The City Canal
Although the Napoleonic Wars (1802-15) were a short-term obstacle to the growth of London's trade, the first 30 years of the 19th century saw further development of the port's facilities.
|Merchant shipping on the City Canal in 1824. © NMM|
The West India Docks Act of 1799 gave the Corporation of London the right to construct a canal from Limehouse Reach to Blackwall Reach.
They built it to save vessels time navigating around the Isle of Dogs. The City Canal, as it was called, was opened in 1805.
The new canal across the Isle of Dogs was not a financial success since the owners did not charge tolls. It soon became a liability and was sold to the West India Company in 1829.
|The South West India Dock. © NMM|
They changed it into a timber dock. Several years later it was enlarged and renamed the South West India Dock.
For many years, canals were the most efficient way of transporting goods to and from the capital's docks.
|The City Basin on the Regent's Canal, October 1822. © NMM|
It was not until the mid-19th century that railways began to take over.
For example, the Regent's Canal was built around the north of London to connect the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington with the docks.
|Sailing ships in the Regent's Canal Dock. © NMM|
City Road Basin in Islington was the most important traffic centre on the Regent's Canal. It handled mainly incoming inland freight. Goods from around the country were then sent on from the basin to the Regent's Canal Dock.
In 1820 the Regent's Canal Dock opened to connect the Regent's Canal with the Thames at Limehouse. It is now known as Limehouse Basin.
|Dock gates for the Regent's Canal entrance. © NMM|
In the 1830s and 1840s it was enlarged. The dock was one of the first to use hydraulic power. A small pumping station was built on the west side of the Commercial Road locks.
A steam engine was used to pump water into a system of mains that supplied the cranes and other hydraulic machinery.
A basin was also built where canal boats could wait for the right state of the tide before passing through the locks.
|Shipping on Limehouse Reach. © NMM|
This basin could also admit sea-going vessels. Goods could be transferred to and from lighters or canal boats. By 1835 three-quarters of the traffic on the Regent's Canal came from the Thames.
The Regent's Canal Dock was the first in London to allow in colliers. By the early 1820s the trade in coal from north-east England was well-established and expanding.
|Coal whippers discharging a collier. © NMM|
Coal was transferred to lighters in the dock for onward supply to the new canal-side gas works, such as the one built by the Commercial Gas Company in 1837.
The attached video file shows a coal barge travelling from Limehouse Basin along the Regent's Canal during the 1920s.