On 1st August 1820, an ‘aquatic procession of boats and barges, ornamented with flags and streamers, and filled with ladies and gentlemen’ sailed from Maiden Lane for the opening of the new Regent’s Canal. The Regent’s Canal Company and its chief engineer, James Morgan, had competed ‘a great work, going on for years, upon the whole northern border of the metropolis’ – a waterway joining the Grand Union Canal with a grand new dock at Limehouse, where colliers would avoid ‘the plunder and waste of coal, that so notoriously takes place in the Pool’ (Observer, 25 September 1820). At Camden Town, the canal zig-zagged across the Fleet valley, passing under bridges, built by Richardson and Watts for the four roads (with the fifth, for Camden Road, coming later in the 1820s) and over the Fleet River channelled in a tunnel beneath.
The Canal, its prospectus claimed, would carry ‘Grain, Flour, Vegetables, and all the Necessities and Luxuries of Life’ as well as ‘Flag, Kirb and Paving Stones for the different Streets’ needed for the main business of Camden Town – building. At Pratt’s Wharf, beside Grays Inn Road bridge, was Culverhouse & Co, wharfingers and contractors, with ‘bricks, lime, cement, tiles, slates, sand, pipes, pots, terra cotta…’; Bangor wharf housed William and Josiah Mansbridge brothers, who in the 1860s were building the final northern terraces around Camden Square, while at the end of the century the wharf was used for refuse coming to fuel the St Pancras municipal electricity generator, the Destructor, which was connected by a tunnel with Georgiana Street; at Eagle Wharf there were the forage and provender warehouses and stables of William Brimage; at Devonshire Wharf were, first the Bartlett Brothers, whose enterprising Sanders Trotman promoted potash materials for preservation of stone, and then, with College Wharf, the home for Lawfords’ contractors materials – a company still working locally; M Anderson, and later A and D Anderson, contractors, were at Bayham Wharf; and at the Kentish Town Wharf were, first, William and Edward Wood with coal and then Grover and Grover with timber.
The Canal tow path was on the north bank, while the wharfs were on the south side and are named in the 1890s Ordnance Survey map. There is a photographic record of the canal in the Camden archives, the Anthony Cooper bequest, of 1994; yet you can go now, to see and celebrate the original ‘great work’, of canal and bridges which have lasted 200 years.