A Thomas Shepherd print showing the two locks at City Road; Inset: Del Brenner of the London Waterways Commission
A Thomas Shepherd print from about 1826, showing Regent’s Canal Lockand
Published: 13 July, 2012
by ALCIE HUTTON
IT would take eight years to build, cost an estimated £32,000,000 by today’s standards and suffered from criminal embezzlement.
But on July 13, 1812, The Regent’s Canal Act was finally passed by Parliament, and construction began.
Exactly 200 years later a three-day festival filled with more than 100 artists, musicians and performers kicks off today (Friday) to celebrate the history of the founding of what became one of the busiest waterways in London.
At strategic points on the canal in Camden, King’s Cross, Little Venice, Angel, City Road Basin, Broadway Market and Mile End, The Regent’s Canal Festival will feature a myriad of events including an opera of the canal’s history, a Guinness World Record attempt at sailing the largest origami Armada fleet (made out of 36,000 pieces of paper), a recreation of Venice complete with gondolas, and giant sculptures created out of waste fished from the depths of the canal itself.
Visitors will also get the chance to travel inside the Islington Tunnel by boat to watch a moving image history projected onto the brick walls.
Festival organiser Kleber Ruiz said the event would “celebrate a story long forgotten.”
Today the banks are lined with luxury flats, offices, million-pound homes and the MTV studios.
But from 1820, when it was finally opened, until the 1960s, when the last commercial loads passed through, it was a vital link for trading – connecting to the Grand Union Canal, Limehouse Basin and the Thames.
Designed by Regent’s Park architect John Nash it cost £772,000 to build – twice the original estimate – and was plagued by problems, including its original proposer, Thomas Homer, siphoning off funds.
Del Brenner of the London Waterways Commission and Friends of Regent’s Canal, added: “The building of the canal had a huge impact on London and we are extremely proud of it. It was the equivalent of building a huge motorway and is part of the reason north London expanded the way it did and became so affluent.
“We hope people will come down to the festival and celebrate a very important part of our history.”
A preview of folk opera Regent’s Canal will be performed by Musical Flying Squad and London Irish Theatre at the London Canal Museum at 7.30 pm. Tickets cost £6 and early booking is advised.
There will be guided walks around Camden Town by the Canal Museum. Booking required.
Saturday and Sunday
Sail in a gondola with on-board musicians from noon-10pm in Little Venice (tickets cost £13, booking required) before browsing an Italian food market filled with troubadours and The Puppet Theatre.
Tales from the Tunnel – an audio-visual chronology of the canal’s history – will be played from a boat inside Islington Tunnel at 6pm on Saturday and from 2-6pm on Sunday (tickets cost £7, booking required).
Art workshops run by Pieces for Peace will take place on the canal, near the City Road Basin.
Volunteers are being encouraged to help create a 36,000 piece “origami Armada” from noon-6pm on Saturday to float down the canal from the City Road Basin at around 5pm on Sunday. It will represent an attempt to break the world record.
On Saturday, on the towpath near Broadway Market, artists will be creating works for sale.
On Saturday evening, at 9pm, a surprise film will be screened in the open air at The Art Pavilion. There will be dance and music from noon-9pm in Mile End Park on Saturday and Sunday.
Sculptures of a duck, fish and bear created from materials found in the canal will be on display at various locations along the canal all weekend.