The first area in London known as Chinatown was located in the
Limehouse area of the
East End of London. At the start of the 20th century, the Chinese population of London was concentrated in that area, setting up businesses which catered to the Chinese sailors who frequented in
Docklands. The area was known through exaggerated reports and tales of
slum housing and (the then-legal)
opium dens, rather than the Chinese restaurants and supermarkets of the current Chinatown. However, much of the area was damaged by aerial bombing during
the Blitz in the
Second World War, although a number of elderly Chinese still choose to live in this area. After the Second World War, however, the growing popularity of
Chinese cuisine and an influx of immigrants from
Hong Kong led to an increasing number of Chinese restaurants being opened elsewhere.
The present Chinatown, which is off
Shaftesbury Avenue did not start to be established until the 1970s. Previously, it was a regular Soho area, run-down, with
Gerrard Street the main thoroughfare. It was dominated by the Post Office, facing Macclesfield Street, and other major establishments were The Tailor & Cutter House, at 43/44, now a Chinese supermarket and restaurant, the Boulogne Restaurant, near the Wardour Street end, and by Peter Mario's Restaurant at the other end. Other businesses included a master baker's, the Sari Centre, Lesgrain French Coffee House,
Harrison Marks' Glamour Studio, an Indian restaurant and various brothels. Probably the first Chinese restaurants opened in Lisle Street, parallel to Gerrard Street, and more opened gradually; one of the first restaurants was Kowloon Restaurant. The Tailor & Cutter did not close down until around 1974. The area now has more than 80 restaurants.
In 2005, the property developer
Rosewheel proposed a plan to redevelop the eastern part of Chinatown. The plan was opposed by many of the existing retailers in Chinatown, as they believe that the redevelopment would drive out the traditional Chinese retail stores from the area and change the ethnic characteristic of Chinatown. In October 2013 and July 2018, the London Chinatown Community Centre (LCCC) organised a one-day shutdown in
protest of violent tactics by immigration officers from the
The London Chinatown Community Centre (LCCC) has been housed in the Chinatown area since it was founded in 1980 by Dr Abraham Lue. The Centre claims to have received 40,000 people for help and assistance since its foundation. Located since 1998 on the second floor of 28-29 Gerrard Street, the Centre relocated to 2 Leicester Court in 2012, above the
There was a Chinese-style
pavilion at Newport Place from the 1980s which was a popular
meeting point, but it was demolished in 2016 after more than thirty years, despite protests. The development authorities had plans to renovate and enlarge the square. The construction of a new pavilion at a different location was announced.
Chinatown has no officially defined size, but it has commonly been considered to approximately encompass Gerrard Street, the bottom half of
Rupert Street and Rupert Court, a section of
Shaftesbury Avenue and
Lisle Street, Macclesfield Street and Newport Place, Newport Court and Little Newport Street.
Great Windmill Street – after a windmill that formerly stood near here in Ham Yard in the 16th-17th century; the ‘great’ prefix was to distinguish it from Little Windmill Street, now Lexington Street
Horse and Dolphin Yard – after the Horse and Dolphin inn which stood here in the 17th – 19th centuries
Newport Court, Newport Place and Little Newport Street – after Mountjoy Blount, Earl of Newport (
Isle of Wight), who owned a house on this street (then just Newport Street) in the 17th century. Following the construction of Charing Cross Road, Newport Street was split in two and the two sections renamed as they are today
Wardour Street – named after local 17th century landowners the Wardour family, and formerly called Colman Hedge Lane/Close after a nearby field; the section south of Brewer Street was formerly Prince Street prior to 1878, in parallel with Rupert Street
^Sales, Rosemary (2012). "London's Chinatown". In Donald, Stephanie (ed.). Branding cities : cosmopolitanism, parochialism, and social change. d'Angelo, Alessio; Liang, Xiujing; Montagna, Nicola. London: Routledge. pp. 45–58.
^In the 1950s, followed by SeeWoo, a Chinese supermarket, still serving the community today. Lisle Street was the Mecca of electronic junk, attracting hifi and television enthusiasts from all over southern England