London Canal Museum
The London Canal Museum is just a five-minute walk from King’s Cross station but you could almost be in another world. The museum occupies a historic waterside building beside the picturesque urban beauty spot that is Battlebridge Basin, once used by industry and nowadays home to many colourful boats. The museum tells the story of all aspects of London’s canals.
You can walk inside a residential narrow boat cabin, and imagine the life of the thousands of families who lived on working boats in conditions that would today be unimaginable. You can learn about the horses that pulled Canal boats and their care, and about the construction of our home waterway The Regent’s Canal. This is supplemented by fascinating archive film that shows the working days of London canals from the 1920s to the 1940s.
A large-scale map illustrates the size of the network. Canals are artificial and an exhibition explains how they work and are supplied with water, and can climb hills. There are models of some of the boats that carried goods in bygone days. The canal workers had their own artwork style known as “roses and castles” that decorated most long-distance boats and you will see fine examples of this decorative painting in the museum.
The building was built around 1863 for Carlo Gatti, an immigrant from Switzerland, who imported ice in very large quantities for food preservation in the days before refrigerators. There are two large circular wells beneath the ground floor that can be viewed from above. The ice trade is the subject of an exhibition of artifacts from the now long-forgotten ice import trade and the uses to which ice was put, including the making of ice cream!
Both the museums themes are illustrated by oral history posts that allow you to hear voices from the past describing the ice business and life on the canals. Outside on the wharf the museums tug boat Bantam VI is normally in residence, one of the first of a class that was used for Canal maintenance extensively in the 1950s and 1960s.
The museum runs a programme of events including illustrated talks on the first Thursday evening of each month (except August) on a canal topic, guided towpath walking tours, and guided boat trips through the long Islington Tunnel, plus occasional other special events. Special trips and tours can be arranged for groups. The museum also offer private hire for functions such as receptions, parties, and conferences out of normal hours and has a small meeting room available for daytime and evening hire.