London's Minor Canals

Smaller Navigations of London


The Hertford Union Canal

Paved area in foreground, lock, overhanging trees, brick building behind

The Act authorising the Hertford Union was passed in 1824, and it opened without a great deal of ceremony in the spring of 1830. The canal linked - and still does - The Regent's Canal to the Lee Navigation, avoiding the distance via Limehouse and the semi-tidal Limehouse Cut. It runs alongside Victoria Park for much of its short length of just over a mile, with three locks. The canal is also known as Duckett's Canal after Sir George Duckett, its original promoter. It was never a great commercial success and indeed for a time from the late 1840s to the mid 1850s it was unnavigable. In 1851 it was advertised for sale but no buyer wanted to invest in it. Eventually The Regent's Canal bought it and from 28th October 1857 onwards it became a branch of The Regent's Canal and from 1929, part of the Grand Union system.

The Grand Surrey Canal

The Grand Surrey Canal Act was passed in 1801, authorising a canal through what is now south London from Rotherhithe to Epsom. It's original Engineer was Ralph Dodd. Even before the canal was built the company started making plans for an enlarge ship dock at its entrance which soon began to take priority over the canal. The company, trying to deliver both canal and dock at the same time, ran into financial problems and for a while work stopped on them both. The Dock, or basin, opened first, on 13th March 1807. The Croydon Canal depended on the Grand Surrey for its connection with the river Thames, and this was under construction at the same time. The directors of the Croydon applied pressure to complete the Grand Surrey, as far as their junction, as well they might. This did happen but the relationship between the two companies was never as good as it might have been, with the Grand Surrey company focusing most on its dock operation. The Grand Surrey was opened as far as Camberwell Road in 1809 but was never built any further. A 1,100 yard arm served Peckham, opened in 1826. The dock was enlarged in 1812. The canal lasted until the 1940s when part of it was abandoned,. In 1960 much of it was drained, and in 1970 the dock was closed. A park is now sited on the former Camberwell Basin, and there are few traces of the canal left.

The Kensington Canal

This canal led from the Thames at Chelsea Creek to Kensington, where there was a basin, near Warwick Road. There was one lock, at the entrance. It opened in 1828. It was many times beset by problems with silting and mud, making navigation difficult, especially at low tide. The canal itself was sold to the Bristol Birmingham and Thames Junction Railway in 1836. That company built its line from the north to the canal basin where traffic could be exchanged. The take-over of the canal proceeded with legal wrangling for several years and problems with deterioration of the navigation and accumulated mud. The railway company, now renamed the West London Railway, leased its line to the London and Birmingham Railway in 1846 leaving the West London Railway owning the canal. The original canal company was wound up in the same year. An Act of 1859 authorised a joint venture of several railways companies to extend the railway south from Kensington and in so doing close a part of the canal to use as a track bed. Only a short stretch remained, and this was then owned by the West London Extension Railway as it was called. The canal continued, its principal customer being a gas works. The canal continued to carry traffic until 1967. Like the Croydon canal, a journey by train takes you along part of the trackbed, in this case the West London line from Willesden to Clapham Junction.

The Grosvenor Canal

This small canal was opened in 1825, and ran on land in Lord Grosvenor's estate, from the Thames to Grosvenor Basin. The site of the basin is now covered by Victoria Station. The top part of the canal was closed to enable the station complex to be enlarged in 1899. The remaining short length of canal was purchased in 1906 by Westminster City Council. A further section was in-filled in 1927 to provide space for housing. The Council's interest in the canal was sustained, despite its deterioration, because its principal traffic was refuse collected by the authority for disposal. For almost a year from July 1928 the canal was closed for major repairs and improvements to facilitate this important traffic. In the late 1940s and early 1950s other local authorities added their refuse to the traffic carried.

The Limehouse Cut

From the Lee navigation to the Thames using nature's route requires the Bow Creek to be navigated, a twisting, tidal waterway not at all well suited to inland waterway traffic. The River Lea Act 1766 authorised the construction of the Limehouse Cut, a straight section linking the Lee Navigation at Bromley-by-Bow to the Thames at Limehouse. The exit lock from the Cut to the Thames was replaced in 1968 by a short length of new canal linking the Limehouse Cut with The Regent's Canal Dock, now known as Limehouse Basin.

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