Posts Tagged ‘sex’

The Prostitutes’ Padre Harold Davidson and the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The Rector of Stiffkey, Harold Davidson with Estelle Douglas 1932

‘It is very hard to be good, once you have been bad.’ - Barbara Harris

The Reverend Harold Francis Davidson, the Rector of the small Norfolk parish of Stiffkey for twenty-five years, was utterly besotted and bewitched by pretty young girls – of that there was no doubt. How he behaved in the company of said pretty young girls was more up for debate; and in 1932 it seemed the whole country, including the highest echelons of the Church of England, was debating exactly that.

The Rector preaching at Stiffkey

Every Sunday, from 1906 to 1932, with a break for the First World War when he joined the Royal Navy, the Reverend Davidson was always at his pulpit at the Stiffkey church. He spent the rest of the week, however, in Soho in London, catching the first train every Monday morning and the last one back to Norfolk on Saturday night.

The Stiffkey locals joked that especially in the summer it was best not to die on a Monday morning as the body, by the time the reverend made it back for the funeral, would be rather malodorous. He was well-liked all the same by most of his local parish.

During the week Davidson, often without his dog-collar, would walk around the streets of the West End essentially stalking and pursuing girls wherever he went.. Whether it was attactive young actresses, shop girls or waitresses none of them were particularly safe from the the glint in the Reverend’s eye.

Until the day he died the Rector always argued that he was doing nothing else but God’s work as he wondered around Soho. His aim in life, he claimed, was helping young women, particularly shop-assistants and waitresses, many of whom had left home for the first time and were on very low wages, from falling into a life of prostitution. He once said:

I cannot help feeling, that is, say, half the London clergy would, individually, spend a quarter of the time I spent looking after country girls stranded in London…instead of wasting their time…at gossiping Mothers’ Meeting, Parish Tea fights, and Society functions, there might not be so many thousands of the poor, misguided girls openly, shamelessly plying their terrible trade.

At his own estimate Davidson had made the acquaintance of, in one way or another, two to three thousand girls between 1919 (when he returned home from the First World War to an adulterous and pregnant wife) and 1932:

I was picking up in this way roughly, as my diaries show, an average of about 150 to 200 girls a year, and taking them to restaurants for a meal and a talk, of these I was able definitely to help into good jobs of work a very large number.

When Davidson talked about ‘restaurants’ he almost certainly would have been talking about relatively cheap cafes such as the J. Lyon’s Tea Shops of which there were many around London, and indeed around the country, in the twenties and thirties. The first of the Lyons teashops opened at 213 Piccadilly in 1894 (it’s still a cafe, now called Ponti’s and you can still see the original stucco ceiling of the original teashop).

Soon there were  more than 250 white and gold fronted teashops occupying prominent positions in many of London’s high streets. Food and drink prices were the same in each teashop irrespective of locality and the tea was the best available although the Lyons blend was never sold or made available to the public.

The J. Lyons flagships shops were the Corner Houses situated on or near the corners of Coventry Street, the Strand and Tottenham Court Road. They were started in 1909 and remained until 1977. They were gigantic places with food being served on four or five floors. In its heyday the Coventry Street Corner House served about 5000 covers and employed about 400 staff. There were hairdressing salons, telephone booths and even at one point a food delivery service. For a time the Coventry Street Corner House were open 24 hours a day.

Lyons Corner House, Coventry Street.

The hot food counter in Lyon’s Corner House restaurant in Coventry Street. The bar is made of functional steel, with built-in hot water jets and a row of tea urns, which is in marked contrast to the classical styling of the rest of the restaurant.

Davidson at a Foyles Literary Luncheon at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. “I could get you in films, you know”.

An associate of the Reverend Davidson called J. Rowland Sales once referred to an incident that occurred in the large Coventry Street Corner House while they were drinking tea together. Davidson was telling a very sad story about a homeless couple he had recently found sleeping under a hedge in Norfolk and became visibly upset. All of a sudden, however, his demeanour changed instantly and it was almost like he was a completely different person, recounted Sales.  The reason was because a young ‘nippy waitress’ had walked by. Suddenly Davidson called out ‘Excuse me, Miss. You must be the sister of Jessie Matthews‘, before leaping up and rushing out of the teashop promising the startled waitress that he would get her a part in a new play that was opening in London.”

