London Chinatown History

Chinatown History

The Chinatown that you know today has been there since the 1950’s with a long line of history trailing behind. The neatly weaved streets of restaurants and businesses have been accepting Chinese for over 50 years. The original Chinatown in London was towards the east end of the town. The Chinese were employed by the East India Company that appeared around the 18th century. This company hired thousands of Chinese sailors. A lot of the sailors were based in China, but some of them settled at the docks in Limehouse.

During the 1914’s, there were a few hundred Chinese that were running their own Chinese businesses in Limehouse. This made way for 30 businesses in that area that were ran and operated by the Chinese. Most of these businesses were small shops and restaurants. The post war years put a threat to the small community, and Limehouse was destroyed due to the London Blitz. This also made way to the decline of the British shipping industry. This made it impossible for anyone other than the British seamen to find work in the ships throughout London.

In 1950, the Chinese had accumulated in numbers, and were short of income and housing options. A few of the Chinese set up businesses on Gerrard Street in the West End of the city. Most of these businesses were restaurants to cater to the British soldiers that were sent back from the far east after the war. The popularity of these restaurants grew, and more Chinese made way to the same area to open their businesses up. This made way to a new Chinese community.

A part of this Chinatown started back in 1666. London was destroyed by a fire; this left the town with just mostly farmland, and lands of nothing. It was basically a new slate to build upon. The area that the modern day Chinatown now rests upon was once a military training ground where soldiers used to use muskets and drilled through the ground with pikes. In 1677, Lord Gerrard gave a developer, Nicholas Barbon permission to build housing on the training ground land. Gerrard Street was completed with housing and everything in 1685. He then acquired more land on the east side of the street. This is where he built more housing, livestock markets, market hall, and a slaughterhouse for butchers. This site still stands in the present day on Newport Court.

Within the century that this all was constructed, the area developed a large reputation with the town folk. Gerrard Street was once known for its artists and home to many famous painters and writers. During the 19th century, the Newport Market developed a reputation of a criminalist slum. This reputation stayed with the market until new streets of Shaftesbury and Charing Cross were developed in the late 1880’s. During this time, new waves of immigrants poured in. This included Jewish, Maltese, and Italians. The Chinese arrived in the 1950’s to put a new twist on the amount of immigrants that were in the London area.

The Newport Market had a new reputation by that time. They were known as a great nightlife area with cheap commercial rentals. During the 1960’s, Chinatown was then established as its very own community. During this time, the number of Chinese people who lived in the area was up around the tens of thousands. Even more Chinese workers arrived from Hong Kong. This also became home to a large Chinese supermarket, travel agency, restaurants and other services for the Chinese to have jobs within. Wives and children came from China to reunite with their husbands and families. The community continued to grow, and so did the reputation of the town. They offered some of the best world class Chinese cuisine, and also offered Chinese gates for their history, street furniture, and a pavilion for everyone to use were added. These are all symbols of Chinatowns coming of age community.