A nickname for a section of Paddington (or is it Maida Vale?) centred on the junction of Regent’s Canal and the Grand Union Canal (which links through to Paddington Basin), the origins of the term Little Venice are somewhat mysterious.
Some claim the area owes its moniker to the 19th century poet Robert Browning who moved back to London from Italy after his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, died in 1861 and settled in the area until 1887 (before returning to Italy – Venice – where he died in 1889).
It was while living in the area that some say he apparently coined the name (his residence there, meanwhile, is also noted in the naming of Browning’s Pool, located at the junction of the two canals).
Others, however, give credit to another iconic 19th century literary figure – Lord Byron – but suggest the context wasn’t so much praise but rather a wishful statement noting that London could have had its own Venice if the canals weren’t so filthy.
Either way, the name apparently didn’t gain much currency until after World War II (and the ‘Little’ was apparently a late addition – the area was first simply known as London’s Venice).
These days, Little Venice is a sought-after residential district and hosts some great cafes as well as pubs and theatres – including the Puppet Theatre Barge. It also serves as a terminus for various canal boat companies and hosts the annual IWA Canalway Cavalcade, which has been taking place since 1983 (pictured above).
As well as boasting its own island, Browning’s Pool, meanwhile, is also home to Rembrandt Gardens, named so in 1975 in honour of the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam.
Robert Browning aside, others who have lived in the area reportedly include artist Lucian Freud, singer Robbie Williams, entrepreneur Richard Branson and Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear.
This district in west London – located to the south-west of St Johns Wood – takes its name from the Italian town of Maida in Calabria where, in 1806, the British won a victory over Napoleon.
Led by Sir John Stuart (later Count of Maida), about 5,000 British troops defeated a larger number of French in a battle in what was a much-needed boost to the British after the defeat at Austerlitz in December the previous year.
There was apparently a pub located in the area named, in the wake of the victory, ‘The Hero of Maida’ in reference to Stuart and his role in the battle. The pub has since gone but its name lives on in the street and the district which still carries it.
Landmarks in Maida Vale include the basin – complete with houseboats and the puppet theatre barge – known as Little Venice (some say this name was coined by poet Robert Browning; others attribute it to Lord Byron) where Regent’s Canal meets with the Paddington arm of the Grand Junction Canal (pictured is Regent’s Canal looking toward Little Venice).
Maida Vale is also home to the BBC Maida Vale Studios (on Delaware Road) while notable residents have included computer science pioneer Alan Turing who was born at 2 Warrington Crescent in 1912 and David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, who lived at 75 Warrington Crescent.
The area to the south-west is unofficially known as Maida Hill and this was apparently initially the name used for the entire area until the more romantic Maida Vale came into usage in the mid 19th century. Maida Vale also gives its name to a Tube station – it opened in 1915.
Regent’s Canal was fully opened in 1820 and linked the Grand Junction Canal, which ended at Little Venice in Paddington in London’s west, with the East London Docks and Limehouse in the east. Architect John Nash was one of the directors of the canal company and it was thanks to his friendship with the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, that the canal obtained its name. Nash saw the canal as an integral part of his plans for The Regent’s Park and it now runs along the park’s northern edge. Nash’s assistant James Morgan was the canal’s chief engineer. The waterbus service, which operates between Little Venice and Camden Loch, runs at various times daily until October. See here for timetable details.
Opened in 1820 as a link between the Grand Junction Canal and the London docks in the east, Regent’s Canal remains a terrific way to see another, oft forgotten (at least in visitor terms), part of the city.
Once at the heart of London’s goods transportation system, the canal is now a recreational and residential precinct. There’s a terrific tow path which runs between Camden Lock, home of great markets including terrific food, and the pool of Little Venice in Paddington – taking in Regent’s Park, canal-side mansions, and the London Zoo along the way.
If you don’t want to walk, you can take a boat trip (among those offering trips between Little Venice and Camden Lock are the London Waterbus Company and Jason’s Trip; for kayaking, see Thames River Adventures) along largely the same route (although the tow path takes you over the top of Maida Hill while the boats head through a tunnel underneath).
John Nash, designer of Regent’s Park, was one of the proponents of the canal seeing it as nice addition to his park (he apparently originally wanted the route to run through the park but was convinced otherwise thanks to some fears over the language of those involved in steering boats along the canal).
He become one of the directors of the company which developed the canal following the passing of an act of parliament in 1812. It was named for the then Prince Regent, later King George IV.
You can find out more about the history of the canal at the London Canal Museum, located further to the east on the Regent’s Canal between St Pancras Lock and the Islington Tunnel.
WHERE: While the canal runs to the docks, the journey from Camden Lock to Little Venice is a walk of around 5 kilometres. Nearest tube stations are Warwick Avenue at the Little Venice end and Camden Town at the Camden Lock end; WHEN: Daily, tow path is open from dawn to dusk between Camden Lock and Little Venice (see the boating company websites for trip times); COST: The tow path is free, one way trips on boats between Little Venice and Camden Lock start at around £6.50; WEBSITE: For more on the history of the Regent’s Canal, see www.canalmuseum.org.uk/history/regents.htm.