William Jessop and the Grand Junction Canal

Cutting the Regent's Canal created an idyllic triangular lake, with Browning Island in the centre. The sketch, drawn from below the Harrow Road Bridge, at the entrance to the Paddington Basin Arm, shows the island behind a tree, with Westbourne Terrace Bridge in the distance. The dotted line is the edge of the original Paddington Canal and so reveals the contour. The Regent's Canal Arm had to be cut into the hillside, leaving what is now Blomfield Road high above the water. Browning Island, named after the poet who lived nearby, was a natural result of cutting the three channels. Browning is also commemorated in the Browning Wall in Warwick Crescent.

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Browning Island, Little Venice Nos. 35-37 Blomfield Road.

These houses overlook Little Venice and take full advantage of their elevation

Little Venice showing Browning Island (partially obscured)

William Jessop designed the Cromford and Nottingham canals and the Leigh Milton Railway Viaduct, but his greatest achievement in canal building was as consultant engineer for the Grand Junction Canal.

The twelve years, from 1793-1801, involved the construction of 93 miles of waterways and another 30 miles of branches; over a hundred locks, two major tunnels and embankments forty feet in height. Steam engines were used extensively for pumping, and at times up to 3000 men were employed in the work.1

In 1838 the Great Western Railway arrived, to cut a wide swathe south of the Canal but at a much lower level. Brunel, like Jessop, also built  as level as he could. Jessop had to build his canal with the very slightest slope (5 inches in a mile) so that the water would not spill out, but would also flow steadily in a desired direction. This needed very careful engineering.  Brunel took pride in building his lines perfectly level whenever he could so that his passengers would ride comfortably. The mass of lines approaching Paddington Station are so level that they are called ‘Brunel’s billiard table’. Here were two great engineers with very similar problems but for different reasons.

Lucas, 1848

The Lucas map of 1848 shows the bridges over the railway, but not the rails, as Lucas would have had no reason to survey them.

Little Venice

Nos. 35-37 Blomfield Road

When the Regent's Canal created Little Venice, Jessop realised that any houses built in the high ground overlooking the water would have extensive views that could not be obstructed by any later building and would attract high ground rents. It is noticeable that these were among the first houses built.

Stucco Decoration in Little Venice

The stucco work in Little Venice is full of variety. The capitals of No 36 come direct from The Olympieion in Athens. Nos. 4, 6, 12 and 14 Warwick Avenue have Corinthian capitals, while No 10 has Ionic. The alternate curved and triangular window heads come from Michelangelo in Rome. Supporting brackets have patterns of acanthus leaves, human faces or masks, traces of Egyptian and other detail. The games played by the architects who had been on the Grand Tour are endless.



1 Panel for Historic Engineering Works, June 1999 no. 82


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Updated June 21, 2011