Chapter X.
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UXBRIDGE, a market town in Middlesex, 15 miles W. from London, in the road to Oxford, is situated on the river Coln and Grand Junction Canal, over each of which it has a bridge . . . . This town, which is governed by two bailiffs, two constables, and four headboroughs, is principally noted for its very great corn market, and for its opulent mealmen, who are chiefly Quakers, and are supposed to influence the price of corn in the London market: on the river are many powerful flour mills, and a vast deal of malt is made in the neighbourhood.  During the summer season, a passage-boat constantly plies to and from London, which is highly advantageous to the inhabitants.”

A Pocket Companion for the tour of London and its Environs (1811)


Grand Union Canal Company route map c.1938, showing the wharves and docks that
lay between Uxbridge and Brentford.

At Uxbridge, the Canal forms the borough’s western boundary.  Following its opening in 1794, waterborne commerce soon sprang up accompanied by extensive wharves:

“The Grand Junction Canal, for the making of which an act of parliament was obtained in 1793, passes by this town. It was begun by cutting on Uxbridge Moor the first of May of that year. The principal articles of commerce on that canal are flour, grain and coals. . . . The following is an accurate statement of the quantities [tons] of the different articles conveyed from the Thames at Brentford to Uxbridge, and from Uxbridge to the Thames, in the year 1799 (obligingly communicated by Benjamin Way, Esq). . . .”





















Tiles & brick 131



An historical account of those parishes in the county of Middlesex,
 Rev. Daniel Lysons M.A. (1800)


The writer does not distinguish between imports and exports, but grain and coal are likely to have been among the former, and flour the latter.  Although flour milling has now ceased, Uxbridge was once a long established flour milling centre covering a wide area, and for some two centuries it produced most of London’s flour.   The town’s last mill, the ‘William King Flourmill’, stood on the canal bank just above Town Lock and a large proportion of its wheat was delivered there by narrow boats direct from Limehouse or Brentford.  The mill’s engine room, equipped with a magnificent 80hp Robey horizontal tandem compound condensing engine, was apparently a sight to behold, while the nearby boiler house sported two spotlessly clean Lancashire boilers.  A 50hp Gilkes water turbine supplied stand-by power using the 7ft head across the Town Lock where there is no shortage of water, for this stretch of the Canal is amply supplied by the River Colne.  Although William King’s Mill ceased working in 2001, its name lives on in the popular Kingsmill brand of bread.

Following the opening of the Paddington Arm in 1801, a passenger service commenced between Uxbridge and the Metropolis.  Initially run by the Company, the service was later franchised to Thomas Homer for £750 per year.  The ‘packet boat’, whose crews were noted for their smart blue uniforms with yellow capes and yellow buttons, seems to have been well used at first, but the journey time was too long and the service was discontinued after several years.  Homer, who had been Superintendent to the Grand Junction Canal Company, went on to be the instigator of the Regent’s Canal and was employed as Company Secretary, but in 1815 he was convicted of embezzling £4,000 and sentenced to seven years’ transportation.

As well as supporting existing industry the Canal’s impact on Uxbridge ― as with many other places ― was to open up new industrial development.  By 1814 a mill had been built for the manufacture of plate-glass, and other industrial premises that were later set up near the Canal included a gas-works, parchment works and mills for processing oil, mustard and flour.  Indeed, the waterway continued to provide the town with an important trading link well into the 20th Century:

“At Uxbridge are situated large gas and electricity undertakings, both of which receive their supplies of coal by canal.  Messrs Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd. have another depot at this point and a repair dock for their boats.  There are also a number of wharves in this locality for handling large quantities of grain and timber.”

Grand Union Canal Company advertising material, c. 1938

The Uxbridge Boat Centre, just to the south of Bridge 186 (Rockingham Road), was once the boatyard of Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd., one of the largest carrying companies on the Canal, which ran the yard until they ceased trading in 1948.  FMC built many of their own boats, their yard at Saltney in Birmingham specialising in metal and wood composite construction while that at Uxbridge built wooden boats (their last new boat, the Clent, was built in 1947).  Wooden boats were cheaper to build, the expectation being that they would be worn out long before the rot of old age set in.

Frays, one of a pair of new barges designed to transport
building aggregates on the Uxbridge section of the Canal.

Despite the general demise of canal carrying, the Uxbridge section of the canal recently experienced a modest return to commercial use.  Canal transportation remains suitable for bulk cargoes that are not required quickly, and it brings with it the added advantages of keeping heavy traffic off congested roads and minimising the carrier’s carbon footprint:

Of the four principal transport modes, water is by far the least damaging to the environment.  A 12 barge train operating on the Grand Union Paddington Arm in the 1950s, for example, could carry over 700 tonnes of freight whilst producing less than 3% of the carbon emissions of the 30+ road vehicles it replaced.  Even a single 70 tonne capacity barge produces less than 25% of the equivalent road vehicle emissions when carrying heavy loads such as aggregates and less than 15% when carrying low density loads such as waste.

British Waterways: seventh report of session 2006-07, Vol. 2.

An example was the freight contract between British Waterways and two aggregates companies ― Hanson and Harleyford ― to transport 450,000 tonnes of sand and gravel by barge from a gravel pit at Denham, through Uxbridge to a canal-side concrete mixing plant near West Drayton.  Although the two sites are only five miles apart, it was envisaged that the material would be transported by road on the highly congested western sections of the M40, M25 and M4. By using the canal, it is estimated that 46,000 road journeys were saved by the end of the contract.

Canal docks and cuts, Uxbridge to Norwood.

Some 2½ miles south of Uxbridge the canal reaches Cowley lock (No. 89).  Here commences the last extended pound [1] on the main line before it commences its final descent from Norwood to the Thames.  North of Uxbridge the canal flowed mostly through rural landscape, but from Uxbridge southwards the surroundings become increasingly industrialized, although there is some parkland nearing Brentford.

At Cowley Peachey Junction, the Slough Arm branches off to the west.  It was to become an early example of the type of public reaction against officialdom portrayed in the Ealing Comedy ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’, although here applied to the preservation of a branch canal rather than a railway.  By the 1960s, the brickfields and the sand and gravel pits that the Arm had been built to serve were worked out and the waterway had become redundant.  In keeping with the fashion of the time, Slough Council planned to convert part of it into a road.  Protest followed, ‘The Slough Canal Group’ was formed, and following a vigorous campaign supported by the local newspaper (the Slough Observer) the Arm was reprieved to re-open as a cruising waterway in 1975.  But for some visitors to Slough, Betjeman’s unflattering judgment remains apt, leaving one to surmise that a boater’s only motive in navigating this aquatic cul-de-sac is to seek moorings.

The entrance to Shackle’s Dock.

Old maps of the Canal ― such as the route maps at the head of this chapter  and those below ― show that many docks and cuts once left the canal banks, particularly along the main line to the south of Cowley and the Paddington Arm.  Most have long since been filled in leaving little or no trace of the waterborne commerce they once supported, which in the Hillingdon area was mainly brick-making.

Apart from milling, there was no appreciable industry in rural Hillingdon before the Canal made available the means to transport deadweight cargoes over distance.  This stimulated the exploitation of the area’s brickearth deposits and during the 19th Century brick-making grew into a major industry.  Eventually some five million bricks a year were moulded and fired in the local brickfields, and transported by canal from the numerous docks and cuts created to serve the industry ― such as Otter, Pocock’s, Wilshin’s, Printing House, Shackle’s, and Yeading docks ― to a distribution yard at Paddington Basin’s South Wharf.  A good deal of Victorian West London was built from bricks burnt in clamps in the locality, the bricks containing household ash brought by barge from the refuse wharves at Paddington to be mixed with the local clay.


