If you've ever walked or driven along Gloucester Gate Bridge in Camden, you may have noticed something. It's a bridge over nothing. A peek over the edge reveals no water or thoroughfare beneath it — so why is it a bridge at all?
The western side of the road is hedged with greenery. Look carefully and you can just about spot London Zoo's car park. On the eastern side of the bridge there's yet more greenery, this time part of a private garden. Surely this bridge was built with a better reason in mind that a good vantage point into a garden?
The truth is, it did once have a very necessary purpose. It used to cross over the a spur of Regent's Canal leading to the Cumberland Basin.
The Cumberland Basin, also known as the Jew's Harp Basin because of a nearby pub called the Jew's Harp, was a body of water reaching down to near Euston station. It was built in 1813, mainly to serve Cumberland Market, which was London's primary hay and straw market.
The stub of the Cumberland Basin can still be seen today, where the Feng Shang floating Chinese restaurant sits on Regent's Canal.
The spur was a public health health hazard — many locals contracted cholera from it. By the 20th century the market was in decline, so in 1938 the canal was dammed off and drained.
The Blitz's bombing campaigns left the empty canal filled in with rubble, so it was built over, but the bridge was left intact. That's why Camden has a bridge over non-existent water.
Today the bridge itself is still worth checking out with its restored Victorian candelabras, plaque that records the bridge's opening and a bronze panel showing the martyrdom of St Pancras (for whom a nearby area is named).
Can't get enough of this stretch of canal? Let Geoff explain further: