Explore Limehouse Chinatown
Take your own virtual tour of Limehouse Chinatown. Travel back in time to London's first Chinatown, and discover its secrets... The year is 1958, and this part of London looks very different to present day.
This map is a hybrid showing an old Ordnance Survey map over a regular Google Map. You can:
- Use the toggle top right to adjust the transparency to "see through" the old layer and compare the layout then and now.
- Click on the markers to find links to uncover the history
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.
Limehouse Causeway was where the first Chinese started to establish a community from the 1880s onwards.
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.
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.
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.
Chinese laundries first began to appear in Britain in the Liverpool area at the turn of the 20th century.
A number of charities and social bodies in Limehouse were set up by the Chinese themselves.
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.
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.
The first major opportunity Londoners in general had to experience Chinese food was as part of the Health Exhibition at South Kensington in 1884.
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).