Grand Union Canal route map (c.1938) showing the wharves and docks that
lay between St. Pancras, on the Regent’s Canal, and Bulls Bridge.

Paddington Basin today ― and in the 1930s.
 The layout diagram further down this page shows that the left-hand wharf was once used for refuse disposal.


Map showing Paddington, c.1790. The Westbourne
(in blue) flows into Hyde Park's Serpentine lake.

Bull’s Bridge Junction is at Hayes, some two and a half miles south of Cowley Peachy.  Here commences the Paddington Arm, which initially heads off in a northerly-easterly direction before describing a clockwise arc to its destination adjacent to the former Great Western Railway headquarters at Paddington.  Station and canal basin are linked by a walkway that extends across the station platforms, and also by Praed Street, so named to commemorate the first Chairman of the Grand Junction Canal Company; and it was at St. Mary’s Hospital in Praed Street where, in 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, a breakthrough that revolutionised medicine and earned him a Nobel Prize.

“Although Paddington is now contiguous to the Metropolis, there are many rural spots in the Parish, which appear as retired as if at a distance of many miles.  From this place a canal has been made, which joins the Grand Junction Canal at or near Hayes.  It is now finished, and there are noble wharfs for Staffordshire coal, &c.  At the Basin, a passage boat to Greenford Green, and Uxbridge, sets off daily during the summer months at eight o’clock in the morning: a breakfast is provided on board, and other refreshments may be obtained.  The terms are reasonable, viz. five miles for a shilling, ten miles for eighteen pence, and the extent of this still voyage to Uxbridge may be enjoyed for half a crown . . . . about three miles west from the Basin, is the Mitre tavern, situate on the bank of the canal, opposite to a spot, once of pugilistic note, called Wormwood Common, or more generally Wormwood Scrubs . . . . A pleasure boat is established by the civil and attentive landlord of the Mitre, which leaves the Basin of the canal early in the afternoon, and returns at a reasonable hour in the evening: in this rural place of accommodation, the refreshments are excellent.”

A Pocket Companion for the tour of London and its Environs (1811)

Looking back at the success of the Paddington Arm, it is surprising that a branch canal into London was not considered an essential part of the original scheme, but no such application was included in the canal Bill placed before Parliament in 1793.  It was not until the following year that Jessop and Barnes surveyed a route.  Paddington was probably selected as the terminus due to its location on the outskirts of the expanding Metropolis, with good access to the City via the ‘New Road’, [2] while the line from Bull’s Bridge was free from the need for locks or substantial engineering.  Indeed, the only challenges were to cross the River Brent near Alperton and the Westbourne near Paddington, both requiring significant embankments across the respective river valleys, the rivers being bridged by short aqueducts. [3] Maps of the period show Paddington as a village on the edge of the approaching city, while to its west the Westbourne (also known as the Westbrook and the Serpentine) meanders into the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park.  When Belgravia, Chelsea and Paddington were developed, it became necessary to divert this river into culverts in order to build over it, work that was completed in the 1850s.  Since then, the Westbourne has become one of London’s lost rivers ― in fact, part of its sewage system.

Extract from the Preamble to the  Act
authorising the Paddington Arm
(35 Geo. III. C. 43 1795).

The Company obtained the necessary Act in 1795, but shortage of funds and a prolonged dispute with the Bishop of London over the acquisition of land delayed completion of the Paddington Arm until the 10th July 1801, when it opened to the public rejoicing that usually accompanied such events (Appendix II).  At that time, the Arm crossed open countryside, passing only an occasional village, such as Harlesden.  Its terminus at Paddington was described thus:

“At Paddington a spacious basin or straight cut, 400 yards long and 30 wide, has been formed with wharfs at its head, and others are daily extending westwards along its sides; behind this, on the north side, is a spacious yard for a vegetable and a hay and straw market, with large sheds, under which loads of those articles can stand in the dry when it rains; and on the fourth side pens are erected and provision made for a large cattle market.  The number of wharfs erected on this extensive line and its branches by individuals is too great for them to be particularized . . . . The market at Paddington, after an ineffectual opposition from the City of London, was opened in May 1803 for the sale of fat cattle, hay, straw, corn, vegetables, &c. . . . In June 1801, packet boats were established, that continue to pass regularly at stated hours during great part of the year, for the conveyance of passengers and parcels between London and Uxbridge; and for some time after the opening of the Buckingham branch, a boat went regularly between Paddington and that town; but the number of passengers and parcels was found inadequate to support the expense. . . . Mr Pickford has a great number of boats, which proceed as regularly day and night upon this canal, and the other canals north of it, as the mail coaches do on the roads, although with less expedition.  A common trading boat has been known to arrive at Paddington in 63 hours from Coventry.”

The Political State of the British Empire (Vol 3), John Adolphus (1818)

Much of the traffic in those early years consisted of inbound cargoes of hay, straw and agricultural produce, with outbound cargoes of manure and other city waste (used as a crude agricultural fertiliser), but bricks, sand, gravel and other building materials were to become one the Arm’s staple cargoes during the years when London was expanding.  Sand and gravel pits, and brick kilns ― fired by coal shipped by canal from the Midlands ― proliferated at Hayes, West Drayton, Iver and Langley.

An artist’s impression of Paddington Basin as built.



The Regent’s Canal at Camden ― the London and North Western Railway Interchange Warehouse.

The warehouse has a canal basin beneath it, its entrance being spanned by a fine cast iron towing path bridge (J. Deeley & Co Iron Founders Newport Mon) dating from c.1846 ― the warehouse (Grade II Listed) dates from c.1896.  Of four storeys topped by handsome chimneys, its multi-coloured stock brick walls with blue engineering brick dressings, cast-iron windows with small panes and a modular pattern of repeating window bays, combine to give the building a strong period industrial character.

When the Regent’s Canal was finally completed in 1820 ― it opened in two stages due to its construction costs being seriously underestimated ― it extended the Paddington Arm around the City to the Port of London.  As a consequence, Paddington Basin lost much of its business to new wharves and docks that were better placed for the delivery of goods to customers’ premises:

“At its first opening, passenger boats went about five times a week from Paddington to Uxbridge; and the wharves at Paddington presented for some years a most animated and busy appearance, on account of the quantity of goods warehoused there for transit to and from the metropolis, causing the growth of an industrious population around them.  But this was only a brief gleam of prosperity, for when the Regent’s Canal was opened, the goods were conveyed by barges straight to the north and eastern suburbs, and the wharfage-ground at Paddington suffered a great deterioration in consequence.”

Old and New London: Volume 5 (1878)

In particular, much of Paddington Basin’s prosperity was captured by the new basin at City Road:

“At the wharf of Messrs. Pickford and Co., in the City Road, can be witnessed, on a larger scale than at any other part of the kingdom, the general operations connected with canal traffic.  This large establishment nearly surrounds the southern extremity of the City Road Basin.  From the coach-road we can see little of the premises; but on passing to a street in the rear we come to a pair of large folding gates opening into an area or court, and we cannot remain here many minutes, especially in the morning and evening, without witnessing a scene of astonishing activity.  From about five or six o’clock in the evening waggons are pouring in from various parts of town, laden with goods intended to be sent into the country per canal.  In the morning, on the other hand, laden waggons are leaving the establishment, conveying to different parts of the Metropolis goods which have arrived per canal during the night.”

