The Threat of a Rival Canal

The planned Second Basin for Paddington.

(I am grateful to Geoff Saul for pointing out this plan to me.)

The Planned Second Canal Basin at Paddington

It seemed that the canal would never reach the London Docks, so Paddington expected its canal trade to increase rapidly. When Regent’s Canal was planned the Second Wharf plan was abandoned as Paddington trade was likely to decrease as canal barges passed it by.


The Regent's Canal

There is no reason to go deeply into the history of the Regent's Canal in this book since it soon disappears into Camden and Islington. It has been dealt with quite extensively elsewhere.1

The financial difficulties facing the Canal Board seemed unending. With the battle of Waterloo, in 1815, came the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Immediately the government stopped all war production. Armaments, uniforms, food to feed the troops, were all cancelled overnight and people found themselves without work or, of course, Unemployment Pay.
In the same year The Tambora Volcano, erupted in Indonesia, spreading millions of tons of dust into the upper atmosphere. This cloud surrounding the world was so dense that it blocked out the sun and devastated agriculture all over the World. 1817 was called ‘The year without a summer’ and people starved. There could not have been a more difficult time to borrow money so the Regents Canal limped to a stop.  Eventually the government made available a loan, not so much to help the Canal, but to provide work for the unemployed and so head off food riots. It was not until 1820, after great financial difficulties and an emergency loan from the Government, that the project was finally completed. Bitter unemployment in 1887 also led to the building of Paddington Recreation Ground, as we shall see.

By 1815 the Regent's Canal had reached Camden Town and was cutting its way slowly and expensively through Islington. Paddington had lost all hope of being the final terminus of the Canal System and had abandoned the plan for a Second Basin. Instead it planned these mud berths for canal barges at the entrance to the Basin on the site where Terry Farrel's Orange Building is now berthed.

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pic38aWharf owners were enthusiastic, while others were more cautious and farseeing. Paddington might not retain its monopoly: might not remain the canal terminus for ever. Goods for Paddington and the West End could be carried economically from the basin by cart. Carrying them by cart all the way to London Docks was a different matter. Very soon there was a demand to extend the canal to the Port of London and the deep-sea ships.

A further canal was under discussion almost at once. Three or four proposals were made for a 'London Canal' and reached the Parliamentary Notice status. In 1802 the Chairman of the London Dock Company asked John Rennie to survey possible water sources for a canal from Paddington to Limehouse, but the Act of Parliament permitting the cutting of Regent's Canal took some years to achieve. It was not until 1812, when Nash had embellished the design and given it the Regent's name, that the proposed canal began to appear on maps.


1. The Growth of Camden Town, by Jack Whitehead, 1999, and many other sources


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Updated August 8, 2011