Origins

The Limehouse Chinatown Dragon sculpture is a fitting celebration of the Chinese community that lived in the vicinity of West India Dock Road for slightly less than a century from the 1880s till the 1960s.

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The Cantonese Community

Limehouse Causeway was where the first Chinese started to establish a community from the 1880s onwards.

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Docklands

Europe had traded with the distant and mysterious China since Roman times, but it was only in the 17th and 18th centuries that the western flow of Chinese goods became a flood.

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The Shanghai Community

It was mostly in Pennyfields and Ming Street that the bulk of the people from Shanghai lived and traded, as a distinct community from the Cantonese in Limehouse Causeway.

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Law and Order

There were law and order issues in Chinatown in the 1920s.  Full scale street fights with a variety of weapons, including guns occurred between rival gangs struggling to control widespread local gambling.

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Laundries

Chinese laundries first began to appear in Britain in the Liverpool area at the turn of the 20th century.

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Charities

A number of charities and social bodies in Limehouse were set up by the Chinese themselves.

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Seafarers

There were Chinese seamen on British ships from the 18th century.

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Schools

The children of the mixed-marriages of the Chinese communities were educated alongside other children from the area. Many attended Dingle Street School off Poplar High Street, or Gill Street School.

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Thomas Burke & Tourism

In the 1920s Limehouse Chinatown became thought of as a notorious focus for crime, exotic mystery and alluring sexuality partly through the wildly imaginative writings of Thomas Burke, especially his first book of short stories Limehouse Nights: Tales of Chinatown of 1916.

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Chinese Restaurants

The first major opportunity Londoners in general had to experience Chinese food was as part of the Health Exhibition at South Kensington in 1884.

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Myths & Panics

In the late Victorian period various writers included scenes set in the ‘opium dens’ of Limehouse to add a bit of exotic colour to their stories.

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Images reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.
On each page there are audio files you can listen to in which historical characters from Limehouse Chinatown will tell you more about the history of the area.

You can download or play a full audio walking tour of Limehouse Chinatown here: Audio Tour (mp3, 31.2 MB). To download, right click on the link and select "Save as", "Save Link as" (or similar).