Lyons’ Nippy waitresses

In 1926 there was a staff competition to name to choose a nickname for the Lyon’s teashops’ waitresses – the former name of ‘Gladys’ was now seen as old fashioned. The waitresses wore starched caps with a big, red ‘L’ embroidered in the centre, a black Alpaca dress with a double row of pearl buttons sewn with red cotton and white detachable cuffs and collar, a white square apron worn at dropped-waist level. The name ‘Nippy’ was eventually chosen for the connotation that the waitresses nipped speedily around – often trying to avoid the advances of middle-aged men like Harold Davidson no doubt.

The Perfect Nippy

It was once reported by Picture Post that 800-900 Nippies got married to customers ‘met on duty’ every year and they wrote that ‘being a Nippy is good  training for a housewife’. If ‘Nippy’ sounds a trifle strange as a name for a waitress, its worth noting that other rejected suggestions included ‘Sybil-at-your-service’, ‘Miss Nimble’, Miss Natty’, ‘Busy Betty’ and even ‘Dextrous Doris’.

The strange and rather bizarre stories of Reverend Davidson behaviour in Soho eventually came to be noticed by his employer – the Church of England, notably the Bishop of Norwich. In 1931 the Bishop decided to investigate Davidson, and soon the self-styled Prostitutes’ Padre was charged with offences against public morality under the 1892 Clergy Discipline Act.

A consistory court, which is a type of ecclesiastical court used by the Church of England to this day for the trial of clergy (below the rank of bishop) accused of immoral acts, opened at Church House in Westminster on 29 March 1932. A Consistory court has no jury and is presided over, in place of a judge, by what is called a Chancellor of the Diocese.

The original Church House was founded in 1887 and built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It was knocked down and replaced in 1937 the year of Davidson’s death.

Inside Church House

The court case was a sensation and front page news. Davidson wasn’t slow in courting the press and on the first day of the trial arrived in flamboyant style while smoking a characteristic large cigar. He even signed autographs.

Harold and his cigar

Davidson’s Family outside Church House in Westminster

Amongst, what seemed like hundreds of Nippies and domestic servants brought up to give evidence, the prosecution’s star witness was a young woman called Barbara Harris whom Davidson had met in 1930. He had first seen her at Marble Arch – a popular haunt of prostitutes at the time – and he used his old tried and tested trick of comparing Barbara to a famous actress, this time Greta Garbo.

Barbara was just sixteen and already a prostitute suffering from gonorrhea. She had never known her father and been abandoned by her mother who suffered from mental illness. She welcomed the kind gentleman’s offer of help and was soon pouring out her life-story to Davidson, no doubt in a Lyons cafe in the near vicinity. Davidson helped her find lodgings and they became close over the next 18 months.

Rosie Ellis, one of the main witnesses at Davidson’s trial.

Star proscecution witness Barbara Harris arriving at the church court. 1932

The Worshipful F. Keppel North, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich ie the Judge.

The rector gave Barbara money and even found her a job in domestic service at Villiers Street in Charing Cross but she quickly tired of both the job and the reverend’s repeated attentions. At one point she gave him a black-eye and threw coins at him but he continually came back for more.

One morning at 9 am Davidson had appeared at the room where she was sleeping. During the court case the prosecution asked Barbara about this:

Prosecution: What did he do?

Barbara: He tried to have intercourse with me.

Prosecution: Did you let him?

Barbara: No

Prosecution: When you refused, did he say anything?

Barbara: He said he was sorry afterwards.

Chancellor: When he tried to have intercourse with you, did he do anything to his clothes?

Barbara: Yes, he said he got them into a mess.

Chancellor: Did he undo his clothes?

Prosecution: Did he do anything? You said something about his clothes being in a mess?

Barbara: He relieved himself.

Prosecution: Did that happen more than once?

Barbara: More than once. It happened two or three times.

Prosecution: You say you kissed him?

Barbara: Yes.

Prosecution: How often was he kissing you?

Barbara: He was always kissing me.

Prosecution: Did he ever ask you to do things?

Barbara: Yes, he once asked me to give myself to him body and soul…

“I know he has the keys of a lot of girls flats, and front doors” – a letter from Barbara Harris to the Bishop of Norwich.

If this wasn’t enough, near the end of the trial additional evidence was suddenly produced which ultimately finished Davidson’s clerical career.

To Davidson’s utter shock and horrified disbelief, the prosecution produced a photograph of the reverend standing next to a naked 15 year old actress. The girl was called Estelle Douglas and was the daughter of a friend of his – an actress he had helped to get on stage some twenty years before. In turn she had asked Davidson to try and get her daughter into films.

The rectory rather naively holding a pyjama party with young actresses to be, including Estelle Douglas, 1932.

