Chrisp Street Market Clocktower: Ah, the Lansbury Estate. East London's finest array of very-postwar housing, proudly displayed to all and sundry at the Festival of Britain in 1951. I've wandered round before, and been to the market many times, but I've never ever been up the clocktower. It's not been open this century, to the best of my knowledge, even though it was meant to be an observation platform and a focal point for the local population. Its brickwork zigzags upwards, mirroring the twin staircases inside, one for walking up and the other for walking down. Estate architect Frederick Gibberd described his clocktower as a “practical folly”, and it certainly has the right mix of everyday allure. How exciting, then, to finally gain access and to reclaim the elevated future that the Fifties promised. Few had come, probably because advertising hereabouts was limited to a scribbled sheet of paper stuck to the usually-locked door on the ground floor. One or two marketgoers noticed, and grasped the opportunity, but most stayed on the ground and mingled and bought stuff and left.
Only one staircase was open, the other sealed off by tape at the top (for no apparent reason). There are several landings on the way up, each with an open view, and which it was easy to imagine smelling of post-pub relief. Thankfully not. Small boxes on the floor are used for after-dark illumination, staged alternately red and blue, a rather more modern addition. And so to the narrow upper deck, the walkway encircling the entire perimeter. The tower's clockface is bold and blobby, even more so from directly underneath, though the Union Jack hanging from the balcony is only temporary. And there's the full 360 panorama, which those of us who live in East London so rarely get to enjoy due to the estuary's lack of contours. The City and Shard spike the western horizon, beyond the Lansbury rooftops and the streets of Stepney. Not quite so good a view to the south, with various highrises blocking the financial powerhouse of Docklands. Southeast the appealing combination of Robin Hood Gardens, cablecar and Dome, more or less. Immediately east the stark silhouette of the Balfron Tower, sister of the Trellick, lit up in the afternoon sun. And up north, somewhere past my house, the Olympic Stadium nestling almost insignificantly amid the inner suburbs. It's a damned shame that this visual treat isn't available on a more regular basis, even if only once a month, even though it would have to be supervised to avoid aerial unpleasantness. And thanks to Open House for opening it up, and satisfying my thirst to ascend, and bonding me to my local area just one notch more.