St Pancras Lock was built in 1819 and remains in constant use, with more than 3,240 boats passing through in 2016, so it’s no wonder this busy stretch needs regular maintenance. As part of their annual restoration works, the Canal & River Trust recently replaced the gates. In order to do this, around 50,000 gallons of water – the equivalent of 1,000 bath tubs – had to be drained from the lock before the work began.
The St Pancras Lock Open Weekend was a rare opportunity for local families, boaters and passers-by to see the works in action – to descend into a drained lock chamber, climb a water tower (usually closed to the public), to tuck into curry and chips on the towpath, and to drink in the history of the Regent’s Canal. We mingled with the crowds to ask visitors about their connection with this compelling area of London.
Maureen Milton, at St Pancras water tower
‘I came with my daughter Caroline. We are boaters, up on the Macclesfield. We saw the open day was happening and came to the Camden one so knew it would be fun. We have walked and boated along this stretch and it’s interesting to see it with no water, it looks so different and you get a real idea of the size of the gates – they are massive. The water tower is fascinating, I’d walked past but never really taken any notice. It’s been a very interesting day.’
Ursula and Iris Gotel, at St Pancras water tower
‘We live locally and always wanted to come and see the water tower. We love the canal, we love the heritage and we’ve seen all the buildings going up so it’s lovely to come and visit. We love being near the canal, Iris likes to see the ducks and in a busy city there aren’t many places like this where you can go that are a little bit quieter. My grandparents used to live on a lock and as a child I helped boats going through but I’ve never seen into an empty one before, it’s amazing to see the brickwork.’
Simon Walworth, at St Pancras water tower
‘I dropped my daughter off and was wondering what to do, then I saw some canal boats and this walkway and I thought what’s happening here. And now I’m on top of a water tower. I never knew there were so many boats in London, and so many canals. It’s a fantastic view. It’s great to hear about all the work that has taken place on the canal and around King’s Cross. I had no idea this was all behind the station, this has helped show me a secret world of London. I’m having a lovely time.’
Peter John Rayner, at St Pancras water tower
‘I own a boat, but don’t live in one. It’s up in Cheshire and we live in Stratford. I’ve been along the canal here a lot walking and boating. It’s interesting seeing the lock drained – I’ll be able to tell people I’ve been in the bottom of that lock without having to hold my breath. I love the canals, my favourite stretch is the Llangollen, or the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union in Cheshire, that’s a nice stretch. I remember when this area was all railway land, loads of good yards and railway lines. It was massive, and it’s all gone.’
Jamal Jones Thomas, at St Pancras lock
‘What we are doing is raising awareness and raising funds, getting people to join our community of Friends and make small regular donations so we can continue to maintain the canal network in England and Wales. It’s community engagement, we want people to know we are here and enjoy themselves on the canal. For us, this day is like the canal’s Christmas.’
Ira with Syd, Tam and Elvie, at St Pancras lock
‘We love the canal, we spend a lot of time here and often walk the canals around Camden and Islington. We came up from Angel today and know the canals well. It’s beautiful in London to be able to access water and have a sense of motion and travel. I’ve been on canals all my life and I’ve never seen the bottom of a lock, it’s fascinating.’
Tom and Aidan, civil engineers at St Pancras lock
‘We are civil engineers, not navvies, if you don’t mind. People said we are dressed like hipsters, but we are in period dress. The most important thing is that our trousers are taped up and tucked in so the rats can’t climb up the trouser legs. In the hip flask is my tonic, I get terribly cold if I don’t take it and start shaking. The worst thing about the job is the foreman, the line manager, so it’s not that much different to nowadays.’
Susan Mowday and Ray Challis, on Hidden Depths boat trip
‘We live on a wide-beam in Lowestoft so have an interest in canal boats. We live on a lock so we’ve seen an empty lock before. We wanted to take a little trip. We saw the weekend was happening while we were in London and thought it would be our kind of thing.’
Pam Coniam, on Hidden Depths boat trip
‘I came up to London from Bournemouth to spend the day with my grandson Marlowe. I thought it was something he’d like, he’s never been to the Canal Museum but we saw there was a boat trip so we jumped aboard. I’m sure he’ll love the canal. We haven’t been in the museum yet, we’ll have a look when we get back on the boat.’
Anna Rooney, on Hidden Depths boat trip
‘We’ve enjoyed it, we did some bird boxes with my grandson Zayd and we went up the water tower. I really love the canal. I often walk around the canal, although I didn’t know this area as well as further towards Regent’s Park. I didn’t know about the Canal & River Trust until today, so it was interesting to hear about what they do.’
Each year the Trust holds a number of free open days for the public. This is your opportunity to take a look behind the scenes and find out what it takes to keep our canals and rivers open to everyone. Reflecting the breadth of the work the Trust carries out, each open day offers a different experience and you could find yourself descending into drained locks, taking a boat trip or strolling along an empty aqueduct.