Tucked away on New Wharf Street is surely one of the capital’s tucked-away gems.
Housed in an old Victorian ice warehouse built for esteemed ice cream maker Carlo Gatti, the London Canal Museum whisks the visitor through almost 200 years of watery history.
The museum is a gatekeeper of facts, figures and information about the trials and tribulations of canal and wharf work and life in London – and for those familiar (or not) with the King’s Cross and Islington areas, the vast change in the life of the surrounding areas of the museum is fascinating.
Take a wander round: highlights include learning about how families navigated living and working on canal boats, the myriad technology developments, from horse-drawn boats to engines, and the various trades which passed up and down the canal, such as timber, coal and fruits from as far as the Caribbean.
The scale of trade was, in fact, incredible and although now non-existent, it is important to know what constituted the forgotten empire.
And did you know about the group of Camden locals in the mid 1960s who came together to stop plans for putting a road through Camden Lock? If it was not for these people, the lock as we know it would not exist today.
The true miracle is that, with the area’s rampant gentrification, the museum exists at all. And do come prepared ready to read, as there are only a handful of video and audio integrations throughout the museum, but it is worth the leg work. Or you can listen to a short, free audio guide of the museum’s highlights while you walk around direct from your phone.
Children’s activities are also found throughout the museum, and there’s a great opportunity to spot canal wildlife, as the back of the museum opens up onto Battlebridge basin, an old, and extremely picturesque, loading spot. Peer diagonally across and you’ll see King’s Place, with its destination terrace restaurant Rotunda, too.
Finally, it goes without saying that the Canal Museum has been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. Having been shut for months, it’s facing losses in revenue due to cancellations of venue hire and trips. With 70% of the museums visitors coming from outside of London and now with a large proportion of their elderly volunteers unable to work, the independent museum has taken the decision to reduce its operating days to Friday, Saturday and Sunday until further notice.
Let’s not keep this place a secret for any longer. You’ll not only learn a thing or two about the history of our beloved Regent’s Canal, but you’ll be helping an independent museum stay open through hard times.
The Canal Museum opens (From May 17th) Fri, Sat, Sun 10:00-16:30. £5 for Adults, £4 Concessions, £2.50 Children. Family Tickets £12.50. More info, and details of a photography competition, on its website here.
Article updated May 7th 2021