Exploring the Regent’s Canal at its annual festival

Have you ever been for a walk along the Regent’s Canal? Everyone knows about the Thames, and has probably walked across one of its bridges or along the Thames Path, but the Canal is a slightly better-kept secret. During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, canals were built all over the country as an efficient way of transporting industrial materials and products, while the roads were still in a relatively poor state. By 1790, the Oxford Canal had been built, meaning that goods could be transported to London and beyond using water transport.

However, the Oxford Canal was only wide enough for one narrow barge at a time, and the Thames didn’t suit these narrowboats at all. Either goods had to be transferred onto larger barges, or the boats were at risk. As such, the idea of a new canal from Paddington to Limehouse, and the creation of a new dock at Limehouse, was born, which would prevent the need for transference onto barges or wagons for goods to reach the City and the Thames docks.

The project started to progress when John Nash started to plan the development of Marylebone Park (later to become The Regent’s Park). Initially Nash planned for an attractive waterway through the park, but upon realising that the cargo boats may prove unsightly he routed the canal instead along the northern boundary, hidden in a deep cutting. This section was completed in 1813, and the whole canal was opened in August 1816, on the birthday of the Prince Regent.

Immediately the canal was busy, with cargo ranging from building and industrial materials to hay and vegetables for the markets. These early cargo boats were pulled by horses, walking along the towpath at the side, although ‘legging’ was required in two of the tunnels (a chain-powered tug was introduced in 1826 given how slow this process was). We [well, one of us…] tried legging for ourselves at the Black Country Living Museum – we can highly recommend as a great day out! However, the ‘golden age’ of canals was already on the decline, thanks to Robert Stephenson and the introduction of the powerful steam locomotive. One Midlands route in particular passed across the Regent’s Canal as it came into Euston, the London & York Railway went under the canal by tunnel as it approached Kings Cross, and the Midland Railway went over it into St Pancras. Finally, the North London Railway opened in 1850, carrying goods from Camden to Bow from the Midlands.

Although the waterways continued to be useful for a time in the carrying of coal to power the trains, the carrying of freight in its entirety ended during the 1970s, leaving us with a beautiful path running alongside London Zoo (you can see the giraffes on a good day!) and past the backs of the ridiculously ornate and luxurious, many Nash-designed, houses in Regent’s Park.

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The Golden Age: a trip to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

Although we do love a steam train, this wasn’t actually our choice of trip, but a family birthday celebration. It was also exceptionally cold, so I wasn’t sure what to expect on a freezing and grey Sunday morning! However, the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre turned out to be a great place to visit, for all ages – and conveniently close to London too.

There is so much to see, but if you like a map with suggested routes, a list of attractions or a guided tour, you won’t get it here. There are trains [and more] everywhere, at varying stages of repair and restoration, some open to visitors, some in use and some looking like they’ve been forgotten about. There is obviously a large team of committed volunteers working to bring these huge machines back to their former glory, which is great to see.

There were some truly sumptuous carriages, showing just how possible it was to truly travel in style [a far cry from a modern commute…]. Also on display was the specially-designed carriage used by Winston Churchill as he travelled across the country during the War; the intricacies of D-Day might well have been planned in that train.

There was even a working steam train, though its route was limited to a few hundred yards and back [they go back and forth twice to make you feel like you’ve had more of a trip]. The interior of the train was fascinating though, making you feel like the heroine of a WWI film, featuring compartment carriages with blinds to pull down and seating facing each other; perfect for a romantic rendezvous, if super awkward in the wrong situation. [You can also treat yourself to the added comfort of First Class!]

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Lumiere London – the city in a new light

Although one of us is currently incapacitated, having [very annoyingly] broken his foot slipping in a tube station (don’t worry, our love for public transport hasn’t abated too much), we wanted to see what we could catch of the first Lumiere festival to come to London, as I remember them being such a success up in Durham a few years ago. We headed out for the evening, but our first stop was the Benjamin Franklin House near Trafalgar Square, the only house still standing that Franklin lived in. He came to London intending to lodge here for a few short months but stayed for 16 years, even remaining while his wife died at home. The house remains in a fairly faithful state, although it was since used by Charing Cross station as a small hotel, but it has no original furniture. Rather than fill the house with replicas, the team have decided to approach this in an unconventional way, using image projection, recorded speech and an actress to take us through the story. Ultimately, we thought this was very successful (although rarely have I read more divisive opinions on Trip Advisor!). The actress herself was completely engaged and spoke clearly – had she been anything less than perfect the tour would have suffered (on which note, she did rather need a new costume…). The tour was informative, and we learned a great deal about the man himself and his rich and varied life. In the face of presumably limited resource, we thought this was an ingenious way to bring the house to life.

Benjamin Franklin House

We then wandered up to Trafalgar Square itself, to see the Lumiere installations everyone has heard so much about. On which note, first of all, out heartfelt congratulations to the Lumiere PR and marketing team – with so much going on in London, this was the thing everyone was talking about. Unfortunately, though, this did mean that a) we couldn’t see anything, really and b) so popular were some of the installations that they had to be turned off to deal with the crowds. Our first stop was the National Gallery, which itself was looking beautiful as always…

National Portrait Gallery

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Merry Christmas!

Wishing all our readers a very happy festive season, and hoping you have a few days off to relax and enjoy the company of your loved ones, yummy food, and maybe even a few presents! London themed wrapping, anyone…?

With love from the Month of Sundays duo xx [the kisses are from her, not me…]

Merry Christmas

P.S. Festive photography tip: this year we ordered some photographic Christmas cards to send to family and friends from moo.com. We chose five designs (which you will have seen before!) from last year’s wintry fun. They were ready quite quickly and cost around 80p each. Recommended!

Below London – a trip to the Clapham South deep-level shelter

You know when you book tickets for something and forget you did…? This happened to us, when we looked at our calendars and realised that we had tickets for a Clapham South subterranean shelter tour, run as part of London Transport Museum‘s Hidden London. So, we headed along one night after work and congregated at the entrance to Clapham South Underground. But this wasn’t a tube tour – instead, it took us down to the tube level, 36.5m below street level, but into huge, cavernous tunnels built during World War Two, as a response to heavy civilian bombing during the Blitz.

Our surroundings seemed [remarkably] modern and sleek, with some incredibly well thought-through details considering the rush in which they were built. One of our favourite features was the double helix staircase so that people could descend twice as quickly in the event of a raid.

Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

Although ten of these shelters were planned, ultimately eight were built, by the London Passenger Transport Board and the Ministry for Home Security between 1941 and 1942. They were a response to the inadequacy of tube stations as refuges from bombing raids, after 111 people were killed at Bank station. The tube stations were often not sufficiently deep, and in addition were liable to flooding if a water main was hit. Although not built quickly enough for the Blitz, they were used during all the bombing that followed by V1 and V2 bombs, and were also a temporary solution for those who had lost their homes through Blitz attacks.

Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

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