diamond geezer

 Monday, September 29, 2003

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house
Number 16 - the canals of East London

dirty Den was here?There are a number of canals in East London, and Bow is completely surrounded by them. To the West the Regents Canal, to the North the Hertford Canal, to the East the Lee Navigation and to the south the Limehouse Cut. All quite pretty in their own way, and a fine six mile circular walk is possible along the various towpaths.

Britain's first canals appeared in the late 18th century, the first successful method of transporting heavy cargo across the country. Four miles an hour may not have been fast, and numerous flights of locks slowed travel down even further, but for a few decades the canal was king. I could tell you more, but I'd rather not because I suffered canal overload while at primary school. My school was located less than half a mile from the Grand Union canal, and so we seemed to do a 'topic' on canals every single year. Duke of Bridgewater, coal, narrowboats, James Brindley, locks, bargemen, the coming of the railways... been there, done that, far too often.

In 1812 work began on the Regents Canal through North London, providing a link from Paddington Basin on the Grand Union direct to the Thames at Limehouse. This 8½ mile waterway became a landscape feature of the new Regents Park, designed by John Nash, who was one of the canal's major shareholders. The Regents Canal passes beside London Zoo, starts to drop 86 feet at Camden Locks, then dives underneath Islington through a towpath-less tunnel. Pickfords the removals company was originally based here at the City Road basin, complete with 120 barges and stables for 120 horses, able to deliver freight to Birmingham in 2½ days flat. The canal runs on through Hackney and through Victoria and Mile End Parks before finally reaching the old Regents Canal Docks, now the posh housing development of Limehouse Basin.

floating towpathThe River Lea has been an important navigable waterway into London for over 500 years, and during the 18th century the navigation was much improved with new cuts and locks. Barges travelling between the Lea and the Regents Canal were forced to negotiate the great loop of the River Thames round the Isle of Dogs, so two short canals were built later to link the two together and reduce journey times. The Hertford Canal runs along the bottom of Victoria Park and has one of the most picturesque flights of locks in the capital, but was never a commercial success. The Limehouse Cut is an arrow-straight channel direct from Bow Locks to Limehouse, less picturesque and eerily quiet. British Waterways installed the UK's first floating towpath here under the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road earlier this summer, complete with kingfisher styling and green lights in the footpath.

One less well-documented feature of the canals of East London is their miraculous healing power. It's possible to fall into the water complete with fatal gunshot wound and bunch of daffodils, and then to reappear 14 years later seemingly none the worse for wear. The BBC are screening a documentary tonight (BBC1, 8pm) recounting the story of a middle-aged EastEnd publican whose gangland exploits saw him supposedly assassinated beside a local canal back in 1989. Despite the discovery of a headless body and a full family funeral, this lucky man apparently survived his underwater ordeal and has been recuperating in Spain ever since. The BBC filmed Mr Watts' miraculous return beside the Grand Union Canal in Alperton in West London, and alas not here in E3. However, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see sick pilgrims now queueing to visit the restorative canals in the Bow area to take the waters and heal themselves. We might even become the Lourdes of the EastEnd. After all, everyone's talking about it.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream