Little Venice

Little Venice, Westminster

A canal intersection and its pretty – if flawed – vicinity on the border of Paddington and Maida Vale

Andrew H - Little Venice

A pool was cre­at­ed here in the 1810s at the meet­ing point of the Regent’s Canal and the Padding­ton arm of the Grand Junc­tion (now Grand Union) Canal, and was orig­i­nal­ly known as Padding­ton Broad­wa­ter. A small island with wil­lows and wild­fowl makes a kind of round­about at the junc­tion, which was always intend­ed as a spot for plea­sure boats. The islet is nowa­days known as Brown­ing’s Island, after the poet Robert Brown­ing, who lived near­by.

The neigh­bour­ing area was built up in a piece­meal but har­mo­nious fash­ion from the sec­ond quar­ter of the 19th cen­tu­ry, espe­cial­ly with ter­races and pairs of three-storey stuc­coed hous­es.

In her 1934 detec­tive nov­el Death of a Ghost, Margery Alling­ham gave the name ‘Lit­tle Venice’ to a house over­look­ing the canal. The name caught on with estate agents after the Sec­ond World War and is still much used for the pricey prop­er­ties in the local­i­ty.

The local­i­ty bears lit­tle actu­al resem­blance to Venice and the incon­gru­ous 1960s flats on War­wick Cres­cent mar its charm but the jol­ly house­boats moored along the canal­sides lend Lit­tle Venice a pic­turesque appear­ance.

Artists’ stu­dios on the east side of the pool were demol­ished and replaced by a small park, named Rem­brandt Gar­dens in 1975 to com­mem­o­rate the 700th anniver­sary of the found­ing of the city of Ams­ter­dam, the ‘Venice of the North’. Pub­lic walk­ways were opened on both sides of the pool around this time.

Most of Lit­tle Venice was part of the Mai­da Vale estate belong­ing to the Church Com­mis­sion­ers, who offered the free­holds for sale in the 1980s, when a num­ber of hous­es were bought by prop­er­ty com­pa­nies and con­vert­ed into flats.

This is a pic­turesque water­side spot and the canal banks are sel­dom over­crowd­ed with walk­ers

The Pup­pet The­atre began stag­ing mar­i­onette per­for­mances in a con­vert­ed barge in 1982. The ves­sel seats 55 and its red and yel­low awning is vis­i­ble in the pho­to­graph at the top of this arti­cle.* Dur­ing the sum­mer, the float­ing the­atre makes a tour of the Thames but it’s usu­al­ly in Lit­tle Venice from Octo­ber to July.

The Canal­way Cav­al­cade takes place over the ear­ly May Bank Hol­i­day week­end. This colour­ful water­ways fes­ti­val has been organ­ised annu­al­ly at Lit­tle Venice since 1983.

More than half the adult pop­u­la­tion of Lit­tle Venice is qual­i­fied to degree lev­el or high­er. The ward has rel­a­tive­ly high num­bers of Arab and Kur­dish res­i­dents. Also, a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of Lit­tle Venice’s inhab­i­tants come from Aus­tralia, New Zealand, North Amer­i­ca and con­ti­nen­tal west­ern Europe – includ­ing 161 from Italy (but Vene­tians are not sep­a­rate­ly enu­mer­at­ed in the cen­sus data).

Short-​​story writer Katherine Mansfield, playwright Christopher Fry, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard and Icelandic chanteuse Björk are among those who have had homes in Little Venice.

Postal districts: W2 and W9
Population: 10,633 (2011 census)
Further reading: David Fathers, The Regent’s Canal: An Urban Towpath Route from Little Venice to the Olympic Park, Frances Lincoln, 2012
and Brian Girling, Bayswater to Little Venice Through Time, Amberley, 2016
* The picture of Little Venice at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Andrew H, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.