I love living in a scummy area. Well, OK, perhaps not scummy, but definitely down at heel. The strange thing about it is we are right next door to the uber posh, very slick Canary Wharf (no work wear or muddy boots please). Canary Wharf is so posh it has its own security force checking you’re not bringing in explosives.
Well, a mile further north in Chrisp Street Market they would probably benefit from a few explosives. It is dirty, it has strange shops that have probably never seen a profit, and I don’t always feel safe there. But it is glorious.
It is full of real life, you see. And real people. Not that clean shaven white collar workers are not “real people”, but when that’s all you have – wall to wall urban professionals – you have lost something of the flavour of wider humanity. Chrisp Street Market has mothers with little kids. It has drunks sitting on benches. It has young men shouting at each other. It has people popping in for lunch in a hurry to get somewhere else. It has white East Enders who have lived here for generations. It has Muslims in headscarves and full veils. It has harrassed council workers. It has cheery market traders. with proper market stalls. There are a few chain shops, and lots of unique shops too. There are council buildings and a police station. It is a real local hub, and if you want to see the real East End I would recommend you see it. Let me take you on a tour.
From East India Dock Road, the first thing you see is the large Ideas Store. In my day they called them libraries, but apparently adding a few internet connected terminals and a DVD lending section makes them “ideas stores” now. This one is green glass, 2 storeys, and quite prominent. Not bad as far as they go. I’ve only been inside once and that was by accident.
Now, look to your left and you’ll see the Poplar HARCA. Not some sort of Islamic day centre as I first assumed, it is infact a Housing And Regeneration Community Association. (See what they did there?).
Next door there is the Lansbury Pharmacy which I can recommend. They recently spotted that my son’s prescription was 10 times too strong, something that the useless pharmacy near ASDA never did. Well done them!
Now look back to the right. Go down the pedestrianised street with the Ideas store on your left. You will find an arcade of shops including 2 butchers (1 Halal and the other not obviously Halal) right next to each other. There is a key cutting shop. There is the fabulous “Kenny’s pop-in” which seems to sell loads of random things from bath mats (our lovely bath mat and toilet surround came from there) to glass ornaments to plastic buckets. You know the sort of place – the one where your pocket money goes a long way and you always come out with more than you went in for. There is also a bakers – Percy Ingles – which has great gingerbread men (well, Nathan likes them anyway). A Boots snuck in too. Last on the right is another “we sell everything” shop this time including household cleaners. I’ll let you know if their drain unblocker is any good…
Now you are coming into the open market area. It has maybe 30 stalls, ranging from a fresh fish offering to “exotic vegetables”, cleaning products to clothes. Lots of variety, nothing is expensive, quality a bit suspect. Suggested games for the visitor is “guess what that strange fruit is”, and “how do you wear that item of clothing”.
The market stalls are laid out on a diagonal, which leads you naturally towards the next street of shops. But wait a minute, before you go onwards look about. On your left is a post office which is very busy on Giro day. A once-loved playpark with only 2 sorry pieces of play equipment left – which makes you wonder what sorry accident led to the removal of the main climbing frame or swing set. To your right are some hut things, containing a cross between market stalls and proper shops. Wandering amongst them you can get your phone unlocked, eat a hot Carribean curry, and find religion in a tiny Christian book store. More cafes and non-chain shops line the far side of the market, with a well hidden supermarket (the Co-op, none of your Waitrose here thank you very much) behind them and linked to the market by a narrow entrance.
Now look to your right, and look up a bit. Here is the Chrisp Street Market clock tower. It does what it says on the tin. Its a useful landmark if you’re arriving by a bus that does not go down the main road (East India Dock Road). It is on the side of the market, it is very ugly and the large tower serves no useful purpose beyond supporting the clock. I fantasise that once it was once one of those towers they put in fire stations for practising putting out fires on, or whatever they do. That perhaps the market was built on the site of an old fire station and this is all that was left. That they stuck a clock on the top to make a feature of it. Sadly, I think the truth is a bit more bland – this market was built in the 50s when they thought this sort of thing looked good. Ah, well.
OK, so having surveyed your surroundings have a quick check to make sure your purse is still with you, that your phone remains in pocket and no-one has relieved you of your camera. No? Good. Yes? well, carry on to the far side of the market stalls and you’ll find the local police station. Handy! You can see it on the right of the next picture:
Just next to the police station is a Tower Hamlets “One Stop Shop” which is the council’s way of making the queues as long as possible. You can do everything here from paying your council tax to getting your on street parking permit. The staff are very nice if a bit stressed, and there seems to be an unwritten rule that everyone queuing should bring an unhappy child with them. I try to take 2 with me.
More random shops, including the Spitalfields Crypt Trust charity shop. I like a place with a charity shop or two. I grew up in a town which was taken over by charity shops, and that is not good, but one or two is great for a bargain even if you’re too tight to buy anything on the very cheap market itself.
Further down the road is a cake shop (yum), and the best chippie in the area (yum again). At the end of the street on the left is the Chrisp Street Sure Start centre which has play space for under 5s and which runs lots of groups including Nathan’s old Chatterbugs group which is for children with speech and language needs.
And that’s it. Suddenly you’re out of the market, standing on a normal residential street, looking at a bus stop and probably an angry traffic warden (don’t park illegally round here, they are very efficient). You’ve just seen Chrisp Street Market. Well done.
The sad thin is that the market is up for regeneration, with work starting in 2014. I wonder how much character will be left afterwards. Come now whilst you still can!
Nearest station: All Saints DLR
Bus routes: D6, D8, 15, 115 amongst others.
Nearest airport: London City
Nearest favourite blogger: i love 10