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.

PICTURE: Paul Hudson/CC BY 2.0

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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.

Regent's-Canal-looking-toward-Little-VeniceThere 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.

The address might not immediately ring a bell but it will when we tell you this was the home of London’s most famous bear, Paddington.

Paddington-BearFirst appearing in A Bear Called Paddington published on 13th October, 1958, Paddington Bear was the brainchild of Michael Bond, who was apparently inspired a couple of years earlier when he spotted a lonely teddy bear sitting on a shop shelf in a store near Paddington Station (a bear which he subsequently bought and gave to his wife as a Christmas present).

In the books, Paddington – who is typically depicted wearing a blue duffel coat, old hat and Wellington boots – was found at Paddington Railway Station by the Brown family with a note asking that he be looked after (he had been a stowaway on board a ship from Peru, put their by his Aunt Lucy who had gone to a retirement home in Lima).

Naming him Paddington after being unable to say his Peruvian name (it turns out later to be Pastuso), the family take the bear back to their large semi-detacted home at 32 Windsor Gardens, just around the corner from the station (his room ends up being located at the top of the house).

A Windsor Gardens does actually exist but it apparently has no connection with the Browns’ address which is said to have been wholly imaginary. The real Windsor Gardens is a tiny and rather unappealing cul-de-sac off Harrow Road, between Notting Hill and Maida Vale, and doesn’t even have a number 32.

Paddington, known for his love of marmalade, went on to appear in 13 books by Bond – selling more than 30 million copies around the world – and has been the subject of numerous other versions and spin-offs and even a couple of TV series. There’s also a movie in the works with a projected release date of Christmas 2014 and he’s also depicted in a statue by Marcus Cornish at Paddington Station.

For more on Paddington, see www.paddingtonbear.com.

PICTURE:  Lonpicman/Wikimedia Commons