From The Penny Magazine (1842)

Barges being towed through Regents Park during the 1930s ― the first two carry coal, the third appears to be timber.

The tug Brent ― built by Bushell Brothers at Tring in 1928 ― undergoing trails  on the Regents Canal hauling three 90-ton barges.
Photos courtesy of Miss Catherine Bushell.

Even though trade on the Regent’s Canal had begun to decline by the late 1930s, City Road Basin continued to do a substantial amount of business . . . .

“There is much activity at City Road basin, which adjoins the City Road, where there are numerous wharves at which are handled timber of all classes, harvesting machinery, coal, waste paper and chemicals.  A feature of the Basin is the depot belonging to Messrs. Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd., from which a daily service of motor-driven barges operate.”

Grand Union Canal Company advertising material, c. 1938

. . . . and the Canal in general remained busy, although closure of the small power stations it serviced following Battersea A coming on stream during the mid-1930s resulted in a considerable reduction in its coal traffic:

“Traffic on the Regents Section can be divided into two categories.  First there are canal boats which receive their cargoes from steamers in the Regents Canal Dock and other London docks, and proceed up the Grand Union Canal to the Midlands.  Secondly, there is the barge traffic which comes in from the River Thames, or receives cargoes from ships in the Dock destined for wharves in the London area.  Hundreds of thousands of tons of merchandise pass along this section of the Canal, comprised chiefly of coal, timber, straw-boards, iron, building materials and oils.”

Grand Union Canal Company advertising material, c. 1938


An interesting view of the Regent's Canal showing the construction of the London & Birmingham Railway in progress in May, 1837. This view shows the bowstring bridge ― probably designed by Charles Fox (later Sir) ― on the Euston extension. The drawing is one of the series of the railway under construction, by John Cooke Bourne.




Layout of Paddington Basin in 1891 ― the Hay & Straw Store survives as offices.  Large amounts of refuse were shipped from the refuse wharves, much of it being used to fill worked out pits and redundant docks.  An account of this unsavoury business is given at Appendix III.

Considering the damaging impact that railways were to have on the canal system, it is ironic that the opening of Brunel’s Great Western Railway terminus at Paddington in 1838 led to Paddington Basin regaining some of its former importance as a transport interchange.  By the late 1930s, Paddington Basin still had seventeen tenants, including Shell Mex and wharves for the borough councils of Paddington and St. Marylebone, from which:

“Large quantities of parish refuse, collected from the neighbouring districts, are loaded onto craft in Paddington Basin, and disposed of at various points on the Long Level.  Sand from Leighton Buzzard, and building materials from other points on the Canal, are brought by canal boat into Paddington Basin for distribution by lorries to all parts of London.  Timber and iron from steamers in the River Thames is also dealt with in the Basin.”

Grand Union Canal Company advertising material, c. 1938

The Paddington Arm had been a catalyst for the development of north-west London, with many businesses realising its transport potential, including the inevitable gas works (at Southwell and Kensal) ― large consumers of coal and exporters of coke and tar ― and businesses dealing in timber, glass, cement and tiles.  At Kensal Green:

“. . . . is situated another of the Gas, Light and Coke Companys stations, coal for which is brought by canal barge from steamers discharging in the Regents Canal Dock.  In addition, large quantities of coal are brought from the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, whose tips are at Mitre Wharf . . . . Another electricity station of the London Power Company is situated at Willsden, and is supplied with coal conveyed by canal boats from the several Warwickshire collieries.”

Grand Union Canal Company advertising material, c. 1938


The Heinz wharf at Harlsden

In its later years, household names such Heinz, J. Lyons, Glaxo, Rockware Glass and Guinness built factories and wharfs on its banks.

Built in 1925, the Heinz factory was located at Harlsden on a 20-acre site, but owing to the demand for its tomato soup, baked beans (which had previously been shipped from North America) and a range of other food products, the site eventually more than doubled in size.  Its long canal frontage permitted loading bays to be built to handle the raw beans and tomato puree that arrived by barge from the London docks, and to export finished goods by the same route.  The firm ceased using canal transport in 1967.  Despite major investment in the factory, the growth of supermarket own-brand products and the harsh economic climate of the 1980s led to a decline in business, and the Harlsden plant closed in 2000.

The Guinness brewery at Park Royal was situated on the Paddington Branch southeast of Alperton, a canal-side location that enabled the firm to manufacture its product close to market, while being able to obtain a large brewery site at relatively low cost.  Guinness relied on the Canal for transporting its barrels of stout into Paddington for distribution to its London outlets, also further afield to the Grand Union Canal Company’s distribution centre at Sampson Road wharf in Birmingham.  Empty barrels were carried in return.  To maintain the Birmingham run’s tight schedule, the boats were four-handed to allow the crews to complete the round trip in a week.  But the exceptionally heavy winter of 1946-47 froze the Canal, bringing traffic to a standstill for many weeks, and Guinness transferred their distribution to road transport.

At Greenford, a glass works was opened by W. A. Bailey in 1900 to exploit the Canal’s location.  Not only did the Canal provide transport for the bulk materials needed for glass making, it also provided smooth transport for the fragile goods produced.  The company was later incorporated within the Rockware Glass which, in 1919, also redeveloped the site of an adjacent white lead works, the Purex Lead Company, which had been used for munitions production during the WWI.  Rockware’s Greenford factory stood on the south side of the Canal and remained in production until 1973.

The dock of J. Lyons at Greenford.

J. Lyons Ltd. had their factory at Greenford.  Opened in 1921, at its peak the factory employed 300 people.  Lyons equipped their canal dock with the latest cargo-handling facilities enabling several barges to be discharged simultaneously.  Their consignments were stored under excise control before being released for use in tea blends, coffee, confectionery and grocery lines (tomato sauce, salad cream, jellies, custard powder and mixes).  So proud was the firm of their dock and warehouse that they were proudly shown to the King and Queen during a royal visit in 1923.

Hayes Bridge Wharf and the yard of James Davies (Timber) Merchants Ltd.
Some of the barge names and owners are listed at Appendix IV.


The Nestlé factory at Hayes.

Many factories such as these were built close to the Canal because they ran heat-dependant processes, such as brewing, malting, food preparation, brick, tile and glass making.  In an age before oil, gas and electricity became economic alternatives for heating, their boilers were fired with coal, which was transported cheaply by canal from the Midland collieries.  One such customer was the Nestlé factory at Hayes, known to boatman as the ‘Hayes Cocoa’ after its former owner, the Sandow Cocoa Company.  For many years the factory received regular consignments of coal by canal until eventually it converted to oil fired boilers, and the last load of coal was delivered from Cannock in 1959.  Visually, the factory’s canal frontage has nothing to recommend it, but its main entrance ― facing away from the Canal ― is an attractive piece of Art Deco.  A Wallis Gilbert creation, it is framed with trees and set back behind lawns with massive railings and gates imported from the company’s main works in Switzerland.  Wallis, Gilbert and Partners were responsible for the design of many buildings in the Art Deco style during the inter-war years, their best known creations being the Hoover Factory on Western Avenue, Perivale (1931-1938), and the Victoria Coach Station (1931-32).

