Day 15 – London Canal Museum


When I was walking down the towpath dad told me and Evan about horses pulling boats and what happened when they fell in the river.

The horses might fall in the river because they slip or get spooked.

There are slopes at the side of the canal for them to walk back on to the towpath and tow the boat again.


They have to wear a full harness, one of the bits is called a head collar, it helps them pull the weight of the boat.  The head collar has to be the right fit because if it’s too tight it will make the horse choke and if it’s too loose it rubs on the horses neck and it gets really sore.

The  Romans used mules to tow boats on their waterways.  In the 1960’s people stopped using horses to tow work boats.

There are still used for towing passenger boats today.

Outside the London Canal Museum

Outside the London Canal Museum


We visited another Museum, ‘ The London Canal Museum’.  Here I learnt the life story of Carlo Gatti.

Carlo Gatti was born in the Italian -Swiss Alps, the only Italian speaking region of Switzerland.  He was a bad scholar so, at only thirteen years of age, he joined his two brothers in Paris.  They had a business selling chestnuts on the streets.  Carlo longed for something bigger, more fruitful.  He wanted to be rich and successful.

So he travelled to London, where he figured he would be better off, he hadn’t imagined the poverty and squalor.  He, like most other Italian emigrants, had to live in a poor  part of town called ‘Little Italy’.  Nowadays it’s ‘Little Venice’.   He began selling chestnuts again and even sold waffles at a coffee stall.  He was very unhappy, his dreams weren’t coming true.

His fortune changed the day he met Ballo, who would soon become his business partner and good friend.  They set up the Gatti and Ballo Café Ristorante. Carlo put a cocoa grinding machine in the window.  It was his pride and joy.  Soon he became famous all over London for his chocolate.

The thing Gatti was most famous for was his amazing ice cream.  He got ice from all over London, mostly on the Regent’s Canal.  It wasn’t a success, the ice was dirty, thin and some winters, not even there at all.  So he began to look further afield.  Soon he started to send ships over to Norway and America.

The process of ice collecting is relatively simple. First horses pulled a plough over the surface to clear debris.  Then they pulled a sort of blade that cut the ice into large cubes.  The blocks were then lifted out of the water by a pair of metal blades with wooden handles, these were called ‘Ice Dogs’.  The ice was then hauled up the steep fjords and sent down the other side on a chute. Then they were loaded onto ships bound for England.

The ice was then transported up the canals and taken to one of Gatti’s ice wells.  The museum had two of these deep, dark, damp wells beneath it.  The ice was lowered in by hand cranes and left. It didn’t melt because it was cold underground. Also the sides were packed with sawdust that helped keep the ice cool.

Soon ices became all the rage and Carlo Gatti became really rich.

A model of the ice well

A model of the ice well


In the afternoon we went to the London Canal Museum.  Up till about 60 years ago it was a place where they stored ice for fish mongers, ice cream makers and lots of other things, it was called The Ice House.

The ice  wells could hold 2000 – 3000 tons of ice at a time, the ice came from Norway.

Looking down into the ice well

Looking down into the ice well

The first way to move boats along the canal was to get horses to pull the boats, they then used steam engines, now boats have diesel engines .

One of the most famous and common diesel engines was the Bolinder.

The Bolinder engine was 9horse power.  If you still have a Bolinder engine in your boat it is worth a lot.

2 thoughts on “Day 15 – London Canal Museum

  1. How interesting as ever you learn something new every day. Like the story about the chocolate and the ice cream. The ice well pictures are good. I remember horses along the river and they used to pull ploughs years ago near where I lived in nazeing brings back a lot of childhood memories for me. Well done.


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