A photoshoot had been organised at the Stiffkey rectory with the idea of taking publicity shots of Estelle in her bathing suit. At one point the photographer told Estelle that the strap of the bathing suit and her chemise were both showing and, apparently out of earshot of the Reverend, asked her to remove them, leaving her with a black tasselled shawl to protect her modesty. A series of photographs were then taken.

Harold Davidson rushing to protect the young actress’s modesty. 1932

According to Davidson the photographer offered fifty pounds to take a photograph of him and Estelle with the intention of selling it to the newspapers. Davidson was broke and needed the money and rather stupidly agreed to the request. Whether the photograph was set-up or not (there is evidence to suggest that it was) it was now all over for the ‘Prostitute’s Padre’ and the court found him guilty of five counts of immoral conduct. He was charged £8,205 costs and his career in the Church was finished.

Mr and Mrs Gladstone. Their marriage was happier than it looked. Despite the prostitutes.

Of course the Reverend Davidson wasn’t the first member of the establishment who seemingly spent most of his spare time giving a helping hand up to fallen women in central London. Extraordinarily finding time while being Prime Minister four times, the Chancellor of the Exchequer four times, passing the third Reform Act and trying to establish home-rule in Ireland, William Ewart Gladstone was notorious for wandering around the darker environs of the West End.

With almost reckless abandon he searched for young women to ‘rescue’ often asking them back to his house. A shocked Private Secretary once asked him ‘What would your wife say?’. ‘Why’ Gladstone answered, ‘it is to my wife that I’m bringing her’. His wife Catherine would indeed feed the women and give them a place to sleep before finding, not always particularly gratefully, a temporary shelter to stay. Catherine Gladstone once astutely wrote that it was ‘a common thing for [servants] to be engaged without wages or clothes and only for ‘food every other day’. Who can wonder at girls so situated yielding to temptation and sin?’

Although Gladstone was completely open about his ‘rescuing’ of the young street women, even he wrote in his diary that he had occasionally committed ‘adultery of the heart’ and ‘delectation morosa’ meaning ‘enjoying thinking of evil without the intention of action’. Indeed a fellow parliamentarian called Henry Labouchere, MP for Northampton, wryly noted that:

‘Gladstone manages to combine his missionary meddling with a keen appreciation of a pretty face. He has never been known to rescue any of our East End whores, nor for that matter it is easy to contemplate his rescuing any ugly woman and I am quite sure his convention of the Magdalen is of incomparable example of pulchritude with a a superb figure and carriage.’

Gladstone spent a minimum of £2000 a year helping prostitutes and providing shelters. He lived until the ripe old age of eighty-nine with an extraordinarily full political life. Less than forty years later, at the age of just fifty-seven the former Rector of Stiffkey and the self-styled ‘prostitutes’ padre’ found himself on the scrap-heap. He picked himself up and, using his experience on the stage as a young man, he turned himself into a showman in order to attract as much publicity and money as possible. He wanted to appeal his court case and believed he should have been tried by a jury.

His most imfamous stunt involved him fasting inside a barrel at Blackpool. The container was fitted with an electric light and a small chimney from which his cigar smoke could escape. Through a grille he’d protest his innocence to anyone who would listen and even invited Ghandi to meet him there for tea. To no avail I might add.

The Rector with his barrel.

Davidson in Blackpool in 1933 outside the barrels.

Despite his stunts becoming more and more outrageous, for instance at one point he was being roasted in an oven while being prodded in the buttocks with a pitchfork by a mechanical devil, the erstwhile clergyman’s fame was beginning to wane. In the summer of 1937 Davidson tried one more stunt and at Thompson’s Amusement Park in Skegness he was billed as ‘A modern Daniel in a lion’s den.” Davidson stood in a cage with a lion called Freddie and a lioness called Toto. Again he spoke about the injustice he had been dealt merged with a torrent of abuse against his former church leaders.

Rector with Freddie the Lion in 1937, Skegness.

Unfortunately on the 28th July Davidson accidentally stood on Toto’s tail. Presumably because of the lioness’s sudden movement Freddie attacked the former rector. The lion mauled him around the neck and shook him around like a rag-doll.

Despite the bravery of a 16 year old lion tamer called Renee Somer who fought the lion back using a whip and an iron bar, Davidson was admitted to Skegness Cottage Hospital. It is said that the publicity-hungry Davidson, with blood pouring from his neck, still had the presence of mind to say:

“Telephone the London newspapers – we still have time to make the first editions!”

The badly injured Davidson died in hospital two days later and a verdict of misadventure was returned at the inquest. He was buried in Stiffkey churchyard and with the help of the police to control the crowds, over two thousand mourners attended the funeral.