Another regular customer for canal-delivered coal was the firm of Kearley & Tonge, later to become International Stores and one of the first modern supermarket chains.  Known as the ‘Jam Ole’ to boatmen, the factory’s coal shipments were landed at Rubastic Dock (now filled in) on the Paddington Arm from collieries around Atherstone on the Coventry Canal.  International Stores (since absorbed into the Somerfields empire) was immortalised together with two other long-forgotten grocers in a verse from John Betjeman’s poem Myfanwy:

“Smooth down the Avenue glitters the bicycle,
 Black-stockinged legs under navy blue serge,
 Home and Colonial, Star, International,
 Balancing bicycle leant on the verge.”

Kearley & Tonge opened their jam and marmalade factory at Southall in 1913, later extending their business into a wide range of food products.  The Jam Ole Run ― some 246 miles and 194 locks ― could, under the most favourable conditions, be completed in seven days.  Time was important, for the crews were paid by tonnage and the quicker they arrived to unloaded, the quicker they could return for another load.  But by the late 1960s the Jam Ole was struggling and the last cargo of coal, from Baddesley Colliery at Atherstone, was delivered in 1970, [4] so ending nearly two centuries of carrying coal to London by canal:

“I had a real nice stone jam jar from the Jam-’Ole.  You went right in and under the bridge to deliver coals at the Jam-’Ole.  It had its own big basin, tooked two pairs of boats and two big barges.  All gone now, just cars were the water used to be.  They used to be everso perticler at that jam factory, one little chip in a jar, out it were throwed on their roobish ’eap.  We used to ask if we could have it, specially if it were one of them deep-blue and some stone ones.  Crammed with flowers on yer cabin top you never noticed no chips.  Lovely!”

Ramlin Rose by Sheila Stewart, Oxford University Press (1994)


Before leaving Bulls Bridge Junction, a further once-important canal tenant needs to be mentioned.  This was the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, which following nationalisation in 1948 was absorbed into British Waterways’ carrying fleet. [5]

The Grand Union Canal Company’s carrying subsidiary was formed in 1934, and Bulls Bridge Junction became the location of its slipways, repair yard and traffic control office. [6] A recess in the canal bank of a couple of hundred yards in length, was built as a lay-by where boats awaiting instructions could tie up, end-on, without obstructing the channel.  Photographs of the period show the lay-by tightly packed with empty narrow boats moored by their sterns to iron rings set into the concrete wharf, the boatpeople occupied with polishing their brassware, hanging out their washing, refuelling or just relaxing over a pipe of tobacco while their children played on the wharf.

The role of the traffic control office was to accept orders and allocate shipping instructions to boat crews.  It also kept track of the location of each boat and its activity by means of positioning coloured discs on a large wall-mounted network diagram (Appendix V).  By repositioning the discs on receipt of telephoned daily updates, it was possible to identify slow-moving and stationary boats, as well as estimate what carrying capacity would be available at any loading point, and when.  In this way the fleet was managed, no mean achievement in the days before cell phones.

School barge Elsdale.

Bulls Bridge depot also hosted a five-bed maternity unit [7] and a school.  The school was opened at Rickmansworth in 1930 for the benefit of boatmen’s children, but later moved to West Drayton and finally to Bulls Bridge.  Housed on a barge provided by the Company, the Elsdale could take about 40 children who were provided with brief periods of education while their parents were awaiting orders.  By 1939 the Elsdale had become unsound and was hoisted onto the canal bank where schooling continued alongside the depot buildings until the 1950s.

By the end of WWII., canal carrying was in terminal decline.  Although some independent carriers soldiered on until the 1970s, the business’s financial losses coupled the harsh winter of 1962-3, when the canal system was iced over for many weeks, caused British Waterways to cease its carrying operations.  Today, the Bulls Bridge depot hosts a Tesco supermarket and car park, but one of the Carrying Company’s dry docks has been retained as a memento of a bygone trade while the lay-by is now home to an estate of strikingly odd-looking house boats.


South of Bulls Bridge the Canal continues through an industrialised area, but very few of the many wharves, cuts and docks from the Canal’s commercial era survive, for having fallen into disuse they were filled in with London’s refuse, shipped, ironically, by canal from Paddington.

The Ordnance Deport at Weedon Bec was not the only gunpowder magazine to be served by the Canal.  In 1811, the government decided to replace the old powder hulks [8] moored in river estuaries with permanent storage facilities.  Four new magazines were built, one being on a 47 acre site on the Canal at North Hyde.  Acquired in 1813, the site was originally planned to connect to the Canal via a branch that would also form a defensive loop, in contrast toWeedon Bec, which was surrounded by a high wall with sentry posts.  For some reason the plan for a moat was abandoned, and what resulted was an extensive branch canal, most of which ran parallel to the main line, and from which six docks extended at right angles.  A barracks building was erected that could accommodate three officers and 50 other ranks, and mounds were built on the site to deflect the blast should there be an explosion.  Gunpowder was shipped in government-owned barges that entered the site through a 14ft wide stop-lock.

The North Hyde Ordnance Depot had a short life, being sold by auction in 1832.  A contemporary newspaper advertisement stated that it comprised:

“. . . . an entire frontage of about 2,500ft to the Grand Junction Canal with which the Ordnance canal on this land has direct communications.  The extensive and valuable magazines, mixing houses, cooperages, boat houses, watch houses and other buildings standing upon this lot . . .”

The Times, 5th March, 1832

Also put up for sale were the barracks, parade ground, a “capital dwelling house” (formerly occupied by the Ordnance Storekeeper) and “ten cottages, with a garden to each, occupied by the foreman and labourers”.  Following the sales, the barracks building became an orphanage and the branch canal a wharf to a brick works ― in which the working conditions of the children it employed were grim.  A police officer stationed at North Hyde stated that those who worked there were:

“. . . . very rough in manner and coarse in language, and terribly given to drink, but I have always found them honest and reasonable to deal with; . . . . I often wonder that the children can stand the work as they do, but nothing seems to hurt them; they are as hardy as ground toads, as the saying is; yet I have seen them so tired at the end of the day’s work that the men have had to take them up in their arms to carry them home.”

Children’s Employment Commission – Brickfields, 1866


By the 1930s all trace of the military depot and its canal had been obliterated, but a nearby private canal branch that has managed to survive is the Maypole Dock.  Described by its current owners as a “community of moorings with gardens”, in its heyday it served one of the largest margarine factories in Europe.

In 1869, the French Emperor, Napoleon III, offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory substitute for butter, suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes.  The French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès invented a substance he named ‘oleomargarine’, which quickly became shortened to ‘margarine.’  In 1894, Otto Monsted, a Danish margarine manufacturer, built a large factory at Southall to manufacture this ‘poor man’s butter’.  Named the Maypole Dairy, it eventually became one of the largest margarine manufacturing plants in the world, occupying a 68 acre site that included its own covered canal dock.  The Maypole Dairy Company (later acquired by Unilever) closed in 1925, apparently due the prohibitive cost of altering production from barrels to pre-packaged cartons. [9]  Much of the site was sold off, one later tenant being Quaker Oats who opened its works in 1936 to produce cereals, pig, and poultry foods, the grain being shipped from the docks mainly by canal.  Jack Gaster, a Thames boatman, recalls taking cargoes to Maypole Dock shortly after the outbreak of WWII:

“. . . . the job I liked most was being Wharf Bosun up on the Grand Union Canal at Southall where I was responsible for delivering canal barges to Messrs. Poulton & Noel [10] laden with Navy beans to be turned into baked beans.  I used to collect the craft from Brentford Dock and tow them up to Southall behind a horse; there were a number of locks to negotiate including the Hanwell Flight.  This was a series of seven locks one after the other and needed a little skill in controlling the barge in order to prevent damage to the lock gates.  Once these had been negotiated and the craft were safely in the Maypole Dock, it was a matter of uncovering and removing the hatches and leaving the work force to remove the beans.  The dock was roofed over so that there was no need for my presence until it was time to bring the barge away and return it down to Brentford Dock for return to the river.”

