Industrial Islington

Exhibition Panel 7 - Islington Boat Club

Islington Boat Club (IBC) was set up in 1970 through the work of Crystal Hale, whose obituary in 1999 said: ‘she turned an inner-city canal into a children’s paradise.’ In 1972, Crystal successfully led the battle against the Central Electricity Generating Board proposal to fill in the entire Basin.

A man in outdoor clothing stands beside a boat on the canalside

Bernard James, (above) IBC Club Leader in the mid-1970s, remembered: ‘one of the committee wrote ‘Save the Basin’ from a rowing boat and didn’t quite get the line right. The Club base was initially in an old Thames barge moored on the east bank, later added to by two Portacabins. To get to the club you went through a council yard with all the sandpits and builders’ lorries and the watchman had to open the gates to let the kids in. People initially saw the basin just as a neglected and miserable ex-industrial wasteland - but after you’d been there awhile, it had a romance about it, a brilliant secret place for the children to think of as their own. On a sunny day, it was a swirling mass of canoes and sailing. It was an adventure playground on water, not a boating lake.’

A bearded middle-aged man in close-up

John Rowlinson, (above) one of the first Club members, recalled the excitement of the early days: ‘it was just so different to everything else that was around. As an inner London kid from a tough area, I had my horizons opened up by it. I went home one day and asked Mum if I could go to Scotland with the Club. She asked me when: ‘oh, in ten minutes.’ By the late 1970s, the Basin banks were redeveloped with only a small part at the City Road end infilled.

Two boys in a rowing boat, another in a canoe

A child sits on a boat in the basin

A youth sits on a boat partly in the canal water

Graffiti Save the Basin on wall, in front of which an adult man in a canoe

Bernard James remembers: ‘one of the buildings that went was the hydraulic pumping station. Developers got in just before the listing could be put into operation. Couple more years, and they’d have kept all the British Drug Houses’ buildings as flats, but bulldozers got in too soon.’ However, one gain from the development was the new IBC clubhouse on the west bank, where it is today.

Aerial view of Islington Boat Club in recent years