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Canal and River Trust Open Day

The Canal and River Trust held a series of open days in London last month while St Pancras lock was drained of water for essential repairs. Historic England was invited along to see the important work they’re doing by maintaining our historic waterways.

It was a chilly day, but winter is the best time to carry these repairs out. In warmer months the Regent’s Canal is busy with tens of thousands of boaters and towpath visitors, and these numbers are growing.

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Boats moored on the Regent's Canal at St Pancras.
Regent's Canal at St Pancras Lock © Historic England

Looking after London’s canals

Our trip began with a ride on a barge down the Grand Union Canal along to Granary Square, taking in a mixture of old and new architecture.

Arriving at St Pancras Lock, we went down into the empty lock chamber. Here the Trust’s engineers explained to us how they drain the 50,000 gallons of water out – the equivalent of emptying 1,000 bath tubs!

The enormous three-tonne gates are made of green oak. Costing approximately £158,000, they won’t need to be replaced now until 2037.

In total between November 2016 and March 2017 the Trust will spend £43 million on essential repair and restoration works and routine maintenance to the canals and rivers in England and Wales.

Enormous three-tonne lock gates made of green oak.
The enormous three-tonne gates at St Pancras Lock are made of green oak © Historic England

The historic canal network

St Pancras lock was constructed almost 200 years ago, in 1819. It was part of the new Regent’s Canal, linking the Grand Junction Canal (now called the Grand Union) at Paddington to the Thames at Limehouse, where the Regent’s Canal Dock could welcome ships.

The man behind the scheme was Thomas Homer who owned a fleet of boats, carrying coal and building material into London and taking manure out of London.
A new canal was considered by many businessmen such as Homer to be ’of great public utility by giving the advantage of water carriage to the whole of the north of the metropolis, by cutting the costs of carriage by land and, by reducing congestion caused by carts and wagons in the capital’s narrow streets.’

The estimated cost to build the Regent’s Canal was £300,000 but it eventually cost £700,000. It is approximately 8.5 miles (14 kilometres) long, falls 86 feet (26m) and has 12 locks.

The canal carried approximately 1 million tonnes of goods per year in the second half of the 19th century. The main carriers were Pickford until 1847. By 1927 the tonnage had declined to 0.7 million.

By the 1960s commercial traffic had all but vanished and the canal has since supported a thriving and growing leisure industry.

The view from the water tower

The trip ended with a visit to the Grade II listed water tower. Originally built to supply steam trains with water, in 2001 it had to be moved several metres to its current location to make way for the Eurostar.

From the top of the tower we admired the view of the industrial heritage of the Kings Cross area laid out before us – from the railway tracks, to the gasholders, to the canal itself.

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