Chinese Community Archives at LMA | London Metropolitan Archives


Chinese Community Archives at LMA

This guide mainly explores collections relating to people of Chinese origin in London, but also highlights some records which relate to China


Chinese people have lived and worked in London since the eighteenth century; the earliest settlers being associated with the East India Company. Immigration became more significant from the 1880s onwards after China's defeat in the 'Opium Wars'. Settlers (mainly seamen) arrived on ship at Thames dockyards and established themselves by working mainly in laundry and catering trades in Limehouse and Stepney, East London.

East London 'slum' clearance, bomb damage during Second World War, the decline of British shipping industry and the advent of high street launderettes, led to the decline of Limehouse as a centre for the Chinese community in London. Further migration of people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Caribbean, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries in South East Asia, and the growing popularity of Chinese restaurants from the 1950s, led to the establishment of the current China Town north of Leicester Square, Soho, Westminster. In 1985 the first organised Chinese New Year festival took place.

Today, the Chinese community is widespread with community centres in several boroughs across London. In 2008 was the third largest minority ethnic group in the United Kingdom.

Collections at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)

Evidence of the Chinese community can be found in a variety of collections.

London-wide Local authority records

London County Council and Greater London Council's Architect's Department Building Act case files also shed light on the change of use of buildings for Chinese community. Examples include Young's Chinese Restaurant, 178/180 Wardour Street, Westminster (formerly Little Hungary Restaurant), 1921 - 1941 (GLC/AR/BR/07/3958); and Yangtze Chinese Restaurant, High Street, Kensington (formerly Wooden Horse Restaurant), 1951-1962 (GLC/AR/BR/07/4471).

The archives of the London Strategic Planning Unit's Recreation and Arts Planning Group include policy files on a number of Chinese community groups which were established in 1980s including Chinese Cultural and Educational Centre, 1986 (LSPU/RAG/01/002).

Further relevant records can be found in the Greater London Council's Recreation and Arts Department: Grants Branch files, including Chinese Film Society, 1986, Camden Chinese Community Centre, 1983-1986; and Ray Man Chinese Orchestra, 1986 (GLC/RA/GR/03/025, 029, 076).

Other collections

The Greater London Council Photographic Library collection (SC/PHL) is a rich source for showing changes in areas following occupation by the Chinese community. Street scenes of modern day China Town (for example Gerrard Street, Lisle Street and Wardour Street) can be compared between pre 1960 and post 1970. There are also photographs for streets in Limehouse where the community originally settled. There is also a photograph of a Chinese family at the Zoological Gardens, Regents Park in circa 1912 (SC/PHL/02/1141).

A collection of research notes and cuttings with draft text for the compilation of a book on Chinese culture, mythology and philosophy, 1920s-1930s, together with published works can be found in the archives of John Groom's Association for Disabled People (LMA/4305/09/028). The connection between this material and the Association is unknown.

Mary Ward Settlement (LMA/4524) archives include David Head, Principal's file on Camden Chinese Community Centre, next door to the Settlement's premises including an invitation to opening, July 1984, papers for Chinese in London Conference, Chinese Action Group, and Chinese school pupil's work produced in Glasgow, Scotland and London, 1979-1985.

Colney Hatch Asylum (Friern Hospital) archives include a case photograph book (H12/CH/B/19/003, page 88) depicting a male Chinese settler Lo Ham (case number 15768) who was at the Asylum between 1908-1920. This volume is unfit for general consultation due to its poor condition and therefore on restricted access. Case notes series in the collection can however be used to discover further information about Lo Ham.

The records of Family Welfare Association and predecessors include the Enquiry Department's files relating to Pak-Hoi Leper Fund in South China (Church Missionary Fund), 1892-1898 including annual reports, 1892, 1895, 1897-1898, with a pamphlet 'With the Lepers at Pakhoi' (A/FWA/C/D/213/001-002).

Business trading in China

Collections of businesses based in City of London which traded in China are also held. These include records of Chinese Engineering and Mining Company Limited, a firm which was established in 1900 to mine coal for steamships in the area around Tientsin, China; and records of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China.

A highlight is the series of Foreign Agency memorandum books, compiled by Foreign Department of Sun Insurance Office Limited (Ms 31522/1-309). These consist of detailed reports on foreign agencies, describing the extent of local fire insurance, fire brigade provision and recent notable fires, including sketch plans, photographs, printed circulars and statistics. Volumes relate to Hong Kong, Shanghai and outports in China 1860s-1920s (Ms 31522/60-65). This series is available by prior appointment.

Oral histories

'Whispers of Time: Memories of Migration and Settlement'

'Whispers of Time' consists of oral history recordings which bring together the testimony of Chinese Londoners, covering personal experiences from what life in China was like before the Second World War, to how the Chinese elders felt about living in London, their experiences and what advice they have for young Chinese Britons. The project was carried out by Chinese National Healthy Living Centre and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Participants were interviewed by young British-born Chinese volunteers. The oral histories were published on DVD in 2005.

The DVD (LMA/4513/02/01/001) contains over 30 interviews in original languages including Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles, covering childhood experiences, Second World War, marriage in China, migration, early impressions of Britain, settlement, achievements, the next generation, and outlook on British Life. In addition to the DVD are copies of the original miniDV tape recordings (series LMA/4513/02/01/03) which are not translated into English. The DVD and copies of the tape recordings are available by prior appointment only. The original miniDV recordings (series LMA/4513/02/01/02) are not available for access.

'Memories of the genuine children of Limehouse Chinatown'

This oral history project documents people who lived in Limehouse in the first half of the twentieth century. The final two DVDs (LMA/4534/01/01/001) were produced in 2005 by River Cultures Festival, an organisation aiming to link local, international and business communities through arts, heritage and workshop activities.
The DVDs consist of 'The Photographs Down Memory Lane' and 'What We Remember'. A highlight is the interview with Connie Hoe, Leslie Hoe and Leslie Heng who are shown walking in Limehouse and reminiscing about their childhood, their Chinese family from Hong Kong and Shanghai, and changes to the area including Limehouse Causeway and Pennyfields before the Second World War. The DVDs are available by prior appointment only.

Between East and West: The British Chinese

Mike Tsang and Pascal Theatre's Heritage Lottery Fund photographic and oral history project including photographs and postcards, 2011-2013 (accession reference: B13/131, future reference LMA/4645) (available by appointment only).

London Chinatown Oral History Project

Recordings and publicity material by Chinese Mental Health Association, 2012-2014. Accession reference: B14/008 (available by appointment only).

Ming-Ai (London) Institute: British Chinese Workforce Heritage Oral History Project.

Over three years (2012-2015) this Heritage Lottery funded project recorded and documented people’s experiences in a range of employment industries including seafaring, laundry, hairdressing, catering, military, community centers, health care, traditional Chinese medicine and newer professions such as information technology. Accession reference: B16/045 (available by appointment only).

'Footprints of the Dragon' deposited collections at LMA

The project 'Footprints of the Dragon' saw the collection of documents and memories of early Chinese settlers and the deposit of a London Chinese community archive at LMA between 2007 and 2008. The project was led by the Chinese National Healthy Living Centre (CNHLC) with London Metropolitan Archives and the London Chinese Community Network as partners, and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.

Until 2005 when 'Whispers of Time' oral history was deposited, no archives had been deposited at LMA from the Chinese Community. By collecting and storing records at LMA the project has helped preserve the history of Chinese occupational settlement, including the archives of community organisations.

Personal, Community centre and small business collections have been deposited as part of the project. They have been catalogued with the collection references LMA/4497-4515, 4518 and 4520. Some records are in Chinese characters only.

Summary details are given below:

