Above: Looking north at Little Venice from the Paddington Basin.
The piece of water known as Little Venice started life as a T-junction for canal boats. The Grand Junction Canal joins onto the Regent’s Canal at this point, with the much shorter Paddington Basin running off to the south. The water had to be large enough for barges – some of them 80 feet in length – to turn round.
Above: Grand houses situated on the north side of Little Venice.
The poet Robert Browning lived from 1862 until 1867 nearby in Warwick Crescent. Due to this the water became known as Browning’s Pool and the small island became called Browning’s Island. It is hard to believe that anyone would build their house near a railway or a motorway today. However, when the canal had been constructed, the location was considered to so attractive that several large houses were built facing onto the pool and the waterways.
The water became known as ‘London’s Venice’ in the late 19th century and gradually the name changed to ‘Little Venice’ and came into common usage. It may be that people derived the idea of the name ‘Little Venice’ because there was a small area in Clerkenwell where the Italian community lived called ‘Little Italy’ and the first part of the name transferred from one location to another.
Above: Looking at the bridge over the start of the Grand Junction Canal which leads west from Little Venice.
On a sunny day in the summer, it is indeed a charming spot to saunter around or just go and have a cup of tea while watching a few canal boats passing by. The days of the waterway being one of the last important routes for moving coal and timber are long gone. The most likely vessels to pass by are either private pleasure craft river-buses carrying visitors preferring to explore the canal on the water rather than walk beside it.
As a walking route, the old towpath is open to pedestrians and, for the energetic, you can walk from Little Venice all the way to Limehouse – where the Regent’s Canal joins onto the Thames. The total distance is just over 8.5 miles (13.8 kilometres) so it probably needs to be walked in two or even three stages. The great advantage in walking beside a canal is that all the towpaths are level.