Supporting Roving Traders

Canals were built as the arteries of the industrial revolution and whilst their role in freight transport might not be as important as it once was it has been replaced by a multiplicity of other uses which rely on the canal network. London Waterways Projects think there are plenty of opportunities on London’s sometimes crowded canals for a varied range of uses to coexist and are keen to support the diverse uses of canals whether that is through creating space for wildlife, increasing freight on the water or through moorings and facilities for residential or leisure boating.

The dramatic rise in boat numbers in central London in the last few years has made life increasingly challenging for Roving Traders who ply their wares from the towpath. To the wider public trading boats offer a unique opportunity to interact with the canal and boaters and the traders are often ambassadors for a boating way of life and the activity of a trading boat can temporarily transform a bit of towpath from a walking or cycle route into an unusual and interesting place. In terms of casually engaging the wider public with boats and boating as a positive part of the canal (as opposed to the canal as just a body of water) you’d be hard pressed to find more effective champions.

  • Mile End Floating Market photographed by Gordon Joly

The popularity of central London’s towpaths means there is the potential for really good passing footfall for trading boats, yet the huge challenges of finding any moorings in high footfall areas (let alone moorings which enable convenient access to the towpath for trading) makes trading in London extremely difficult as a roving trader. For traders based outside the capital the overcrowding and uncertainty of moorings coupled with potentially a long trip down the Grand Union can effectively make a visit to London financially fruitless despite the potential for high footfall trading spots on the towpath.

In order to try to support trading boats (and encourage more traders to come to London), London Waterways Projects is actively working on delivering a number of sites where roving traders can book a mooring to trade from in advance (at minimal cost to cover administration or no cost at all) and where a regular programme of visiting trading boats at the site can be promoted throughout the year. In recent years the Roving Canal Traders Association has had a lot of success by organising floating markets which bring traders together and create a great atmosphere on the towpath. We’ll be looking to work with the RCTA to support traders who want to trade in London whether through supporting or promoting floating markets or through helping individual traders with pre-bookable trade moorings.

We’re really pleased to say we have an initial site confirmed and will be able to announce the first bookable trading spots there in the coming months. We also have ongoing discussions with a number of partners to secure more trading sites across London.

If you are are trader and are interested in keeping in the loop on any developments with trade moorings, either join the mailing list or send an email to

3 thoughts on “Supporting Roving Traders

  • Hi I am the chairman of the RCTA and would like to know more about this project and get involved

    • Hi Mark

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’ll send you an email either over the weekend or early next week and let you know a bit more about this – it would be great to involve all your members as much as possible.


  • Boston belle cafe, we are interested in your new project, we’ve been asking for years for help for Londons roving traders, but has always fallen on deaf ears. When we first started trading in London, on the regents canal and the river lee, they were about 10 different trading boat’s, but now, only a handful or less, as we have had no support,, quite the opposite to be honest.. So any input would be greatly appreciated. Best regards Phil. Boston belle cafe.

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