The term ‘Chinatown’ means an area outside China itself that is an ‘ethnic enclave’ of Chinese people. These are found around the world, the oldest being Binodo in Manilla, established in 1594. London’s first Chinatown was in Limehouse in London’s East End. It formed at the beginning of the 20th century and lasted as a recognised area until it was bombed during the Blitz in World War II. This Chinatown, in the Soho district, has its roots in the 1950s but it really formed properly during the 1960s and 70s. It was nicknamed ‘The Imperial City’ at this time, but the iconic street furniture – the oriental style gates, the pagoda and the stone lions – were all installed in the 1980s.
This area is home to some of the best Chinese restaurants in London and arguably the country, although with more than 80 to pick from it would take quite a while to try them all. There were proposals to redevelop part of this area but it was strongly opposed by most local retailers as they argued that it would ruin Chinatown’s ethnic characteristics.
Did you know? Led Zeppelin’s first rehearsal in August 1968 was in a basement in Chinatown’s Gerrard Street, although nobody now knows exactly which basement it was.