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.

Tea being unloaded, 1877

Call-on at the docks, 1886

Chinese silk, porcelain, wall-paper and tea were all ‘must-have’ products for European aristocratic and middle-class consumers, but the Chinese were by contrast completely indifferent to anything Europe had to sell.


Dockmaster's House

Dockmaster’s House

Gate Piers, Limehouse Docks

Gate Piers, Limehouse Docks

The Dockmaster’s House, gate piers and warehouses were new when the refusal of China to buy European products was creating a serious trade imbalance. It was solved by getting the Chinese hooked on opium grown in British India.

The gate-piers were the venue for the daily ‘call-on’ when hundreds of men jostled for the chance to work in the docks unloading ships.  Chinese men might be hired but it was always highly competitive.