Jan Dorling: Islington Boat Club

Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 15 seconds

Everyone has a story. Islington Boat Club office manager, Jan Dorling, explains why Islington keeps on celebrating the legacy of campaigner Crystal Hale (10 December 1915 – 26 November 1999) and invites us to a very special party on Sunday 23 April 2017 at Islington Boat Club. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Jan Dorling: “Crystal Hale was the force behind it all, if it wasn’t for her the basin would have been filled in and we wouldn’t have Islington Boat Club, or the youth club, or The Angel of Islington residential barge or our Thames barge, the Water Gipsy, or any of the activities we do like the Upper Deckers for 50+ or All On Board for children and adults with disabilities.” (c) islington faces

In the 1960s the British Waterways Board came up with a radical plan to fill in the City Road Basin with housing. And they’d have done it, if it wasn’t for Islington resident Crystal Hale’s formidable campaigning and vision.

#1 Overlooking the City Road Basin, near Hanover School, is an Islington People’s Plaque for Crystal Hale.  (c) islington faces

Journalist Crystal Hale – described in her 1999 Guardian obituary as the “god-earth mother of the Islington chattering classes” – had moved to a house on Noel Road that backed on to the canal with her second husband, Lionel Hale at the end of the ‘60s. Her counter-dream was to transform this bit of the Regent’s Canal into an adventure paradise for children. And that’s exactly what she did. Thanks to Crystal Hale the City Road Basin was saved and the Islington Boat Club opened its doors to the first batch of youth club members in 1970.

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Office manager Jan Dorling, who’s lived off Caledonian Road for around 35 years joined the Islington Boat Club staff back in 1999, so remembers meeting Crystal Hale at an AGM. Sadly the next big event was Crystal Hale’s funeral.

“There were quite a lot of people at Islington Boat Club waving their farewells. Her coffin was on top of the Angel of Islington, a narrow boat she obtained with friends and is still used for residentials. The coffin went from her home into the basin, where it was met by a flotilla of Youth Club members in kayaks and dinghies who followed The Angel of Islington as far as the Islington tunnel,” remembers Jan, 56, adding: ”I’m getting pretty choked up now thinking about it. It was very moving seeing all the little kids who did know her, as did the staff.”

Islington Boat Club view towards their hireable, blue narrow boat, the Peggotty Tom IV. (c) islington faces

Come to the party
To celebrate Crystal Hale’s contribution to Islington, the Boat Club has secured Big Lottery funding and is holding a party on Sunday 23 April. There will be free food and the chance to get on board all sorts of boats and even stand up paddleboards (SUPs) and everyone is welcome, you may even meet Boat Club VIPs at the party including Crystal Hale’s son Jeremy Pudney, a former trustee, and also her daughter Rebecca Hale.

#2 You can even find a brass plaque remembering Crystal Hale on the wooden picnic table on Islington Boat Club’s Thames Barge, the Water Gipsy. It’s an ideal spot for lunch. (c) islington faces

“We decided to have a party for Crystal Hale because she was the force behind it all,” says Jan drinking a cuppa at the bench on top of the Water Gipsy, a Thames Barge, which was named after one of Crystal Hale’s father Sir Alan (A P) Herbert’s book. “It’s because of Crystal Hale that this basin is still an expanse of safe water. It wasn’t filled in and paved over. It’s where children can learn to use the canal safely.” It’s also a beautiful spot where you can enjoy relaxing, spotting wildlife or even mesmerised watching patterns on the water. With so many new homes in the area, including the flats opposite the Boat Club (its original home) as well as Islington’s highest tower block, Lexicon at 251 City Road and the swish Canaletto at 259 City Road the Crystal Hale Celebration is a great chance for more neighbours to meet.


Even an old canoe is used as a planter at Islington Boat Club (c) islington faces

#3 Between Graham Street Park and Diespeker Wharf find Crystal Wharf, 36 Graham Street. And in the entrance find a sign, framed by orchids, acknowledging Crystal Hale’s contribution to the view. (c) islington faces

What can you do at Islington Boat Club?

  • Join the youth club for after school and holiday sessions.
  • Try booking a summer yoga session with Yogafloats http://www.yogafloatslondon.com/
  • Rent the Water Gipsy for your child’s party, photo session or even a supper club.
  • Help fundraise to make a community café
  • Learn how to stand up paddleboard and then hire a SUP to build your core strength as you paddle around the City Road basin.
  • Play water polo
  • Use the Angel of Islington narrowboat for an overnight stay. http://www.angelboat.org/
  • Have a go kayaking through the slalom poles
  • Book their narrowboat, Peggotty Tom IV, for a private event or birthday celebration.
  • Enjoy free paddling if you’re 50+ at the Upper Deckers
  • Have fun learning about boats with the All On Board project for young people with disabilities.
  • Get safe on the canal by taking a certified Competent Crew one-day course or a two-day Narrowboat Helm qualification.
  • Learn how to fix your narrowboat’s diesel engine – one day course.
  • Enjoy the view.    Bookings via http://islingtonboatclub.com/wordpress/ or tel 020 7253 0778


#4 This bas-relief was sited at an old timber yard which was renamed Crystal Wharf in 1999. It’s now private housing off Graham Street. (c) Islington Faces.


Shake Gallery sells gifts as well as being a perfect midpoint in Chapel Market to sit down for a cuppa or a milkshake.   (c) islington faces

What a view residents in the Canaletto (l) and the Lexicon (r) must have over City Road Basin. (c) islington faces

Places Jan Dorling likes in Islington

  • Thornhill Square is where I took my sons when they were little. I’m a grandma now! It’s a lovely oasis and there’s a library across the road.
  • I like Islington Museum and the Local History Centre. I’ve gone there to look up old photos of the City Road Basin and also market stalls on Caledonian Road (Jan helped set up the – currently resting – Cally Road market).
  • I like Angel Central and Camden Passage. The last shop I was in was Monsoon.
  • Shake Gallery is a lovely pink-fronted shop at 26 Chapel Market which sells art, all sorts of gift ideas and is now doing teas, coffees and milkshakes. I defy you not to go in there and find something you like.
  • Everyone on Cally Road knows Kigi Cafe, 322 Caledonian Road and Emmanuel at Clockwork Pharmacy, 161 Caledonian Road.


#5 An extra tribute to Crystal Hale inside Crystal Wharf – the  building which was named after her. (c) islington faces

Dry land
And if you bump into Jan at the Crystal Hale celebration party, say hi, because she’s a fabulous office manager who reckons she’s landed the perfect job.

“I used to work at Kate Greenaway Nursery at York Way Court, N1, and that’s a nice oasis in the middle of an estate, but this is even better. I walk down the Boat Club drive and in my head I’m thinking not many people go to work and see a swan going by or can watch ducks and huge pikes (fish).”

Admittedly Jan has one tiny problem with her job. “This is the shocker,” she admits. “I’m afraid of water. It’s taken me quite a few years to sit on the barge bench and the pontoon still freaks me out,” she laughs. But there’s a plus side for the office as Jan knows: “I’m the yin to the other staff’s yang. I’ll stay on dry land while they’re all out having fun on the water.”

There may be a vast choice of vessels at Islington Boat Club, but you can be certain that Jan will be on shore keeping the place ship-shape.

  • Crystal Hale celebration at Islington Boat Club, will be on Sunday 23 April from 12 noon – 5pm. It’s a party with free food and the opportunity to have a go on all sorts of boats at the Islington Boat Club, which was founded by Crystal Hale. Friends and former members of the youth club/boat club are warmly invited, use the facebook page to let them know, see https://www.facebook.com/events/183159122176044/ 

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola