Industry Colonises the Banks of the Canal

In 1990 Westway and Harrow Road rush past the site, carrying passengers and goods, while North Wharf Road was a rather a sleepy side road. A hundred years ago Harrow Road was a twisting carriage road passing through Paddington Green and carrying mainly local goods. Most long-distance goods traffic and many travellers were carried by the canal and North Wharf Road was a busy mass of horse drawn carts.

Bevan's painting of hay carts in Cumberland Market, by the Zoo, which used to be the next wharf along, but has now been filled in, gives some impression. This is rather a peaceful picture of a backwater where hay was the major freight. North and South Wharves were much more grimy and workaday. The canals would never give a picture of bustle but they were full of activity.

Cumberland Market by Robert Bevan, (Private Collection)

The Grand Junction Canal connected the rivers and towns of a huge area. Goods came from all over the Midlands the Port of London, from the Britain and the Continent. Thus Paddington became an important distributing centre for building materials, industrial products, coal, manure and a thousand other things. Traffic was constant between London, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, the Potteries, etc.

It was also the cheapest and, until the coming of the railways, often the fastest method of passenger travel. People could go the length of the canal system to connect with ships and so to all parts of the world. They moved their furniture by canal. Probably the tenants moving into the new houses in Little Venice in the 1840s had their furniture taken by barge and unloaded on the bank nearby.

'Wharves lined the canal. In the 13 miles from Paddington to Bull's Bridge, at  Southall where this branch joined the main canal, there were 17 wharves and docks. The canal connected Paddington to all the main roads and industries. The Regent's Canal branch to the Thames was so busy that the numerous wharves, business premises, and warehouses lining the banks, became more of an extended dock, than a waterway for through traffic.’

 Bradshaw's Canal and Navigable Waterways

Paddington Basin, by Algernon Newton (1880 -1968)

The original is a huge painting now in The Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museum, Brighton. A copy is on display in the Hilton Metropole Hotel at the head of the Basin, but gives nothing like the calm, overwhelming impression of the original.


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Updated February 22, 2011