WWII People’s War, BBC



Turner’s post mill at Southall.

A short distance from Maypole Dock the Canal reaches Norwood top lock (No. 90), which marks the beginning of the its final descent to Brentford and the River Thames.  In this section the canal enjoys a brief respite from the industrial landscapes of Uxbridge and Hounslow as it skirts the perimeter of Osterley Park before completing its journey at Brentford, once a busy river port, which was also served by a competing branch of the Great Western Railway.

The construction of the Great Western and Brentford Railway Company’s branch line gave birth to ‘Three Bridges’ ― or ‘Windmill Bridge’ as it is referred to locally ― a rare example of a triple crossing in which a road (Windmill Lane) crosses a canal aqueduct which crosses a railway, all at the one point.  Brentford Dock and its branch railway are generally considered to be Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s last significant engineering project, being completed shortly after the great engineer’s death in 1859.  The construction of a branch line southward from Southall to Brentford Dock required the Canal to be crossed at a point where it was already crossed by Windmill Lane.  Brunel’s solution was to drive a cutting for his broad gauge railway beneath the canal, which he placed in a cast iron trough, while a new cast iron bridge was built to carry Windmill Lane over both.

Three Bridges, Hanwell  ― the Canal crosses the railway
in an 8 ft-wide cast-iron trough aqueduct.

As the name of the lane suggests, this engineering oddity stands near the spot where a windmill once stood and which attracted the attention of a local Brentford artist, Joseph Mallard William Turner.  Turner exhibited ‘Grand Junction Canal at Southall Mill, Windmill and Lock’ in 1810, his painting depicting a post mill, its sails at rest and a pair of millstones leaning against its roundhouse wall.  In the foreground a narrow boat is locking up, two men pushing hard against the balance beams of the lock gates while canal horses graze idly on the canal bank in this idyllic scene.  The lock is thought to be Hanwell top lock (No. 92), the bridge in the background being that which carried Windmill Lane across the Canal.

The Great Western Railway branch line through Three Bridges once terminated at Brentford Dock, [11] which lies adjacent to and slightly upstream of the point at which the canalised River Brent enters Brentford Creek to join the Thames.

Brentford Dock was constructed between 1855 and 1859 to a plan by Brunel.  The dock, which was served by a large railway marshalling yard, warehouses, workshops and goods sheds, was designed as a transhipment terminal for traffic carried by barges and lighters from the London docks, the Great Western Railway and the Grand Junction Canal.  Through most of its existence it was a commercial success, the traffic it handled including coal, steel, timber, wood pulp, flour, animal feedstuffs, cork and general merchandise.  But by the 1960s, the development of the motorway network and its greatly increased use for road haulage took traffic away from the Thames, and Brentford Dock gradually fell into disuse.  The dock closed in 1964 and the site has since been redeveloped with housing and a marina.

Brentford Dock.  Brentford Creek, leading up to Thames Lock and the start of the
Grand Junction Canal, is on the right of the picture.


Just to the east of Three Bridges commences the Hanwell flight of six locks that lower the canal by just over 53 feet within a third of a mile.  Along this section runs a high brick wall behind which were the extensive grounds of what was once the County Asylum, now Ealing Hospital.  A bricked-up entrance shows where boats once passed into what the boatmen called ‘Asylum Dock’ to deliver coal for the boilers and take away fruit, vegetable and animal produce cultivated by the inmates in the Asylum’s large market gardens.  For its time, the medical regime took an enlightened attitude to the care of their patients by encouraging the use of their skills and trades.  This ‘therapy of employment’ benefitted both the Asylum and the patients, and was a precursor to what we know as ‘occupational therapy’.

The Company’s steam inspection launch ‘Swift’ descending the Hanwell flight.

An old enemy of canal transport, ice.  These pictures are of the Canal at Hanwell during the winter of 1962-63.

The former County Asylum lay behind the imposing wall on the towing path bank.

At Hanwell bottom lock (No. 97), the Canal flows into the River Brent:

“Gentle Brent, I used to know you
 Wandering Wembley-wards at will,
 Now what change your waters show you
 In the meadowlands you fill!
 Recollect the elm-trees misty
 And the footpaths climbing twisty
 Under cedar-shaded palings,
 Low laburnum-leaned-on railings
 Out of Northolt on and upward to the

         heights of Harrow hill.”

The Canal flows into the River Brent at Hanwell bottom lock, which becomes a canalised river.

So wrote the late Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, of the River Brent as it flowed towards Brentford and the Thames.  Much of the river north of this point has since been driven underground by the suburban growth of London or corseted in concrete as a flood protection measure.  The risk of flooding here is real, and it came to pass in 1841.

Some 6 miles to the north of Brentford lies the Brent Reservoir.  Built by the Regent’s Canal Company in 1835 to address a water shortage on the Paddington Arm and the Regent’s Canal, the reservoir straddles the boundary between the London boroughs of Brent and Barnet.  Early in the morning of the 17th January 1841, a sudden thaw following freezing weather caused the reservoir to burst its earth wall. A disastrous flood then swept down the Brent into the Canal to descend on Brentford, ripping barges from their moorings and leaving much destruction in its wake . . . .

“. . . . a few minutes before four o’clock a loud noise was heard to the north of the town, which momentarily approached nearer and nearer; and it was soon ascertained that the narrow stream of the Brent had swollen into a mighty river, and overflowing its banks, was pouring itself into the already increased waters of the canal.  Numbers of boats, barges, and lighters, were instantly torn from their moorings, and driven with great force through the bridge, towards the Thames.  At the same instant, also, the accumulated waters having overflowed all the premises north of the high road, burst with frightful force through two avenues by the houses . . . . It is impossible to describe the scene at that moment.  Men, women, and children, many of them in their night clothes, were running in all directions for places of shelter, while the roaring of the water, added to the screams of the terrified inhabitants of the boats, and of the individuals inhabiting the numerous cottages running south of the town down to the water side, were most appalling. In a very short time, all the houses at that portion of the town were flooded . . . . five large barges were driven by the force of the water against the wharf of Mr. Fowler, an extensive wharfinger at Brentford-end, and swamped, some lying over others. . . . but it was nearer to the mouth of the outlet of the Thames that the greatest damage was done, and a scene of shipwreck unparalleled so far inland presented itself.  The spot in question is at the bottom of the Boar’s Head yard, a turning leading from the high road, nearly opposite to the market-place, down to the canal.  Off this spot the canal passes through some meadows, and there is a foot bridge across it, and near that bridge were piled up craft of various descriptions to the number it is said of fifteen.  There would no doubt have been more, had not the pressure of the water forced down a large portion of the wall of the grounds of the duke of Northumberland, by which the pent-up water obtained an outlet, carrying with it four or five barges.  Some of these vessels were topsy-turvy, others were on their sides, and portions of five could he distinctly seen above the water, piled on the top of each other.”

