Lorraine Fox: skipper

Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 52 seconds

Everyone has a story. Who loves the canal or has been on a boat in Islington? Skipper Lorraine Fox talks about life in the City Road Basin, one of Islington’s largest outdoor spaces. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill.

Lorraine Fox on The Sandwich Barge (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Back in 1985 Lorraine Fox came to Islington expecting to stay for a fortnight. She’d left troubled Ireland looking for better times.

“I’d just been widowed and had two young children when I moved to City Road Basin,” she says. But Regent’s Canal and the City Road Basin exerted such a pull that she’s been living here for the past 27 years. That’s why Lorraine, 51, knows everyone along the canal. When we meet for coffee at Canal Number 5, on a part of the towpath which overlooks her favourite part of the canal, Lorraine only joins us after helping a local boater take their barge through the City Road lock. This area is also near where she first met Kimi Gill, when the Islington Faces photographer was living on a barge in Wenlock Basin.

Water is a vital part of Lorraine’s life. She grew up “on the north east coast of Northern Ireland in a small fishing port in the picturesque Mountains of Morne that sweep down to the sea.” She’s the 11th out of a family of 14 so says with some feeling: “The sea is where most people find peace,” then adds, “but here, by the canal is the best location in Islington and London because I am surrounded by water and I feel at peace in this bustling city.”

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Since moving to Islington, Lorraine’s life has been dominated by the waterways. She started London’s first organic cruising cafĂ©, The Sandwich Barge, which is now operating in Northern Ireland. She’s also a skipper with Bow Boat Company and volunteers as a skipper at the Pirate Castle in Camden. Even her holidays are taken by water – she recently sailed from Northern Ireland to Dumfries on a pirate ship La Malouine, which she first met as a neighbouring boat moored next to The Sandwich Barge during a Tall Ship event Lorraine attended in Newry.

Working life
In Islington the canal is lovely to walk beside or look at, but Lorraine’s point is that it’s a busy place with a long history of functionality. “In Islington the boating community are down to earth. Most live off-grid and are of little means – they are all professional, but are sometimes referred to as ‘water gypsies’ or ‘crusties’ thanks to their choice of attire when maintaining, or sanding, their boats or moving generators. People in the houses by the canal tend to forget that the boating community has been here for more than 200 years,” says Lorraine. It’s also a place where you can learn water skills. Lorraine’s two youngest children, now 15 and 12, are handy in boats thanks to their mum, and being close to Islington Boat Club

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“The Sandwich Barge was a great asset to the canal as it was not just a cafĂ© or a place for eating. It was referred to as ‘London’s Little Gem’ by Vogue (in 2009) where strangers would meet for refreshments and talk to one another – unlike a regular cafe where people want the wifi and to sit alone. Due to British Waterways/aka Canal & River Trust regulations, The Sandwich Barge was not permitted a permanent mooring in Islington’s City Road, but could trade as a ‘continuous cruiser’ which meant that she had to move to a different location every two weeks on the canal network. “I thought this would prove difficult as I had only done my research for the Angel area. However it did work out and was great! I had groupies in different locations. People would be waiting at Broadway Market, Victoria Park and the seven locations I frequented on my continuous cruising licence.”

Skipper – Lorraine Fox (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Places Lorraine Fox likes in Islington

  • As a single parent with two young children I could cycle to all the Islington parks and beyond by bike because I had three saddles on my bike (the baby was on the back and the toddler on the bar) so we could all to go different parks. I really like Highbury Fields.
  • The King’s Head pub, on 115 Upper Street, aka the Shillings Pub, used to have old fashioned tills and staff used to ask you for money in pounds shillings and pence when you ordered a pint.
  • I’ve been going to The Apple Tree, down by Mount Pleasant, for years.  But it’s now been taken over by property developers to turn into flats (boo). The Horseshoe, 24 Clerkenwell Close is the new Apple Tree. My boater friend, who also lives in Islington, has been running a ‘Come down and meet the folks’ for years with live bands from all over the world.
  • I like pubs with fires, like the Old Queen’s Head on Essex Road. Upstairs you can see young musicians playing punk, ska, heavy metal.
  • I do like Chapel Market and the organic market on a Sunday.


“Homemade chai, chocolate brownies and rave roast beef sandwiches were all highly sought after and a popular favourite with my customers. it was not a fast food outlet but more of a social gathering for healthy refreshments.”

Along with these good times Lorraine also remembers that: “I was up all night cooking, then trading and I wasn’t spending enough time with my children, so I decided to set up the business near my home in Ireland. That journey, in summer 2014, made history as the first narrowboat, ever, to cruise from Warrenpoint, Carlingford Lough to the Albert Basin on the Newry Canal. And I was also the first woman to do so! Strangers ask me how I got the boat to Ireland and my reply is that ‘I tied it on to the back of a ferry when they weren’t looking’. Some people believe me…”

  • Be like Lorraine and enjoy all the canal has to offer – you can see the variety if you turn up at the Angel Festival on the first Sunday in September. http://www.angelcanalfestival.org

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 dot green at gmail dot com. Thank you Kimi Gill for suggesting this interview.

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