A short-cut from the Regent’s to the Lea/Lee

Also known as Ducketts Canal as the main text will explain. The Hertford Union is the shortest canal in the capital, and the only one that has all its locks grouped together. It forms part of the mini London canal ring. (This constitutes of a trip down to Limehouse on the Regents, then up the Lee Navigation and back up via the Hertford Union – or vice versa.)

A late canal on the London scene, the Hertford Union followed on the success of the Regents Canal. The lengthy route via the Limehouse Cut and the semi tidal stretches of the River Lee (or Lea) necessitated an alternative route. The Regents Canal was in close proximity to the Lee Navigation within the Old Ford area, hence a connecting link was built.
The Hertford Union opened in early 1830. It was built by Francis Giles. Just over a mile and a quarter in length, it runs dead straight from the Regents Canal in a north easterly direction to a junction above the River Lee’s Old Ford Lock. To confuse matters somewhat, the three locks on the Hertford Union have been known as Old Ford Locks (plural).
The Hertford Union is also known as Duckett’s Canal after the proprietor of the River Lee Navigation – Sir George Duckett (junior). Why it was called the Hertford Union is a little strange as Hertford is about 25 miles up the River Lee Navigation! This anomaly may have in fact given rise to the alternative name of Duckett’s. Oddly however, Duckett wasn’t even the man’s name in the first place! He had changed it at some point and the old tokens for the Stort Navigation in fact have his original name on their reverse.

Derelict stop gates on the Hertford Union canal.

Despite its usefulness as a short cut between two major waterways, the Hertford Union’s commercial success was not insured. As early as 1831 in a struggle to keep things moving, toll-free passage was offered. From the late 1840’s to mid 1850’s it lay derelict, having been stanked off to prevent water loss from the Regents. Attempts to sell it off were made in 1851. On 28th October 1857 the Hertford Union became part of the Regents Canal system.

The Hertford Union did not receive pairs of locks as the rest of the Regents Canal system because lower traffic levels did not warrant this.
Other changes to the Hertford Union saw its fall reduced when changes on the nearby Lee Navigation necessitated an alteration to the bottom lock, providing a shallow fall instead of the previously deeper fall. This change in fact saved an extra lock for traffic going up the Lee Navigation.

The Hertford Union runs alongside the south east side of Victoria park for most of its length as far as the middle lock. Despite the proximity of large residential estates and tower blocks in the Old Ford area, the top of the lock flight can be said to be the most attractive in the whole of the London Region. There is a garden centre adjacent to the middle lock.

Looking from Old Ford junction towards Grove Road. The first bridge over the Hertford Union is actually number 54a of the Regents Canal.

Hertford Union Canal scene midway alongside Victoria Park – looking north east towards Three Colts Bridge.

A pleasing view of the top lock.

Above left: Wick Lane bridge. Right: Adjacent to Wick Lane bridge is the Top of the Morning Pub.

Views around the bottom lock. Scene now changed quite a lot with the 2012 Olympics.

Looking across the Lee Navigation to Hertford Union Junction with the new development that towers over the area.

This part of the ‘River Lee’ (as many like to call it) is actually one of its many artificial cuts, this section being known as the Hackney Cut which avoided a sinuous section of the river. The cut is NOT part of the River Lee or River Lea at all.

The Hertford Union Canal, from its bottom lock to the junction, and the Hackney Cut itself, were at a lower level until the 1870’s when changes saw the water levels altered to improve navigation. The works saw Hackney, or Brick Lock, on the Lee navigation about half a mile upstream, removed and levels altered accordingly, with Old Ford Locks now providing the total lift, enabling the creation of a very long pound as far north as Tottenham Locks.

A view of the junction northwards to Carpenters Road bridge.