On a trip to the theatre in London I found myself with a few hours to spare and decided to head to the London Canal Museum which is only a short walk from King’s Cross Station. As to be expected for such a niche museum it is quite small, consisting of just two floors, but at just £4 it was a reasonably priced way to spend an hour.
The building itself was built around 1863 for use as an ice warehouse for Carlo Gatti an (apparently) famous ice cream maker. Indeed, there are displays inside which explore the connection between the ice cream trade and the canal. I was particularly fascinated by the huge well which would originally have stored ice imported from Norway.
And this excellent model shows just what it would have looked like in the 19th century.
The ice would have been brought along by canal barges to just outside the building and then lowered into the wells – you can see just how close the canal is by these pictures taken just inside the museum.
The exhibition about the ice and ice cream trade includes examples of a lovely model of an ice cart from the 1890s as well as examples of ice cream scoops and packaging and a picture of Carlo Gatti.
Aside from the ice trade the museum of course focuses on canals and the waterways themselves. One nice feature is the Coronis narrow boat which you can go inside – personally I don’t think I’d cope with such cramped quarters.
Other displays reveal how the design of canal boats has evolved over time and the sorts of materials they would carry (such as coal).
Upstairs the museum concentrates on horses and the recreation of a stable stall from 1906 was particularly amusing given it played sounds to mimic those of a real horse. (A bit of a shock when you first get up there!)
I hadn’t realised how often horses in London had to live on first floors such as this, with their own ramp to get upstairs; the ice company converted the building to stables in the early 1900s. I also enjoyed the exhibitions on taking care of the horses.
It was an interesting place to visit and it certainly inspired me to further explore London’s canals.
You can find more photos here.