The Regent's Canal is a canal across an area just to the north of central London, England. It provides a link from the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal, just north-west of Paddington Basin, in the west, to the Limehouse Basin and the River Thames in east London.
First proposed by Thomas Homer in 1802 as a link from the Paddington arm of the then Grand Junction Canal (opened in 1801) with the River Thames at Limehouse, it was built during the early 19th century after an Act of Parliament was passed in 1812. Noted architect and town planner John Nash was a director of the company; in 1811 he had produced a masterplan for the Prince Regent to redevelop a large area of central north London – as a result, the Regent’s Canal was included in the scheme, running for part of its distance along the northern edge of Regent's Park.
As with many Nash projects, the detailed design was passed to one of his assistants, in this case James Morgan – appointed chief engineer of the canal company. Work began on 14 October 1812. The first section, Paddington to Camden Town, opened in 1816 and included a long tunnel under Maida Hill east of an area now known as 'Little Venice' (a name devised by Robert Browning) and a much shorter tunnel, just long, under Lisson Grove. The Camden to Limehouse section, including the long Islington tunnel and the Regent's Canal Dock (used to transfer cargo from sea-faring vessels to canal barges – today known as Limehouse Basin), opened four years later on 1 August 1820. Various intermediate basins were also constructed (eg: Cumberland Basin to the east Regent's Park, Battlebridge Basin (close to King's Cross, London) and City Road Basin). Many other basins such as Wenlock Basin, Kingsland Basin, St. Pancras Stone and Coal Basin, and the basin in front of the Great Northern Railway's Granary were also built, and some of these survive.
The City Road Basin, the nearest to the City of London, soon eclipsed the Paddington Basin in the amount of goods carried, principally coal and building materials. These were goods that were being shipped locally, in contrast to the canal's original purpose of transshipping imports to the Midlands. The opening of the London and Birmingham Railway in 1838 actually increased the tonnage of coal carried by the canal. However, by 1929, with the Midlands trade lost to the railways, and more deliveries made by road, the canal fell into a long decline.
In 1927, the Regent's Canal Company bought the Grand Junction Canal and the Warwick Canals, the merged entity coming into force on 1 January 1929 as the Grand Union Canal Company. In August 1938 the Cumberland Basin was dammed off and drained and in the next two years it was formally abandoned. The Regent's Canal was nationalised in 1948. By this time, the canal's importance for commercial traffic was dwindling, and by the 1960s commercial vessels had almost ceased to operate, the lorry taking over the traffic not already lost to the railway in the 19th century.
Due to the increase in cycle commuting since the 2005 London Bombings and increasing environmental awareness, the canal's towpath has become a busy cycle route for commuters.
The Regent's Canal forms a junction with the old Grand Junction Canal at Little Venice, a short distance north of Paddington Basin. After passing through the Maida Hill and Lisson Grove tunnels, the canal curves round the northern edge of Regent's Park and bisects London Zoo. It continues through Camden Town and King's Cross Central, also known as the Railway Lands It performs a sharp bend at Camley Street Natural Park, following Goods Way where it flows behind both St Pancras railway station and King's Cross railway station. The canal opens out into Battlebridge Basin, originally known as Horsfall Basin, home of the London Canal Museum, and where on the northwest corner the new Kings Place development is currently taking shape. Continuing eastwards beyond the Islington tunnel and passing many notable landmarks including The Rosemary Branch theatre, it then forms the southern end of Broadway Market and then meets the Hertford Union Canal by Victoria Park, after which it turns south towards the Limehouse Basin, where today it also meets the Limehouse Cut. At this point the canal ends as it joins the River Thames.