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

Regents-Canal

Regent’s Canal in the city’s north. For more on the history of the canal, see our much earlier post here.

Camden-Lock

As with so many London locations, the name Camden Town comes from a previous landowner – but more indirectly it originates with the great 16th and 17th century antiquarian and topographer William Camden.

The story goes like this: late in his life William Camden – author of Britannia, a comprehensive description of Great Britain and Ireland – settled near Chislehurst in Kent on a property which became known as Camden Place.

In the 18th century, the property came into the possession of Sir Charles Pratt, a lawyer and politician (among other things, he was Lord Chancellor in the reign of King George III), who was eventually named 1st Earl of Camden.

It was Pratt who, having come into the possession of the property by marriage, in about 1791 divided up land he owned just to the north of London (which has apparently once been the property of St Paul’s Cathedral) and leased it, resulting in the development of what became Camden Town (Pratt, himself, meanwhile, is memorialised in the name of Pratt Street which runs between Camden High Street and Camden Street).

In 1816, the area received a boost when Regent’s Canal was built through it – the manually operated, twin Camden Lock is located in the heart of Camden Town.

Although it has long carried a reputation of one of the less salubrious of London’s residential neighbourhoods (a reputation which is changing), Camden Town is today a vibrant melting pot of cultures, thanks, in no small part, to the series of markets, including the Camden Lock Market, located there as well as its live music venues.

Past residents have included author Charles Dickens, artist (and Jack the Ripper candidate) Walter Sickert, a member of the so-called ‘Camden Town Group’ of artists, and, in more recent times, the late singer Amy Winehouse.

Of course, the name Camden – since 1965 – has also been that of the surrounding borough.

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.

Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.

Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.

John-NashBut he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.

Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.

Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.

Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).

He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.

Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).

In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.

In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.

Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).

Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).

Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.

Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.

He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.

For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.

The origins of the name Shoreditch – now a slowly gentrifying area to the north of the City of London within the Borough of Hackney – are lost to time but there are a few interesting theories around.

While the name probably comes to us as a derivation of Soersditch or Sewer Ditch – perhaps in reference to a drain that was once here – a more tragic version has it named after Jane Shore.

A mistress of King Edward IV in the mid to late fifteenth century, she, so the story goes, was buried in a ditch in the area after dying in a state of penury following a dramatic fall from favour during the subsequent reign of King Richard III (the king apparently had Jane arrested and made her perform a public penance for being a harlot).

There was an important priory here – the Augustinian Priory of Holywell – in medieval times and by Elizabethan times, some substantial houses. In 1576, James Burbage built England’s first theatre – known as The Theatre – on its site located near Curtain Road. Some of William Shakespeare’s plays were performed here and at the nearby rival, the Curtain Theatre, before a dispute with the landlord in the late 16th century saw the theatre relocated to Southwark in the dead of night (although the foundations must have remained – these were excavated a few years ago). Both Shakespeare and follow playwright Christopher Marlowe had associations with the area.

The area, which centred on St Leonard’s Church (while the current building dates from around 1740, there is believed to have been a church here  – at the intersection of Shoreditch High Street and Hackney Road – since Saxon times), become known for its textiles in the 17th century and later for its furniture industries.

It was still known as one of London’s premier entertainment districts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with well known music halls and theatres but by then was also just as well known for its poverty.

Shoreditch suffered heavily during the Blitz and while the area continues to suffer from urban decay there is now some new life being breathed into it with the arrival of projects as the Boxpark Shoreditch which, made from shipping containers, is billed as “the world’s first pop-up mall”. There’s also an annual festival, the Shoreditch Festival, held in summer along Regent’s Canal.

PICTURE: View down Shoreditch High Street to the City – © David Adams.

A former hunting chase, The Regent’s Park in London’s north-west was extensively developed in the 19th century and remains a good – if not complete – example of a Regency landscape.

As with many of London’s Royal Parks, Regent’s Park (it’s formal name is actually The Regent’s Park but we’ll shorten it for our purposes here) once served as King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds – he seized the park, then known as Marylebone Park Fields after the nearby village and boasting thick woods as well as more open forests, from the Abbey of Barking in 1538.

Used by royalty for the next 50 years, it remained largely unaltered until after the Civil War when, between 1649 and 1660, the Commonwealth ordered many of the trees to be chopped down to pay debts. It was restored to royal ownership with the restoration of the monarchy but, with hunting falling out of fashion, was then leased out to tenant farmers.

It was John Nash who created the park that we know and love today. Friend of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), he was among a number of architects who responded to the Prince Regent’s calls for the creation of a new design featuring a palace for himself.

Nash’s original designs included a round park featuring a lake and canal and surrounded by as many as 56 villas and a palatial summer home for the Prince Regent which would be linked to his other home at St James’s by a processional road.

But only eight of the villas were ever built and only two of them – St John’s Lodge and The Holme – remain (both are private residences but part of the lodge’s gardens are open to the public) while the plans for the Prince Regent’s palace were put on hold when he turned his attention to developing Buckingham Palace instead. The canal, meanwhile, was moved to the park’s northern boundary where it still stands today (see our earlier entry on Regent’s Canal) while the processional route Nash had proposed became Regent Street.

While the park was initially only for the exclusive use of residents and what Royal Park’s call the ‘carriage set’, in 1835, the eastern part of the park was opened to the public for two days a week. Other sections of what is now included in the park, including Primrose Hill, were opened later.

Meanwhile, the fact most of the villas had never been built had left a large amount of free space and so both the Zoological Society and the Royal Botanic Society moved in – the latter laying out what is the Inner Circle with lawns and a lake of its own. Another society to operate in the park was the Royal Toxophilite Society which introduced archery there.

Not much has changed since but for the creation of Queen Mary’s Gardens in the 1930s – these were laid out on the space formally occupied by the Royal Botanic Society which had decided not to renew its lease. The Open Air Theatre performances, which are still held in the gardens today, started at about the same time. The park was damaged by bombing during World War II but has been fully restored.

Other facilities now in the 166 hectare (410 acre) park include a sports facility known as The Hub as well as several cafes, tennis courts and boat hire. The London Zoo, of course, also remains there.

WHERE: The Regent’s Park (nearest tube station is Regent’s Park); WHEN: 5am to at least 4pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/The-Regents-Park.aspx

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 £6.50WEBSITE: For more on the history of the Regent’s Canal, see www.canalmuseum.org.uk/history/regents.htm.