London's canal network started to be developed in the mid-18th century. It was used to transport bulk goods cheaply, safely and reliably.

The Grand Junction Canal stretches from Northamptonshire to the River Thames at Brentford. Its Paddington arm connects the main canal to Paddington. The Regent's Canal links the Paddington Arm to the Limehouse Basin and the River Thames in East London. The Hertford Union Canal provides a shortcut between Regent's Canal and the Lee Navigation and runs along the southern side of Victoria Park.

The Lee Navigation is a canalised river that incorporates the River Lee (or Lea) in northeast London. London's oldest canal, the Limehouse Cut opened in 1770 and joins the Lee at Bromley-by-Bow. The Cut provides a shortcut between the River Lee and the Thames, enabling users to avoid the lower Lee at Bow Creek and the Isle of Dogs.

Railways had begun to challenge the long-term commercial viability of canals by the mid-19th century. By the 1920s, motor vehicles and road improvements posed further serious threats.

Canal companies tried to remain competitive through modernisation and amalgamation. In 1929, the Regent's Canal acquired the assets of the Grand Junction Canal and, as a result, the Grand Union Canal Company was formed.

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