The Annual Register, 1841

Despite the scene of destruction painted by the press reports of the time, the loss of life was surprisingly small, with two deaths reported.



This bypass weir at Osterley Lock is one of a number that
regulate the depth of the canalised River Brent.

The River Brent with its weirs and mills was probably unnavigable until work started on the Canal in 1793, which, apart from its wider bends, canalised the River along the south-western boundary of New Brentford.  Here, the scenery returns briefly to parkland as the Canal skirts the estate of Osterley House, an elegant eighteenth century neo-classical mansion by Robert Adam, now in the care of the National Trust.  The scenery is somewhat blighted by the M4, which the Canal passes beneath before reaching Clitheroes Lock (No. 99), [12] the last conventional lock on the canal; the two that remain are electrically operated and are twinned, Thames Lock (No. 101) also being tidal and in the care of a lock keeper.  Clitheroes Lock is but a short distance to Brentford Basin, at the southern end of which is Brentford Gauging Lock (No. 100).  This was the first (or last) lock on the Canal when it was first opened, and it continues to act as the demarcation point between the Thames, administered by the Port of London Authority, and the River Brent/Grand Union Canal, administered by the Canal and River Trust.  The section of Canal between these two locks is semi-tidal due to high tides causing the Thames to overflow Thames Lock weir back into the Canal.

Brentford Basin was once ringed with wharves and warehouses, and a hive of commercial activity. [13] Here the transhipment of cargoes between lighters, river barges and smaller canal craft took place.  Tolls were paid at the Brentford Toll Office based on the weight and type of cargo, the toll clerk measuring how high a loaded boat was ‘sitting’ out of the water using a gauging rod to measure the ‘dry inches’ on the side of the boat.  From this could be calculated the toll based on the charge per mile for each cargo.  Although much of this industrial landscape disappeared after the Canal’s commercial life ended in the 1970s, and is currently the subject of various regeneration plans, the Basin is not deserted, for many leisure craft now pass through it.  It is ironic to reflect on British Waterways’ view, published in their house magazine in 1958, that the development of pleasure boating “will not mean greatly increased earning in the kitty and our main efforts must always be directed towards getting commercial traffic”.  It was to be another decade before Barbara Castle’s 1968 Transport Act finally gave official recognition to the recreational value of our inland waterways and a remit for British Waterways to develop their leisure potential.


Pictures of Brentford Basin during the dreadful winter of 1962-63:   the timber being worked (above and below) was  destined for James Davies (Timber) Merchants Ltd. at Hayes Bridge on the Paddington Arm.

Brentford Gauging Lock (No. 100) in the background.

The narrow boat Nutfield playing tug to a lighter load of timber - the Nutfield is still around.



Boatmen’s Institute, Brentford.

Before leaving the area of Brentford Basin, a further point of interest is the former Boatmen’s Institute.  Canal boatmen had a hard and poorly paid existence, the railways having creamed off their most profitable trade leaving mostly coal and other low-value deadweight cargoes.  Bringing up families in tiny narrow boat cabins was a struggle and it is unsurprising, considering the dangerous nature of the trade, that there was a high rate of mortality, particularly among children.  Few boat people could swim and drowning was not uncommon.  Many canal families were illiterate, their itinerant lifestyle denying them regular schooling, while access to medical help and to religion were difficult.  Thus, for many the Brentford Boatmen’s Institute was a beacon where children could be left for weeks at a time to receive a rudimentary education while their parents carried loads to Birmingham and elsewhere on the network.  The Institute even had lying-in rooms where women could give birth in dignity.  For one old boatman, the Institute was “the happiest, blessedest place in Brentford”.

The Institute was designed by local architect Nowell Parr in 1904 for the London City Mission, which had many much larger premises devoted to sailors in the East End docks.  This charming building is in a redbrick Queen Anne style, with white, rough-cast upper floors and wide, flat buttresses.  For 50 years tea and compassion were dispensed to the canal community within its walls, but when canal traffic faded away so did its role in life.  The building became redundant and, at the time of writing, is now a private dwelling.


Thames Lock (No. 101) at Brentford.
The double Thames Lock forms the boundary between the Thames, administered by the Port of London Authority,
and the River Brent/Grand Union Canal, administered by the Canal & River Trust.

A view in the opposite direction to that above ― the tidal Brent Creek, with the River Thames in the distance.

South of Brentford Lock (no. 100), boats had at first to navigate the tidal Brentford Creek because local millers frustrated its use to build another lock to enable canal traffic to continue further on its way.  But in 1802, some years after this section of the Canal had opened, the Company succeeded in building the first Thames Lock [14] to provide improved access with the Thames.

Today, the town of Brentford is no longer an important trading route.  Its dock has been redeveloped as a marina surrounded by flats, maisonettes and houses, while the western side of the canal basin is currently the subject of planning applications for redevelopment.  Large commercial developments dominate the Great West Road.  But in the eighteenth century, it would appear, Brentford was an unappealing place; and despite the Turnpike Trust, the state of the road was extremely bad:

“Though this is called the county town, it is a miserable dirty place, without a town hall, or any building of that nature . . . . The road from Hyde Park corner through Brentford and Hounslow is equally deep in filth, as the road from Tyburn through Uxbridge.  The only passable track of which, during the whole of the winter of 1797-8, was eight inches deep in fluid sludge, the rest of the road being from one foot to eighteen inches deep in adhesive mud.  Notwithstanding His Majesty travels the road several times every week there are not many exertions made towards keeping it clean in winter.”

View of the Agriculture of Middlesex, John Middleton (1807)

The great lexicographer, Doctor Johnson, took an equally jaundiced view of the town.  So let the last word on this journey from Braunston to Brentford ― and a judgment that must rank with Betjeman’s on Slough  ―  rest with the Doctor:

“I once reminded him [Johnson] that when Dr Adam Smith was expatiating on the beauty of Glasgow he had cut him short by saying, ‘Pray, Sir, have you ever seen Brentford?’ and I took the liberty to add, ‘My dear Sir, surely that was shocking.’  ‘Why then Sir,’ he replied, ‘YOU have never seen Brentford.’”

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D, James Boswell (1791)




“About the year 1798, the proprietors of the Grand Junction Canal made the Paddington branch of their navigation; its approach to London rendered two very great and elevated embankments necessary, one over the River Brent, the other over the valley of the Serpentine River [a.k.a. the Westbourne], near Westbourn Green.  The first of these embankments was effected by making a brick aqueduct, of large capacity, under which the Brent passes generally without much impediment, and which is too far removed from London to be much dilated upon here; but the latter embankment essentially interferes with that great object of consideration, the sewage of the western part of the metropolis.  It is formed over the valley to an elevation of 30 feet above the natural surface of the ground; a brick aqueduct here, as at the River Brent, being made for the conveyance of the canal over the Serpentine River or Westbrook.  This brook receives all the waters flowing from the western side of Hampstead Hill, the south side of Shootup Hill and Bransbury, Kensal Green, in part, and thence from the eastern side of the Harrow Road to the bridge at Westbourn Green.  This district being all strong clay, floods, which were frequent before the embankment, have increased since its formation; no doubt owing to the limited size of the culvert, the opening being but a little larger than the old bridge was on the Harrow Road, which has since been rebuilt on account of want of dimensions.  What evil might arise from the effects of a very sudden thaw cannot easily be foreseen; because, if the embankment were to be ruptured so as to let out the waters of the canal, which is for 18 miles without a lock, they could not be stopped, although there are stop-gates at the bridges, for they could not be made to act if there were any great thickness of ice in the canal.”

Some account of the proposed improvements of the western part of London (1814) – pp.60-61.

The author of this piece may have been aware of the problems experienced with the Cosgrove embankment and aqueduct.  The aqueduct referred to here is the Kilburn Aqueduct.  Sited where the Canal crosses the Westbourne Valley, the aqueduct still exists ― approximately where the footbridge west of Little Venice crosses the Canal today ― but lies buried beneath London’s later development (and at any rate who would want to live next door to an open sewer?).  In appearance, the aqueduct was probably not dissimilar to that which Jessop designed to support the massive embankment across the Great Ouse at Wolverton, but in this case of a single arch.  Today the aqueduct still conveys the Serpentine, now generally known as the Ranelagh sewer.



reported in The Morning Post, 11th July, 1801.


“The canal to Paddington was opened yesterday morning for trade, with a grand procession along the Paddington Line to Bull’s Bridge at Uxbridge. Exactly at nine o’clock the Committee, with their friends, in two pleasure boats, set sail, with colours and streamers flying, each vessel being towed by two horses. At twelve o’clock the company were met at Bull’s Bridge by the city shallop (having on board the Sub-committee of the Thames navigation), and several pleasure boats, with large parties of Ladies. ― On meeting, a salute was fired, and then the procession returned in the following order:

1. The Committee and their friends, in two barges, with the Buckinghamshire band of music.
2. The city shallop.
3. Seven pleasure boats.

At half after five o’clock, the cavalcade reached the Great Dock. This was announced by the firing of cannon, on Westbourn-green-bridge, and a volley of musquerry (sic) from the town. After three huzzas, the company landed, and walked in procession to the Yorkshire Stinge, preceded by the Buckinghamshire band, playing ‘God save the King’. At half past six, the company sat down to an excellent dinner, and spent the evening with conviviality.

Blue and purple ribbands were worn by the ladies, gentlemen, and men employed in the concern, on which were written, “The Marquis of Buckingham, and success to the Grand Union Canal.”

Great praise is due to the Committee for the expedition which they have used since last spring in completing the canal. A long range of warehouses are nearly finished for the reception of goods. Yesterday not less than eight laden barges arrived. A public road, 100 feet wide, was finished on Monday last to the quay, which is but a few paces from the Edgware-road.

The day proved as propitious as the undertaking is likely to prove a prosperous one. The number of persons present could not be less than 20,000; for several miles the banks of the Canal were lined with people; several stages were erected for accommodation, and a long string of carriages appeared on the public walk.”



GOOD WORDS (Volume 20, 1879)


I HAVE chosen my title with reference to the nature of the materials from which the gain of which I have to speak is extracted — very fertile “farms of two acres,” some of our dingy dust yards prove — not with the slightest to the character of the extractors. Through the courtesy of Messrs. W. Mead and Co, I have been allowed to pay a visit or two to a “contractor’s yard,” which claims to be the largest, at any rate to do the largest business, in London.  It is one of several bordering the Paddington Basin, which from that circumstance might be called, by a trade pun, a “slop” basin.

Most of the London dust-yards are at the water-side, for the sake of the water carriage which the canal or river gives them for their dust and cinders to the country brick makers.

In Messrs. Mead and Co.’s yard, the electric light is used after dusk in winter, to enable the men to go on with the loading of the barges.  Wandering along the muddy North Wharf Road, with its dozens of empty tumbrils resting with their shafts up in the air, or crossing the canal and railway bridges in Bishop’s Road, you catch sight of an aurora in the sky, and on entering the yard you see a big meteor star, pulsing white and bluish white, suspended in solitary brightness over the black heaps from which the weary sifters have gone home to rest, weirdly lighting up the men plying pick and shovel down by the canal, and making part of the sluggish water seem to be phosphorescently afire.  As far at the influence of the light extends, the separate stones can be distinguished on the gravel wharf, and within that circle the lamp-posts and the buildings of the yard stand out clear as by daylight, or rather clearer, since the mysterious brilliance seems to purge them of their grime.  But all gas-jets are turned into mere faint bilious blotches and outside the magic circle the darkness, both on land and water, is intensified into ebon gloom.

And now for the daylight aspect of the yard, or rather yards.  An apology for untidiness on a contractor’s premises has a somewhat droll sound, but one is made for the “muddle” in which the “slop-yard” is found.  The slop is just thawing after long frost.  A wide mass of dark, very unappetising batter-pudding is pent up on the wharf, waiting for a barge to come alongside; when a trap will be opened and the unsavoury mess cascade in a mudfall.  This accumulation of scavenging is indiscriminately called slop, but formerly street dirt dirt used to be divided into mud and “mac,” the latter being the product of traffic friction on macadamised roads, and the more valuable for builders purposes because freer from manure than mud.  When I asked my obliging guide at what rate the yard sold its slop, I was astonished to hear, “We get nothing, give it away to brick-makers fifteen or sixteen miles down the canal.  Yes, the cost of the carriage falls on us too.  We own twenty barges, with two men and a horse apiece, and we hire as well.  The brick-makers know that we must get rid of the slop, and so they won’t give us anything for it.  If” he added, “the yard were close to a country district, so that farmers could come with their carts, they would be glad enough to pay us for it, it makes excellent manure.”

Separate from the slop wharf by the gravel wharf, which, from its contrast to its neighbours on both sides looks strangely clean and almost goldenly bright, is the dust-yard.  Outside the gates empty dust and mud carts, so thickly furred with mud and dust that the owners’ names are often almost illegible, are congregated in the manner I have described.  Other carts are rolling out empty and rolling in full.  One of them unfortunately goes over a poor follow, who is taken up tenderly by two brother dusties and lifted with care into a cab, backed into the yard to receive him, and in this he is carried off to hospital in charge of a clerk.

The firm owns a hundred and twenty horses, manifestly well fed, and they are well housed also.  In their stables under the granary which contains their hay, straw, chaff, and crushed oats, hot as well as cold water is laid on for use at night.  Their drivers look as if they would be all the better for similar accommodation.  The dust that thickly covers the tracks in the yard is much like that one flounders through in iron-works.  Here the foot sinks over the ankle in dry, black powder, and there sticks fast in viscous, blacking-like mud.  Even on a winter afternoon, with the mercury dropping to freezing point, the perfumes floating, or, rather brooding in the atmosphere are not those of Araby the Blest.  On a sweltering summer day, after a shower, what must be the odours steaming up from such a conglomeration of ashes, egg-shells, oyster-shells, herring-heads, greasy rags and bones, old boots and shoes, and miscellaneous rubbish!  And yet the people employed in the yard, both men and women — so far as their flesh can be made out through the dirt with which they have peppered and besmeared it — look healthy, some quite plump and ruddy; and the same may be said of the men who go out with the dust carts and the scavengers.




Colin Davies kindly provided the following information about barges used by his family's firm of timber importers:

Names of some canal barges on Grand Union Canal during 1950s and 1960s.

These barges could fit into the 14 locks between Brentford and Hayes or West Drayton. Each could carry about 20 standards of timber weighing about 50 tons.

