Limehouse Causeway was where the first Chinese started to establish a community from the 1880s onwards.
At first the vast majority were seamen temporarily lodged in boarding houses before they set sail again. In the first few years of the 20th century enough Chinese had settled for journalists to start calling the area ‘Chinatown’, though there were always many other nationalities living here.
The photographs from the 1920s show the narrow Causeway with its jumble of small shops and restaurant, with distinctive Chinese names. The owners invariable lived in the rooms above. Residents of the time recalled the street had a village atmosphere, with everyone calling into each others’ homes and the children being welcomed in any home they visited.
The earliest Chinese settlers here were almost exclusively men from Canton and Southern China. Because of the lack of local Chinese women these men often married local women, which in early Edwardian times was generally accepted as positive. Indeed the overall picture presented by journalists at that time was that Chinatown was a welcome place of local colour in a drab area. “Oriental, mysterious, romantic” perhaps, with the odd opium den, but otherwise law-abiding and no threat to anyone.