DAY ONE of the Canal & River Trust, (CART) on Friday 13th July 2012, was also the 200th Anniversary of the Regents Canal Act receiving the Royal Assent from George III, writes Del Brenner, Secretary Regents Network.
It was celebrated in a fitting manner with a preview performance at the London Canal Museum of ‘Regents Canal—a Folk Opera' by Rob Inglis (his back view is in the centre of the photo).
The sing-through was beautifully performed by the three main characters, architect John Nash, engineer James Morgan and the dissident William Agar, to a very tuneful and virtuoso guitar accompaniment. A full melodramatic performance is scheduled for 7th September 2012 at the Canal Museum.
There may not have been much else to celebrate on Friday after the half-hearted launch of the new Canal & River Trust as nothing seemed to happen on Day One.
But we hope that by the time we celebrate the bi-centenary of the completion of the Regents Canal in eight years time, and its Grand Opening which was accompanied by a flotilla of boats, two brass bands, crowds of onlookers and what was reported as a very loud gun salute on 1st August 1820, we will also be able to rejoice that by that time our canals in London will be in tip-top condition and an active navigation once again thanks to a successful (and by then fully re-structured and mature) Canal & River Trust.
Intrigue and criminality
The new Trust will surely fare better than the Regents Canal Company in the eight years it took them to build the Regents Canal and which were very busy and eventful, as well as full of intrigue and criminality. Having purchased Thomas Lord's cricket ground for £4,057, the huge excavations were followed by the construction of 12 double locks and 40 bridges, and the major undertaking of the four million bricks used for the Islington Tunnel.
These major works were accompanied by continuous difficulties from land owners, further intrusion of legislation (three more Parliamentary Acts), the management absconding with the funds, escalating costs, litigation in the courts, big loans from the Treasury, adultery (Nash's wife and the Prince Regent), tragic accidents, as well as serious money problems that continually held up the progress of digging and constructing the canal. What perfect material for an opera!
Difficult times then and now
Mind you the birth of the Regents Canal was undertaken in very difficult times. The Prime Minister, Spencer Percival, had recently been assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons, America had just declared war on the British Empire, lasting a couple of years, during which time the Brits burned down the White House, although this was only a sideshow to the much larger war against Napoleon which raged on for many more years in Europe.
On the other hand the Industrial Revolution was progressing well, except for the riots in Birmingham and elsewhere with the Lollards burning and destroying factories. Engineering had become very advanced and technical, which led to the Regents Canal being constructed to a high specification (a 100 ton standard). More than that, the tin can had been invented by Campbell in the USA and can manufacturing was being developed in England, but curiously the can opener was not invented until 1858 in Connecticut.
With this colourful background of events, successes and tragedy, it is hardly surprising that the progress of the Regents Canal was somewhat fraught, but all this is dramatically reflected in the Regents Canal Opera (except no mention of the tin cans).
The beginnings of Rob Inglis's canal opera were developed a while ago, and included the initial proposal for the launch of the London Canal (as the Regents Canal was then called) which was agreed at a meeting in the Percy Coffee House on Friday 31st May 1811.
Exactly 200 years later, on 31st May 2011 there was a small gathering of canal supporters in the upper room over a Café Nero coffee shop on the corner of Percy Street and Charlotte Street (off the Tottenham Court Road) to celebrate the bi-centenary of the meeting of the Regents Canal founders, and where Rob Inglis and Bob Stuckey performed short extracts from Rob's newly composed musical.
This seemed a most appropriate venue for the distinguished celebration of the inauguration of London's famous canal, which was granted the title of Regents Canal by the Prince Regent who believed that Nash's scheme for Regents Park and Regents Street would rival Napoleon's Paris.
The very dignified birthday celebrations were attended by an eminent gathering of Regents Canal supporters (from left to right) Martin Sach, Lester Hillman, Peter Darley, Tony Richardson, Rob Philpotts, Brian Lake, Rob Inglis, Del Brenner and Bob Stuckey, with Malcolm Tucker and Colin Davis out of frame and Angela Inglis shooting this very proper sepia photo.
It seemed only right that a cup of café latte should be solemnly raised to the memory of the Regents Canal founders with a slice of birthday cake. The celebrations then continued for quite a while and less formally in the pub across the road.
More to come
This was the first of many events to mark the planning and construction of London's famous canal, and you will be glad to hear that following the grand performance of ‘Regents Canal—a Folk Opera' in September, the celebration of the ceremony of digging out the first spade-full in Regents Park will be on 14th October 2012. So be patient and you will hear all about it.
You will be reassured that the Regents Canal had a happy ending as London's new canal flourished, and it exceeded all the expectations in the development of water transport and the subsequent rapid growth of North London along the sides of the Regents Canal and beyond.
The canal opera recounts the inception and the construction of the Regents Canal, and also reflects the future (cue applause), and that navigation and activity returns to the waterways.
And for an encore, we entrust that any expectations we may have of the potential of the new waterways management are not disappointed, and that they turn over a new leaf so that our canals flourish and navigate smoothly into the future. It would be sad if the bi-centenary celebrations and the opera marked the end of the good news story, not only in London but throughout our magnificent national canal network.