The two principal lighterage companies were General Lighterage Limited, which was known as “General”, and The Thames Steam Tug and Lighterage Limited, which was known as “Limited”. General usually took the timber from The Surrey Docks via Brentford to Hayes, and Limited usually took it to West Drayton.































A few barges were a bit too wide to fit in the locks via Brentford, and had to come the longer way round via Regents Park. Some of these were called: Pam, Ripon, Trunkfish, Brentbird, Brentwren.

I made a list like this while I was working with the forwarding company in London (W. Hall) who organised the barges to come from The Surry Docks to our wharves. We were having problem getting enough canal barges to cope with our imports of timber, and I tried to remember all the names of the barges that had ever come our way. That way, I could make a guess at how many barges that were small enough to get through the locks actually existed .

General’s” barges had either names ending in Ford, or names of places like Southall, or military names like Gunner, Bore, Jemadar, or odd names like Isla, Irvine, Scaddle, Snar.

“Limited’s” barges with names like Hayesroot, Hayeswood, Hayesbirch were, according to my father, originally given those names because they were specially built in the 1930s to carry timber to the new JDT yard at Hayes. However, by the time I got to work at Hayes in 1954, they were almost always carrying timber to Yewsley/West Drayton for our other Co. called Davies Brothers (West Drayton ) Ltd. That yard was alongside the canal by West Drayton station. It was between the canal and the railway, and could take cargoes delivered by rail as well as canal.



(Grand Union Canal Company c. 1938)

Tell-tale Chart Shows Movement of Boats.

CHARTS of one kind or another are to-day used in many industries as well as in Government and Police Departments. While it might not be true to say that the growth of the use of charts and maps owes its origin to the planning on an intensive scale that took place during the War, it is certain that since that world disturbance the use of charts and plans has increased to an enormous extent. Scotland Yard, for example, uses flags and maps to indicate districts in which crime and road accidents are more serious than in others, and the Ministry of Transport makes extensive use of maps and charts in its campaign to reduce casualties on the roads. The London Passenger Transport Board controls a vast organisation in which for many years the control of traffic has been exercised by means of mechanism which may not inaptly be called vitalised charts.

The Bulls Bridge control board, Grand Union Canal Carrying Company.

Checking Movements of Craft.

In the early days of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company Limited it became apparent that some method whereby the movements of boats could be checked and controlled was absolutely essential and the necessity resulted in the adaptation of the chart idea to canal craft.

Imagine then a line of boats five miles long and that will give some idea of the size of the fleet of canal craft now controlled from the Company’s Head Office in London. This fleet, which at the time of writing consists of 380 boats, operates over three hundred miles of waterway between such points as London, Northampton, Warwick, Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Loughborough, Rugby, Coventry, and the coal producing areas of Warwickshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire.

It will be realised that to control craft passing over such a large area is no small task, but the difficulties involved have been overcome so that the Company’s Traffic Department is now able to ascertain almost at any moment the position of any unit of the fleet.

Eliminating Empty Running.

Behind the scheme there is also the important consideration that the aim should be to obtain the best possible use from all craft and empty running eliminated as far as possible. The whole scheme of control is carried out by the Staff as part of the normal working of the Traffic Department, being entrusted to one officer.

The actual apparatus by which control is exercised is relatively simple. A map about 11 ft. long and 4 ft. deep is stretched on one of the walls of the office, and on it various important points on the canal are shown in much the same way as stations appear on the familiar maps so frequently issued in connection with the underground railways of London. The map covers the whole area over which the Company’s boats travel, and on it appear twenty-four coloured circles representing Reporting Offices, from each of which every morning the Head Office receives a report. Thus, at 9 o’clock each morning in the Company’s Traffic Department the clerk in charge of boat control, having obtained all the reports, spreads them out in front of him on the long desk underneath the map. On his left hand on the wall is the London area, with its reporting points at Regent’s Canal Dock, Paddington, Bull’s Bridge, Brentford, and Cowley. On his right hand are the Birmingham, Leicester and Coventry areas, while in front of him are the intermediate points and the rack containing numbered ivorine discs which represent boats, red for loaded boats and green for empty boats.

The reports from the various terminals and observation points are sorted and then begins the task of moving the “boats”. The terminal reports show which boats are discharging and loading and alternately those awaiting orders. The requisite discs are selected from the rack or from the position previously reported and transferred to the appropriate point. Boats in transit are moved from one position to another in accordance with the information shown on the reports and are always kept on the right-hand side of the route.

In addition to providing a quick means of reference to the position of all craft, the map also enables slow moving boats to be traced as the points are so selected that a boat should pass at least one office during the day, and its failure to do so is at once apparent, for when the rest of the boats are moved from the previous point the laggard will still remain.

Not the least useful function served by the chart is that it indicates the number of boats which will be arriving at any one point and thus requirements at loading points can be met by moving empty craft accordingly.


[Chapter XI.]



 At 6½-miles, to which can be added the Slough and Paddington arms, and the section of the Regent’s Canal to Hampstead Road Locks (Camden Locks), which between them add a further 21-miles of lock-free waterway (distances taken from Bradshaw’s Canals & Navigable Rivers).


Opened in 1756, this turnpike road followed a route comprising today’s Old Marylebone Road, Marylebone Road, Euston Road, Pentonville Road, City Road, and Moorgate.


The Westbourne Valley is just to the west of Little Venice, although housing development  during the mid-Victorian era makes less noticeable the embankment that crosses it.  The writer of the piece at Appendix I. expressed concern about the embankment “rupturing”, perhaps being aware of the fate that befell Jessop’s brick aqueduct at Cosgrove in 1808.


The last regular canal traffic to the Dickinson paper mills near Watford also ceased in 1970.


On 1st January 1948, the assets of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company were absorbed into the British Transport Commission as part of the Labour Government’s transport nationalisation programme.  On 1st January 1949, the fleet of the canal carrier Fellows, Morton & Clayton, which ceased trading in November 1948, were also acquired.


Development of the Bulls Bridge site continued until near the end of carrying on the Canal in 1964 ― “Construction of fleet office, together with welfare buildings etc. for boat families at Bulls Bridge” (extract, British Waterways house magazine, July/August 1957); “Construction of workshop, slipway and gantry at Bulls Bridge Repair Yard” (extract, British Waterways house magazine, June 1960).


In her account of life on the waterways (Tales from the Old Inland Waterways, David & Charles, 1998.), Gladys Horne recalls that expectant mothers registered so that a bed could be made available on the due date, and their boats could tie up for the last three months, unlike Fellows, Morton & Clayton who allowed nothing.


Obsolete warships used as moveable powder magazines.


Some might remember the days before pre-packing, when butter and margarine appeared on grocers’ counters in large blocks from which a customer’s order was cut, teased into shape with a pair of butter pats, placed on a sheet of greaseproof paper and weighed.


Producers of canned foods, later part of Unilver.


Since the closure of Brentford Dock and the redevelopment of the site, the line now terminates on the outskirts of Brentford.


Despite the slight difference in spelling, was possibly named after James Clitherow (III) (1731-1805) of Boston House, a respected local landowner.


British Waterways continued to see a future for canal carrying as recently at 1957, when they invested in a 9,450 sq. ft warehouse extension at Brentford (its next door neighbour, Brentford Dock, closed in 1964).


The present Thames Locks date from 1962.