EYESITE: Canal plus

Next time you grab a tub of icecream from your freezer, spare a thought for Carlo Gatti, the Swiss entrepreneur who popularised the treat in this country. Domestic refrigerators being thin on the ground in the 1860s, Gatti had to ship natural ice from Norway - a practice referred to as The Death Trade by the unfortunate sailors who had to man the often less than seaworthy vessels - and then transport it through London's waterways to his ice warehouse on the Nash-designed Regent's Canal.

Tucked away in a quiet street behind King's Cross station, that warehouse is now the London Canal Museum, a quiet repository of information about a colourful strand of our capital's history. Mindful of its genesis, the museum is excavating one of the two vast ice wells beneath the building. It was here that Gatti stored his hard-won product before selling it on to caterers, butchers and the public. As you peer down into this vertiginous pit, the clammy atmosphere rises to meet your skin, prompting visions of the hand-chafing labour that once took place in its belly.

The museum's artefacts and visual displays tell the story of London's canals, from their origins as trade routes through to their current use as supporters of various leisure pursuits, but it is the integration of the building itself into that history which fascinates. Authentic areas have been renovated, missing parts recreated and the whole sprinkled with ephemera such as ice-cream ads and moulds, and primary-coloured pottery. Downstairs, a full-size narrow boat in the middle of the room has been cut in half to expose its traditional interior, while the hand-pulled ice-cream delivery carts used by Gatti's employees line the walls. The space upstairs was once a stable for the horses who pulled both the narrowboats along the towpaths and the larger ice-delivery carts; apparently a goat had the job of keeping the equine contingent calm, though we are not told whether he achieved this through strength of personality or strategic use of horn.

Perched on the side of Battlebridge Basin, the museum overlooks a tranquil mooring for the narrowboats now used as homes or as tourist "gondolas" and this location can be glimpsed in one of the entertaining films available at the museum's video point. Resembling a recruitment ad for the industry, Barging Through London, 1924 follows a coal-laden boat on its journey from Limehouse Docks into the city's interior, via bucolic scenes of jolly citizens waving from the garden gates of their water-edge properties, the boat's calm progress contrasted with the hustle and bustle of the streets lining the way. Watching the horses amble along the towpaths, it's difficult to believe that the ropes harnessing them to the boats could have engendered sufficient friction to create the beautiful curlicues still visible on the iron poles which protect the corners of stone bridges.

Gatti's of London was dissolved in 1983, but Carlo's descendants must experience a frisson of pleasure when they learn how their Swiss-Italian forebear's story is being told in this calm corner of London - and how tightly that story is woven into the city's own history.

London Canal Museum, 12-13 New Wharf Road, King's Cross, N1 (0171-713 0836) 10am-4.30pm Tues to Sun, Adult pounds 2.50, concs/child pounds 1.25

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living