It is only due to the vision and determination of local resident, Crystal Hale, that the City Road Basin has become the site of a thriving boat club for young people and, indeed, that it still exists at all as an expanse of canal water. Crystal had loved boats and boating all her life; from her house in Noel Road by the Regents Canal, she had looked out over the Basin and thought “Why aren’t children playing on that water?”

Crystal, along with friends, family and neighbours, worked with the local authorities to set up a local management committee and create the club, which opened in 1970. At the same time, they fought the closure of City Road Basin. Originally, this had extended under and beyond City Road – when the club opened this had been filled in, but the water extended up to the bridge. Since the late 1960s, British Waterways had plans to fill in the entire basin and build on new land.

Throughout the mid-70s the “Save the Basin” campaign continued and eventually, through Crystal’s efforts, the Greater London Council rejected the BWB’s plans. Eventually only a small portion of the Basin was lost at the City Road end, for the electricity sub-station. The club was originally set up on the east bank of the basin, with access from Wharf Road through the council depot, which the children had to go through to reach the club. The club base was an old Thames barge, brought up from the river, and named The Water Gipsy, after the novel by Crystal Hale’s father AP Herbert. Initially everything was in the barge – equipment, changing rooms, old armchairs round a wood stove, and a place to brew up hot drinks. Some basic wooden pontoons were made and there was a fleet of rowing boats, optimist sailing dinghies and a rack of kayaks. Soon a couple of old prefabs were moved into the council yard for improved facilities, boat maintenance and an office for the club leader. There was no other land access to the basin. It was in fact quite isolated, surrounded by wood yards and building firms and by the disused and derelict warehouses of BDH, but it provided a uniquely secluded and safe area of water.

Then in the late 70s, plans went ahead to develop the land round the Basin and the old buildings were demolished; in fact it was sadly just a few years too soon for some of the old warehouses to be preserved (later they would almost certainly have been converted into attractive waterside apartments). During this redevelopment the club was re-sited on the west bank with access from Graham Road, and the developers provided a purpose-built club house, with full facilities for the members, offices and maintenance areas. There was now a strip of land for the club’s use; the Water Gipsy was refitted and remains today as an additional recreational space and a games room.

Originally the club was envisaged as a place for children to enjoy being in boats; as an adventure playground on water. This it still is, but as the club has developed, there has been a growing emphasis on watersports skills and expeditions to other waters, combined with an equal emphasis on youth work and the personal development of the young people through their participation in these activities. The aim is that the club should be a resource and facility for use by a variety of groups from schools and other organisations. The club has always aimed to appeal equally to children who just want to have fun on water, and those who want to specialise in skills and qualifications.

Throughout its life, through the work of the management committee, the club has expanded in its funding and the amount of activity it can provide – and has gone from being run by just one club leader with some sessional workers, to having a staff team of qualified instructors, youth workers, and office and maintenance staff.

As the Basin evolves into a more cosmopolitan area, with far greater use by the public, the club has been incorporated into future re-development plans, and it will continue to provide young people with these facilities and opportunities in a safe, friendly environment.

Our founder

Crystal Hale was born the eldest daughter of the novelist, playwright and law reform activist AP Herbert, who wrote extensively about the Thames and life on the river; the family home was by the riverside in Hammersmith, and Crystal carried on her father’s great enthusiasm for everything to do with boats – on the sea, river, and canal – throughout her life.

After Cornwall and Essex with her first husband John Pudney, she lived in Islington for nearly 50 years where she was extremely active and influential in Islington life, and with her second husband Lionel Hale moved into their home by the Regents Canal in 1968.

She continued to be an active member of the Boat Club committee for the rest of her life. In 1975 she founded the Angel Community Narrowboat Association to provide residential canal trips for Islington young people, designing the boat herself and, in 1987, with the late Jim Lagdon she founded the Angel Canal Festival in City Road Basin.

Sadly Crystal passed away in 1999 aged 83. In September 2011 an Islington People’s Plaque was unveiled by Crystal’s daughter Rebecca Hale, sited on the wall of Hanover School, looking down towards the City Basin, .

At her funeral, as she had requested, her coffin was carried through the Islington tunnel on The Angel narrowboat.