Local Reactions to the Second Canal

When the Regent's Canal was proposed, the Vestry objected strongly.

‘-------- the additional evil which an additional canal must produce upon the morals of the inhabitants, as we see from the sad experience of the profligacy of the barge-men of the Grand Union Canal and the burden of the families, the indecent exposure of nakedness by bathing in the canal and all the other evils constantly attending on a roving and restless set of people who are one week in the Potteries in Staffordshire and the next in Paddington.'

It is true that some of the boatmen were tough characters. One man was leading his horse one day with the line slack. It tightened to show a dead man draped over it. Seeing that the body had good boots on it, the man took them off the corpse, found they fitted, and swopped them for his own. Then he threw the body back, now wearing the canal man's boots.

In 1815 a Pickford's porter who had refused to countenance pilfering from boats, was chased by a mob and beaten up in his own home.

In 1829, two members of the newly formed Metropolitan Police attempted to prevent the beating of a horse towing a barge and were set upon and pitched into the canal.

At an award ceremony at North Westminster Community School, Lord Bullock, the historian, said :-

"In the eighteen twenties the whole Marylebone and Paddington border was like the Wild West, full of turbulent building; fighting navies  living in temporary shacks; chicken stealing and drink."

In 1811, Louis Simond, a French visitor to London, was shocked to find a 'colony of Irish labourers' near his lodgings in one of the finest parts of London (Portman Square).

They fill every cellar, every garret; a family in each room; very poor, very very uncleanly and very turbulent. They give each other battle every Saturday night --- I have never heard anything similar to the noise these neighbours of ours make; the watchmen are terrified of interfering - one of them being heard to say," Never mind. Let them murder each other if they please."

Years later, in 1842, Edward King was kidnapped from his family and made to work in the kidnapper's boat for three years in another part of the country. Then, when the boat was going towards London, he was promised he could see his parents again. The captain broke his promise, stole the boy's trousers and locked him in his cabin. Edward King realised what was happening. He escaped from the cabin and ran home without any trousers.

Local newspapers have been able to rely on such stories about the canal, scandalous, brutal, romantic, for the last 200 years. However, in 1811, despite their protests, the Vestry was not strong enough to prevent the building of the Regent's Canal.

 

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Updated February 3, 2011