17th Century
The first buildings appear on the site of present-day Chinatown in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London. Lord Gerrard, the area’s owner gives permission for developer Nicholas Barbon to build houses on what is now Gerrard Street.

18th Century
The first Chinese sailors appear in London as employees of the East India Company.

Britain takes over Hong Kong, paving the way for a growing number of Chinese people to arrive in London.

London’s first Chinatown becomes firmly rooted in the East End as growing numbers of Chinese sailors and traders settle and open businesses in the Limehouse area. Chinese shops and cafes begin to spring up.

At least 30 Chinese businesses, including several laundries, are operating in Limehouse.

The aerial bombing of London’s East End causes so much damage to the Limehouse community that it begins to move west to present-day Chinatown in Soho.

British soldiers returning from the Far East bring with them a new taste for Chinese food; restaurants begin to spring up in the new Chinatown as the community capitalises on this new clientele. By 1950, there are around 2000 Chinese in Britain, including many veterans of the wartime Merchant Navy. Many are working in Chinatown’s new restaurants.

Growing numbers of Chinese arrive from Hong Kong to work in the now-booming restaurant trade. Chinatown’s community grows further as the wives and children of these workers move to London to join their husbands.

A Daily Telegraph article titled “The Strange Community of Gerrard Street” highlights Chinatown’s evolution from an area of solely restaurants to a community serviced by “Chinese barbers, Chinese beauty parlours, Chinese mini-cabs, accountants, bookshops and libraries, supermarkets, travel agents, gambling clubs and even a chamber of trade”. Early 1970s Community life develops further with the introduction of schools to teach Chinatown’s children their mother tongue and maintain links to their homeland. Local clubs and cinemas are rented to show Chinese films to packed audiences.

The London Chinese Chinatown Association is formed to promote stronger links between Chinatown’s community and the City Council, Police and the community outside of Soho.

The Chinese Community Centre is opened and becomes a popular venue for gatherings and social events.

Mid-1980s In recognition of Chinatown’s significance, Westminster City Council collaborates with the Chinese community on a series of initiatives to improve the area, including the restoration of Lisle Street’s 18th century shop fronts.

Chinatown’s first organised Chinese New Year celebrations take place.

Late 1980s Gerrard Street, parts of Newport Place and Macclesfield Street become pedestrianised and Chinese gates, street furniture and a Chinese pagoda are erected.

Chinatown’s Chinese New Year celebrations are expanded to include Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square.
Present day Chinatown now encompasses Gerrard St, the bottom half of Wardour St, Rupert St and Rupert Court, a section of Shaftesbury Avenue, Lisle St, Macclesfield Street and Newport Place, Newport Court and Little Newport Street. The community holds several festivals throughout the year and boasts 78 restaurants with cuisine from across East Asia, 53 shops including herbal remedy treatments, hairdressers, pharmacists, reflexology specialists and travel agencies, and 12 bars and pubs.