  • Cheung, Yick Kwan (LMA/4497): Photograph, publication 'Overseas Chinese in Britain', 1957-1972
  • Wong, Hoi Wah (LMA/4498): Photograph, 1950s
  • East London Chinese Community Centre (LMA/4499): Photographs, 1990s
  • Lee, S (LMA/4500): Personal documents, photographs, 1966-1971
  • Tran, Can (LMA/4501): Certificates, photographs, magazine 'Old China', 1989-1990s
  • Lam, Tom (LMA/4502): Volume of poetry, calligraphic scroll, magazines, photograph, 1968-2007
  • Cheung, Jo Yiu (LMA/4503): Photographs, 1957-2002
  • Lim, Shu Pao (LMA/4504): Photographs, framed picture, fabric cloths, certificates, Camden Chinese Community Centre booklet, 1938-2008
  • Lam, Ting Kau (LMA/4505): Passport, 1960
  • Islington Chinese Association (LMA/4506): Annual reports, open letters to members, booklets, operational guidelines, newsletter. Includes 'Millennium Faces. Chinese Older People in the United Kingdom. A Collection of Black and White Photographs', 2002 (LMA/4506/03/002). 1987-2007
  • Flack, May (LMA/4507): Birth, marriage and death registered entries, articles about May Flack including The People's article 'White Woman Ruler of Chinatown' 1932 (LMA/4507/02/001), photographs, personal documents, family tree, 1888-2008
  • Lam, Yee-Moon (LMA/4508): Passports, 1961-1981
  • Good View Restaurant (LMA/4509): Accounts and record sheets, cash expenses, 198- - 1996
  • Ling, S (LMA/4510): Oral history transcript, 2008
  • Li, Muk Wan (LMA/4511): Travel documents, correspondence, postal order and receipt, 1960-1965
  • Chung, Wong Ying (Ying Ku) (LMA/4512): Photographic reprints, passport, oral history, 1932-2000s
  • Chinese National Healthy Living Centre (LMA/4513): Projects including oral history, printed material, 2004-2008
    Tey, Kin Fong (LMA/4514): Photographs, postcards, 1966-1969
  • So, Chun Loy (LMA/4515): Personal documents, photographs, oral history transcript, 1958-1969
  • Truth and Justice for Richard Chang Campaign (LMA/4518): Printed material, 2007
  • Chinque, Samuel (LMA/4520): Samuel Chinque was a revolutionary activist who co-founded the first overseas branch of Xinhua, the news agency of the People's Republic of China, in London in 1947. He continued to supervise its operations until 1982. Chinque was one of the first Chinese individuals to open premises in what was to become London's Chinatown.
    The Chinque archives include photographs, letters, poems, booklets, invitation cards and other personal documents including a letter from Mrs Sun Yat Sen, chairman of the China Defence League Central Committee, 1941 (LMA/4520/01/02/002), and membership booklet of the Hark Ching Association, Rotterdam, for seaman Lam Ting, 192- (LMA/4520/02/01/001), 1901-2005.

Chinese National Healthy Living Centre (CNHLC)

For more information on LMA's main project partner CNHLC, please visit their website
Or contact:
Chinese National Healthy Living Centre, 29-30 Soho Square, London, W1D 3QS

Tel no: 020 7534 6546

Fax: 020 7534 6545


LMA would like to thank all depositors who took part in the project, Chinese National Healthy Living Centre, London Chinese Community Network and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Further deposited collections at LMA

Accession reference: B14/122, B15/189: Lo Family, business and family papers. Mainly records of Ken Lo (Lo Hsiao Chien) concerning his university life, restaurant business, author, tennis career (Tennis Champion for China - Davis Cup). Highlights include his Consulate work as industrial relations officer in Liverpool, then vice-consul in Manchester (1942-1949); Cathay Arts Limited, gallery and importer and exporters of arts and crafts; Chinese Gourmet Club (founded 1976); Memories of China restaurants (67 Ebury Street, Belgravia (1980), Chelsea Harbour (1989) and Algarve, Portugal; Ken Lo's Kitchen, Europe's first Chinese Cookery School (1980); Publishing cookery author career from 1955. 19-- - 199- (available by appointment only).

Related collections

Parish records are a vital source of information about the identity, age and occupation of individual people, together with details of the place they originally came from.

London Metropolitan Archives is committed to a sector-wide aim to ‘decolonise’ archive collections through opening them up to new ways of interrogation and interpretation. The 'Black and Asian Londoners Project: Presence and Background 1536-1840' used parish records to gather a significant body of evidence about African, Caribbean and Asian individuals living in London during this period. This information is now available on our online public catalogue as a distinct collection entitled Switching the Lens: Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous Heritage 1561-1840. The ongoing development of this dataset is a part of a wider aim to ‘decolonise’ the collections at London Metropolitan Archives, through new ways of interrogation and interpretation.

Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives holds records relating to Limehouse, including the archives of Stepney Metropolitan Borough Council. There is a photographic collection relating to the Chinese community in East London.

Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, 277 Bancroft Road, El 4DQ

Tel: 020 7364 1290


Further reading

  • Benton, Gregor. The Chinese in Britain, 1800-present: economy, trans-nationalism, identity, 2008 [LMA: 20.172/BEN]
  • Burke, Thomas. The Song Book of Quong Lee of Limehouse [LMA 46.8 BUR]
  • Lau, She. Mr Ma and Son in London 1928 (2005). An auto biography of a Chinese middle-class settler in London. [Not held at LMA. Held at British Library: YK.2008.a.25625]
  • Illustrated London News 1909 April. 'Roast Sucking Pig and Whisky for the Dead' (image of East London cemetery Chinese rituals) [LMA 67.0 ILN 1909 April]
  • Ng Kwee Choo. The Chinese in London. London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1968 [Not held at LMA. Held at Guildhall Library SL 21:8]

Published London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London, EC1R OHB

Telephone: 020 7332 3820
Fax: 020 7833 9136

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