The modernist rooftop terrace on top of the 16-storey Great Arthur House has remained a secret for far too long
Thanks to two of my neighbours in Basterfield House, the sadly underused modernist roof garden on the top of Great Arthur House recently opened its long-locked gates.
Paul Lincoln and Steven Malies have been hustling behind the scenes for some time to have this concrete gem rejuvenated, repolished and reinstated as the jewel in the crown of Golden Lane.
The garden was closed many years ago for health and safety reasons, but some of the estate’s senior residents nevertheless waxed fondly of summertime sunbathing sessions and paddling in its cold shallow pool.
We all listened with bursting envy. Newer residents gasped in disbelief because many of them didn’t even know the garden existed until YouTube videos of daredevil parkour riders and skateboarders emerged and the local police started to complain of a nagging headache.
But when earlier this year the London Assembly declared its involvement in the national Park City project, Lincoln and Malies sniffed their chance, and for two days over one weekend recently residents and the public were ushered into the lifts at Great Arthur House and whisked 16 stories skyward to view our estate for the civic masterpiece that it is.
What we discovered up there, touching the clouds, is that this place we call home is more of a philosophy than a building plan: high-density housing harmonised with neatly dispersed open spaces. It is a micro-village where compact living on the inside bleeds openly to the freedom to move on the outside. It might still be a bit scruffy in parts, but to those who live here it’s paradise with a dirty face.
Since Great Arthur House has been spruced up with a facelift, it has become a shiny yellow badge of pride at the centre of the estate. And the opening of the roof garden gave everyone a chance to share in that glory, alongside spectacular views of London in all directions. The roof garden will again be open on the weekend of September 21-22, so book early if you don’t want to miss out on a top-floor treat.
The success of the opening sparked conversations about the use of the estate’s many flat roofs. Some residents see the scarcity of solar electricity panels as a badly missed opportunity, while others complain of the poor maintenance of drainage channels and rainwater leaking into their homes.
They also started once again to talk about the ‘Fred Plan’, which I mentioned in this column nearly two years ago. This is an idea hatched by Bayer House resident and architecture academic Fred Scott. With his students he created an alternative proposal to the school and tower block the City Corporation is currently building on the north side of the estate next to Hatfield House and Basterfield House. Fred’s plan included a companion mega-tower very similar in appearance to Great Arthur House and, you guessed it, a spectacular roof garden.
The plan never found favour in the corridors of power and has stayed on the shelf collecting dust ever since, much to the disappointment of the many residents who saw it as a more sympathetic extension of the estate’s heritage architecture.
Heritage of a different kind emerged coincidentally from an email chat I had recently with our Alderman, David Graves.
Unlike other London boroughs, here in the historic City our governors have ancient tiles such as aldermen, common councilmen and beadles. The City has 25 wards and the Golden Lane Estate is in the ward of Cripplegate. There is some prickly debate about Cripplegate’s origins (a gate through which beggars and the disabled were kicked out of old London sounded the most convincing), but History was never my strongest subject at school (it was Geology), so I went digging for something more revealing.
The most fascinating stories about Cripplegate I found were in a book called Sin City, by Giles Emerson. The book tells us that in early Roman times the City was notorious for its erotic celebrations and “Bacchanalian excesses”. Roving gangs of thieves were common, our local firm being a mob called The Mohawks. Smithfield was home to a collective of sex workers known as the Bartholomew Babes. And Cripplegate’s contribution to this rich pageant came from the Farting Club of Cripplegate, whose members were “so vain in their ambition to out-fart each other” that they would diet on the wind energy of “new ale, cabbage, onions and pease-porridge”. Judges were appointed to rank the “bum-fiddles” of contestants. For some reason I felt strangely proud to be part of this curious tradition.
Billy Mann lives in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate. He is a teaching assistant, a City of London Community Builder and a blogger. Write to him at email@example.com
This article appeared in the City Matters newspaper, issue number 105