Chrisp Street Market Clock Tower

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1450866

Date first listed: 31-Oct-2017

Location Description:

Statutory Address: Market Square, Chrisp Street, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, London, E14 6AQ

Map

Ordnance survey map of Chrisp Street Market Clock Tower
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Location

Statutory Address: Market Square, Chrisp Street, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, London, E14 6AQ

Location Description:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Greater London Authority

District: Tower Hamlets (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ3790781145

Summary

Clock tower, built 1952 to designs by Frederick Gibberd as part of Chrisp Street Market.

Reasons for Designation

The Chrisp Street Market clock tower, built 1951-52 to the designs of Frederick Gibberd, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* As a landmark on the site of England’s first piece of planned modern urban renewal in the post-war period;

* A striking example of early post-war architecture and a primary example of the aesthetic which became known as ‘Festival style’.

Historic interest:

* For its influence in popularising the modern civic clock tower;

* A building designed by Frederick Gibberd, an important C20 architect and planner, and originator of the Live Architecture Exhibition held as part of the Festival of Britain.

History

The clock tower was conceived as part of Chrisp Street Market, a pedestrianised shopping precinct and open-air market place, designed in 1949 by Frederick Gibberd as the commercial centre of the new Lansbury estate and a key element of the Live Architecture Exhibition held as part of the Festival of Britain.

The Festival of Britain was a nationwide celebration of British arts, industry and technology. Held over the summer of 1951, it marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition and aimed to engender a sense of national pride and optimism for the country’s post-war recovery. Proposals for an Exhibition of Architecture as part of the Festival had been approved in mid-1948, but it was Frederick Gibberd who suggested that it should be ‘live’. He proposed that a bombed, or pre-cleared, site in London should be developed so as to exhibit a real piece of city under renewal. It should illustrate a range of housing and building types; it would be a full-size exhibition of architecture and planning, to be completed for occupation at the end of the Festival. The idea of ‘neighbourhood’ planning which Gibberd was keen to showcase was fundamental in the planning of the post-war New Towns, including Gibberd’s own work at Harlow (his master-plan drafted in 1946-7 and approved in 1949). The approach broke a conurbation down into neighbourhood units of a certain population, and aimed to provide each with the necessary facilities to support it.

The neighbourhood chosen for the exhibition was named ‘Lansbury’ after George Lansbury (1859-1940), former Mayor of Poplar and leader of the Labour Party between 1931 and 1935. A block plan showing heights and massing was prepared by the London County Council (LCC) Architect’s Department, but the design of individual buildings, including schools, churches and housing, was mainly undertaken by private architects. The shopping precinct, and its landmark clock tower, was to be Gibberd’s contribution, the latter being funded by the Borough of Poplar as a symbol of civic pride. Sited in the location of a former street market, Gibberd’s scheme included shops with two- and three-bedroomed maisonettes above, garages, two pubs, a kiosk, public toilets, covered market and the clock tower, arranged around an open market place. One of the two pubs, The Festival Inn, is listed at Grade II.

The Live Architecture Exhibition ran from May to September 1951 but budgetary cuts leading up to the Festival, and a lack of time, constrained ambition of both temporary and permanent elements of the exhibition. Much of the housing was completed only as the Festival itself came to an end and Gibberd’s clock tower was built in 1952. Nevertheless, it was the only place in England at that time with a contiguous group of modern buildings to demonstrate any of the ideas of modern architecture and town planning that had been discussed for the previous decade. It was England’s first modern pedestrianised shopping precinct to be built (Coventry’s was planned earlier, but built later) and its influence was clear in the development of the New Towns which followed shortly after. Although not completed in time for the Festival, the clock tower’s striking architecture became synonymous with the site, and featured heavily in published coverage after its completion.

Frederick Gibberd (1908-84) was an influential architect and planner of the inter- and post-war periods. He gained recognition for several successful schemes of residential flats, before being appointed Principal of the Architectural Association. He developed a deep interest in town planning, and was appointed in 1947 as the planner for the New Town of Harlow, a town which became his home and with which he was connected for the rest of his life. Other major works by him include the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (1962-67), listed Grade II*, and the London Central Mosque (1977-78).

Details

Clock tower, built 1952 to designs by Frederick Gibberd.

The building is rectangular in footprint, constructed in red-brown brick laid in monk bond.

The longer east and west sides are largely of brick, and the north and south sides are mainly open, enclosed only by railings at each stair landing. Two interlinked flights of reinforced concrete stairs, starting from opposite sides, provide one route up the structure, and another one down, only meeting at the viewing platform at the top. Gibberd acknowledged the prototype of this stair to be the famous double staircase at the Chateau de Chambord in the Loir, France. The scissor-like criss-crossing of the stairs is expressed in the outer faces of the tower, with the exposed concrete stair beams and landing edges, creating a lozenge motif in the brickwork up the east and west sides; the centre of each lozenge is pierced and enclosed with railings.

At the top of the stairs is a viewing platform which projects from the face of the tower, all four sides of the tower are open at this level. Above, the tower continues in solid brickwork, with a large clock-face on each side. The clock faces are formed of a white steel ring with black chapters and white steel hands. The tower is capped by a shallow pitched roof.

Sources

Books and journals
Harwood, E, Space, Hope and Brutalism, English Architecture 1945-79, (2015), pp. 18-19
'A Survey of Lansbury's 'Live Architecture'' in Architects' Journal, (6 September 1951), pp. 276-296
'Buildings Revisited: Lansbury, Poplar 1951' in Architects' Journal, (3 July 1974), pp. 23-42
Richards, J M, 'Lansbury' in The Architectural Review, (December 1951), pp. 361-367
'Shopping Centre and Market Square' in The Architect and Building News, , Vol. 197, (9 June 1950), pp. 379-388
Stephenson, G, 'Lansbury, Poplar: The Live Architecture Exhibition' in RIBA Journal, (August 1951), pp. 80-81
'Three Buildings by Frederick Gibberd: Clock Tower at Lansbury' in Architectural Review, (August 1952), pp. 80-81
Harwood, E, 'Lansbury' in Twentieth Century Architecture 5 - Festival of Britain, , Vol. 5, (2001), pp. 141-154
Websites
The Lansbury Estate: Introduction and the Festival of Britain exhibition, Survey of London: vols 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and the isle of Dogs, 1994, accessed 21 September 2017 from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp212-223

End of official listing