Living by Regents Canal, I have learned a lot about London’s waterways. We have a small residential community of eight boats outside our flat, and as a cyclist, I’ve used the towpaths for almost as long as I’ve lived in the city. I know a lot more about swans, having watched our local couple from our balcony, year on year, raising their cygnets. One of my close friends, Mark, has lived on a narrow boat for years, and indeed we retired to ‘Balthamos’ after the pub to continue the drinking on my 40th birthday. He’s now doing the canals of the Midlands and Yorkshire. The other half of moderneccentrics has always hankered after a narrow boat and we may one day take to the canals ourselves. The narrow boating community is served by a variety of boats, who sell their wares on the canal, including the fuel boat that I visited one day with Mark. They were very friendly, like most of the canal folk I’ve met, and they had a lovely dog. Another is ‘Word on the Water’, the London bookshop barge.
We used to see the book-barge moored near our local pub, The Narrow Boat, but like all boats without permanent mooring, they had to move every two weeks, though with so few people patrolling the canals, there used to be a bit of leeway. This can seem great to start with but can be a bit of a pain after a while. Having lost their original permanent mooring due to canal side redevelopment, Jonathan Privett, one of the gents who runs ‘Word on the Water’, discussed how it had effected trying to run the business.
‘Having to move every two weeks made it really difficult for us. I know customers who had visited the barge to browse, and then they would return a week later to buy something only to find us gone. We’ve been approached by authors and publishers that wanted to do book launches on the boat. They ask where we would be on one date or another, and of course we couldn’t give them an answer, as we had no idea!’
Having been close to giving up, a petition of over 6000 signatures finally helped them secure a new home, with the Canal & River Trust agreeing to offer them a mooring. Word on the Water is now a permanent fixture at Granary Square, and it couldn’t be in a better spot, a stone’s throw from the Guardian Newspaper’s Building and the new Central St Martins campus. If you’d like to know more about the London bookshop barge, you can watch a short film about the boat here or head down to York Way, Granary Square, Kings Cross and have a browse yourself.