked to the 18th century canal network and with England’s industrial heartlands. The canal opened on 1 August 1820, by which time the Prince Regent had ascended the throne as George IV.
Originally intended to go through Marylebone Park, as Regent’s Park was then known, the canal had to be built in a cutting to the north of the park with a branch on the east to the Cumberland Basin. These two sections formed part of a two mile stretch without locks from Paddington Basin to the Hampstead Road that opened four years earlier in 1816. Cumberland Market, to which the Haymarket relocated, serviced the wealthy residents of the park. The Cumberland Arm was filled with bomb rubble during WWII, and soon after the basin was converted into the largest and oldest collection of allotments in Central London.
From Paddington Basin, the Regent’s Canal descends 86 feet over 83/4 miles through 12 locks to the Thames, where there is an entrance lock. There are two tunnels: at Maida Vale (272 yards) and at Islington (926 yards).
Traffic grew rapidly in the goods for which the carrying capacity and speed of travel of barges and narrowboats was suited – coal, iron, timber, stone, ice, and beer – while competition from the railway increasingly captured the higher value domestic market. Warehouses and industries such as gasworks spread along the canal.On 2nd October 1874, a barge carrying gunpowder exploded at Macclesfield Bridge in Regent’s Park. The bridge was destroyed, and three crew members killed. Claims for damages proved so expensive that the Regent’s Company never fully recovered.
The long decline in commercial use of the Regent’s Canal stimulated development in the second half of the 20th century for pleasure boats, fishing, and walking along the towpath. More recently, property prices and the attractions of canal-side living have created a rising tide of property development and a near doubling in the number of boats on the canal.
Camden Lock Market has developed into a top London tourist destination. Its historic setting and the views along the canal from the docks and the Roving Bridge create an exceptional industrial landscape.
Further information on the bicentenary of Regent’s Canal is available on the website:
– Regent’s Canal to Hampstead Road, Summer 2016 newsletter
– The Canal in the Landscape, Summer 2020 newsletter