A tour around Little Venice – with a sprinkling of history

Map of Little Venice produced in 2009

The canal west of Lord Hills bridge at night
Starting from the western end we have the Waterside Inn and Lord Hills footbridge. This crossing used to be a concrete structure from the 1930’s with very high sides that were a potential attacker’s paradise. The local vicar, the Rev. Stephenson of St. Mary Magdalene church (whose spire is visible in the above view) claimed the bridge was ‘positively revolting.’ He added that the bridge was a location where people could do what they liked with impunity. (Paddington News 7th May 1976.) It was replaced by the present, rather more safer structure (picture below) in 1990.
The new replacement for the earlier ‘revolting’ structure
The ‘positively revolting’ Lord Hills bridge of 1914
Immediately adjacent to the footbridge is the barge that was Richard Branson’s home (above picture) for many years when he had just begun his Virgin business. Many interviews of the man were conducted on the top deck of the barge. In the 1980’s locals often claimed that Bransons’ boat was an eyesore. Here’s a newspaper article (opens new window) from the Paddington Mercury for May 1989 on the state of his boat! Note the Branson spokesman’s comments on the other houseboats and the canal itself! Duende has recently been undergoing a major refit that began in 2008 and London Canals has photos of every stage of this refit.
Keeping on the north east side of the canal, the next spot of interest is the boat house, also home to Jasons Boat trips. Jason’s was the first motorised trip boat along the canal to Camden, although the present Jason is not the original one. Earlier boat trips were run by Lord Viscount St Davids using a tractor for part of the route and then a horse for the remainder. The first Jasons boat picked up passengers from its original landing point situated ajacent to the west portal of Maida Hill tunnel.

2009 saw an increase in the number of swans at Little Venice. Numbers were low for a while. One also sees nowadays an increase in the very largest dutch style barge visiting the canal.
The final place of interest along here is this houseboat which was built in the mid 1980’s. It originally belonged to Barry and Jackie Colby who had previously travelled the waterways in their liveaboard narrowboat called Nice Dreams. Along with Richard Branson’s former barge, the Colby’s barge is the only other houseboat along this stretch that have a split level arrangement.
Delamere Terrace in 1967. No visitor boats in sight! I remember arriving here in the 1980’s mine was the only boat moored here for weeks. Notice that most of the houseboats in this picture are converted narrowboats. Just two houseboat moorings remain today along here that still use narrowboats. albeit new ones. The old Lord Hills bridge can be seen in the distance.
Looking westwards down the Blomfield/Delamere Terrace stretch towards Lord Hills bridge
The toll house next to Westbourne Terrace Bridge is about the only original structure left from the days when the Paddington Arm of the Grand Junction Canal was opened in 1801. Until the late 1980’s it was both British Waterways’ London Head Office and also accomodation for Charlie Green, a former number one, and his wife. Charlie Green was a well known sight at Little Venice and one of his jobs was to operate the Lady Rose of Regents trips. Charlie was the person who first introduced introduced Aylesbury ducks to the area in 1970’s. The first Aylesbury duck resident at Little Venice was known as Geoffrey!
When Charlie retired British Waterways moved him and his wife out to the lock cottage at Apsley and the entire Toll House was given over to office use. In 2004 British Waterways gave up the Toll Office for more modern pastures at Sheldon Square and eventually Birger & Mikkleson, a clothing company, took over the Toll House. Complaints that BW were becoming a remote enitity prompted the construction of Jena. This is the information barge in Paddington basin. It is supposed to retain an interface between BW and the everyday public but often it is shut!
A rare view of the toll house with its overall roof. There was never a stop lock here until the 20th century. The local councils paid to have stop gates put in here (and at Warwick Avenue and Ladbrodke Grove) during 1940 because of concerns that any bombs hitting the canal would cause flooding to thousands of homes.
The same view today. It might not seem like it, but look to the upper left – the same building can be seen in both views.
Its a slightly different perspective but the orginal spot for taking the picture could not be used as the toilet/sanitary block is in the way. Notice how the towpath edging has been straightened out. Its one of the many little ‘jobs’ that have progressively reduced the amount of waterspace, as in the reduction in the size of Brownings Pool. More of this on the next page.
Next: Little Venice part 2