The Kensington Canal was a canal, about two miles long, opened in 1828 in London from the River Thames at Chelsea, along the line of
It had one lock near the Kensington Basin. It was not commercially successful, and was purchased by a railway company, which laid its line along the route of the canal.
was a minor tributary of the Thames running south from Kensal Green to join the main river west of Battersea Bridge.
Lord Kensington, William Edwardes, seeing the success of the Regent’s Canal, asked his surveyor William Cutbush in 1822 to draw up plans to convert the creek into a canal, with the object of bringing goods and minerals from the London docks to the Kensington area, then a rural district isolated from London.
After some modifications, Cutbush’s plan obtained Parliamentary sanction in 1824, and the Kensington Canal Company was incorporated in that year. William Edwardes and a group of his friends were the proprietors; the cost of construction had been estimated as £7,969. The share capital of the company was £10,000 in one hundred shares of £100 each, and they had powers to raise an additional £5,000 if necessary.
However this was a gross under-estimate, and John Rennie estimated that more than £34,000 would be needed to complete the work properly, including the rebuilding of Stamford Bridge
. Rennie’s nominee, Thomas Hollinsworth, was brought in as surveyor to the Canal Company.
In May 1826 the Company obtained powers by another Act to raise a further £30,000.
Notwithstanding this quadrupling of the anticipated cost of construction, the proprietors still entertained the notion of extending the canal northward to connect with the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington, involving eleven locks, was still under consideration.
The successful tenderer appears to have been Robert Tuck, probably in partnership with John Dowley. Work started in the same year, but was delayed by the bankruptcy of the contractor, Robert Tuck, and it was not opened until 12 August 1828.
Traffic soon proved to be very limited, and in the mid-1830s Lord Holland described the canal as a total failure.
The River Thames is tidal at the point where the canal joined it, so the canal was also tidal up to the lock near Kensington. The tidal flow brought silt into the canal and the feed from Counter’s Creek
was inadequate to clear it, so that problems were soon experienced with obstruction to the passage of vessels. More seriously, the times of day when vessels could navigate the canal were extremely short and constantly changing.
In the mid-1830s railways were being projected. Attention was given to gaining access for goods and minerals to and from the London docks, and proposals were developed for a railway branch to the canal; trans-shipping there to or from river lighters would give the desired connection.
A railway company was floated, called the Bristol, Birmingham and Thames Junction Railway, and when it was incorporated in 1836 it purchased the canal. The purchase price was £36 000, of which £10 000 was to be paid in cash and the remainder in shares in the new company.
The grandiose name of the railway was altered to the West London Railway
, and it built a short railway line from Willesden, joining with the main line railways there, to the canal basin. The railway line was leased to the London and Birmingham Railway in 1846, but it continued to own the canal; the Kensington Canal Company was wound up in the same year.
The railway and canal combination was utterly unsuccessful, and the hoped-for traffic never appeared. The main line railways—the Great Western and the London and North Western Railway (as successor to the London and Birmingham Railway) -- needed a rail connection to lines south of the Thames, and in 1859 an authorising Act of Parliament gave authority to a joint venture of several railway companies to extend the railway south from Kensington, converting the canal to a railway. At the southern end the railway diverged a little to the west of the canal, and crossed the Thames on a large bridge. This left a short stub of the original waterway in existence, from the Thames almost to Stamford Bridge
: it served flour mills and the Imperial Gas Works, until traffic ceased in 1967.
Construction of the railway built over the remainder of the canal, and the later railway developments in Earls Court completely obliterated the canal.
Its original course can best be understood by considering the route of the present day West London Line from the Thames to Kensington High Street.