Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Slightly Alternative Venue for Chinese New Year - Limehouse

As I’m out of Shanghai and in London for Chinese New Year I thought I still ought to celebrate somehow and go somewhere. As I posted the other day, London has a pretty major Chinese New Year celebration but that’s all up in Gerrard Street. So I decided to pay my respects and head down to Limehouse and Pennyfields, the original old Chinatown of London in the East End.

Regular readers will know I have posted on Limehouse before (see post on Brilliant Chang). I used to visit the area regularly as a little kid in the mid-70s with my Dad who worked all over the East End. Back then there were still some old Chinese people living down there and a couple of restaurants left. I clearly remember going in a school/community centre in Limehouse where old Chinese people were playing Mah-jongg. This must have been about 1976-77.

But all that’s gone now and to be honest pretty much everything was already gone long before. The London County Council (LCC) has slated the old Chinatown for development anyway and then the Luftwaffe finished off the job in the Second World War as most of the remaining Chinese in Limehouse moved West.

So I popped down to Pennyfields for a nostalgic look around.

Pennyfields, the old heart of Chinatown is all council housing now (left is the old street, now all Tower Hamlets council housing)) – none of the original houses are left sadly so you cannot easily get a sense of the old world now gone. Though of course this is the back of the West India Dock and not far from the East India Dock so the road names would have felt familiar to the Chinese at least reflecting where the trade routes were flowing - I've added Canton, Nankin and Pekin Streets below - there's also a Ming and a Mandarin Street too nearby.

If you want to see some images from the BBC of the old Limehouse Chinatown and some Chinese-Cockneys talking about what the old Limehouse was like click here.

So thanks to those bastards in the Luftwaffe who really, really hated Cockneys be they English, Jewish, Chinese or anything else, only the names and the memories remain. Still, it was nice to spend Chinese New Year wandering among ghosts.


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