19 February 2008

The Regent's Canal, London

Here is a selection of some of the photos from my walk last week. The full set can be found here. My walk took me from London Bridge, up through Brick Lane and Bethnal Green to Hackney, where I joined the Regent's Canal. I then walked westwards to Paddington following the Canal...

This building off Royal Mint Street was part of the Goods Depot for the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, which opened in the 1850s. The viaduct behind carries the line from Fenchurch Street Station, which is about 500m to the west (ie. left of the photo).

Typical late suburban church, this is St. Matthew's at Bethnal Green. The parish of Bethnal Green was created in the 1740s in response to urban expansion after two centuries of immigration to the area. The church was completed in 1746. Destroyed by fire in the 1859 and rebuilt, destroyed by bombing in 1940 and rebuilt... its history reflects that of London as a whole.

"When I am rich, say the bells of Shore- ditch." I have spared you the sights of Brick Lane and the Bethnal Green gas-holders (for these you can see the album on facebook), and jumped straight to the canal. Shoreditch was, of course, another outlying village (centred around St. Leonard's Church) until urban growth in the 17th century finally caught up with it and made it a suburb of Hackney. The creation of the canal in the early 19th century brought trade and industry, all of which is now pretty much gone and the waterside is now almost exclusively apartments and offices. Below is one of the surviving wharves at Haggerston, with canal boats tied up over winter.

Here some of the nice low-key streets of Islington (ish), all mid-19th century and the second generation of urban housing in this area. This is Arlington Square, looking very pretty with the winter sunshine on the typical London yellow brick; nice to see relatively normal two-storey houses.

Looking back towards the Wenlock Basin. This is an interesting bit of canal, with industrial buildings on one side and a wall constructed of bits of a reverberatory furnace (?ferrous?) on the other. Shortly after this I had to leave the canal (which proceeded gracefully through the Islington Tunnel, and climb up the hill across Islington. After a short diversion to the Antiques Mall (and a cup of tea stop), it was back down again to the canal via Chapel Market.

The canal then winds it way round the back of Kings Cross and St. Pancras Stations - now greatly altered since I last wandered around here taking photographs in 1989 (amazingly 19 years ago!). I should scan them in and put them on here, actually, that might be interesting. This is a view of one of the last of the famous St. Pancras gas-holders, with the Post Office Tower (now itself a listed building) in the background.

Looking back towards the gas-holder a bit further along. I am standing underneath the railway bridge to St. Pancras, completely rebuilt except for the outer steelwork (the inside of which is visible here painted green) as part of the redevelopment for the Eurostar trains. It is a shame that the French arrive here now instead of Waterloo, which was more appropriate - perhaps St. Pancras should be renamed 'Agincourt' or something to make up for it?

Reflections of various 20th century archit- ecture in the water near Camden Town.

Scene of peaceful- ness and tranquility at Camden Lock, the area still vibrant and full of hippies despite the recent fire. Lots of self-consciously 'alternative' types here, mingling about and trying to look moody and interesting but occasionally letting their mask slip and smiling in their enjoyment of the clear winter sunshine. By the time I took this photo it was about 3pm and the sun was getting lower in the sky...

...so I moved on to more salubrious areas with increasingly substantial houses. These are on the back of Jamestown Road, each having a garden running down to the canal with its own private mooring. Gradually the houses get larger and more graceful as the route moves westwards away from Camden...

...and then suddenly the canal enters Regent's Park, passing through the middle of London Zoo. So for a while there were jackals and hyenas running alongside the towpath, as well as the very impressive aviary seen here (designed by Cedric Price).

Further along some very expensive houses fooled the eye for a while but are all clearly brand spanking new, forming part of the Regents Park development by Quinlan Terry. This particular one is the 'Regency Villa' (2002-2002), the last in the series is still being built. The project has not been without some controversy, with genuine Regency structures being demolished to make way for the new ones.

Finally, after walking through the short Lisson Grove Tunnel, I had to leave the canal when it plunged into the Maida Hill Tunnel. A short walk through posh late nineteenth century suburbs, and I arrived at the western portal. By this time the sun was now very low and beaming into the tunnel - lighting up the roof and reflecting in the water in this rather marvellous fashion. Below is the view from more or less the same point but in the opposite direction, looking from the Maida Hill Tunnel along Blomfield Road. A very tranquil scene in the winter, although I suspect rather busier in the summer. I was actually surprised at how little-used the canal was - with the exception of one British Waterways maintenance barge near Kings Cross, there was no traffic on the waterway at all.

At the end of this stretch is the so-called 'Little Venice' (although it seemed more like 'little St. Petersburg' or 'little Birmingham' in character really), where I turned left to finish my walk in Paddington Basin.

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