Looking back eighty years ago, Harold Davidson was almost certainly badly treated by his bishop and the Church of England. He could always be accused of extreme naivety and extraordinary eccentricity but was probably only guilty of an avuncular caress or two (alright lots of avuncular caresses!). However evidence of true immorality was almost non-existent and almost certainly he helped hundreds of young women away  from a life of prostitution.

Harold Davidson’s grave at Stiffkey in 2010.

Binnie Hale talks about her role in ‘Nippy’ the 1930 musical


Chinatown, the Death of Billie Carleton and the ‘Brilliant’ Chang

Sunday, October 25th, 2009
Billie Carlton

Billie Carleton

Seventeen days after World War One had ended, a young pretty actress called Billie Carleton had a starring role at the huge Victory Ball held at the Albert Hall on 28th November 1918. One newspaper described her appearance:

It seemed that every man there wished to dance with her. Her costume was extraordinary and daring to the utmost, but so attractive and refined was her face that it never occurred to any one to be shocked. The costume consisted almost entirely of transparent black georgette.

Just a few months previously Tatler magazine had described one of her appearances on a London stage, saying that she had:

Cleverness, temperament and charm. Not enough of the first, and perhaps too much of the latter.

Carleton was well on the way to becoming a big star by now but her career was continually being held back by what was becoming a rather obvious and large drug habit. And, unfortunately, the girl with too much charm and the daring costume was found dead in her Savoy Hotel suite by her maid the morning after the Victory ball. She was just 22 years old.

A gold box containing cocaine was found at her bedside and at the inquest it was suggested that she had died of ‘cocaine poisoning’. Although it was more likely that a combination of cocaine and some kind of depressant helped end her short life.

Billie Carlton in 1916

Billie Carlton in 1916

The subsequent court case revealed a highly dubious way of life for a young woman of the time. Witnesses described her heavy cocaine and opium use and it became known that the London-born actress, who incidentally never knew her father, was involved with three ‘sugar daddies’. Two of these helped her financially – she had a very expensive life-style to maintain including a permanent suite at the Savoy Hotel – while the other, a married dress-designer called Reggie de Veulle, was more of a drug-taking partner.

The Daily Sketch front page January 24th 1919

The Daily Sketch front page January 24th 1919

It was de Veulle who had given Carleton the cocaine that apparently had killed her. He had bought the drug a few days previously from a Scottish woman called Ada and her Chinese husband Lau Ping You who both lived on the Limehouse Causeway. In court it came to light that de Veulle had been involved in a previous homosexual blackmail case and with a headline that read “An Opium Circle. Chinaman’s Wife Sent to Prison. High Priestess of Unholy Rites” the normally staid Times reported that both de Veulle and Carleton had been at an all-night ‘orgy’ in a Mayfair flat where the women wore flimsy nighties and the men silk pyjamas while smoking opium.

The press and the court, however, considered Billie Carleton a tragic innocent victim describing her as having:

“a certain frail beauty of that perishable, moth-like substance that does not last long in the wear and tear of this rough-and-ready world.”

Ada was sentenced to five months hard labour, her husband escaped with just a ten pound fine while, despite the judge’s direction, the jury acquitted Carleton’s friend Reggie de Veulle of her manslaughter. He admitted, however, to supplying Carleton cocaine and was imprisoned for eight months.

The death of beautiful girl from drugs combined with the involvement of a Chinese man created what was to become the first big drug scandal of the 20th century. The press, as they say, whipped themselves into a frenzy and the newspaper Pictorial News, for instance, ran a series of pieces about the East End of London and what they described as the encroaching ‘Yellow Peril’.

In the real world the so-called ‘yellow peril’ was actually a small, relatively law-abiding Chinese community which had been based around the Limehouse docks area from around the beginning of the 19th century. By the beginning of the twentieth century there were two separate communities in the area – the Chinese from Shanghai were based around Pennyfields and Ming Street (between the present Westferry and Poplar DLR stations) whereas the immigrants from Southern China and Canton lived around Gill Street and the Limehouse Causeway. By 1911 the whole area had started to be called Chinatown by the rest of London.

The East End Chinatown in 1911

The East End Chinatown in 1911

Three seamen on the West India Dock Road

Three seamen on the West India Dock Road

Bag and sack shop circa 1900

Bag and sack shop circa 1900

Considering that there were rarely more than a few hundred Chinese people living around Limehouse before and after the first world war (in fact Liverpool had a far larger Chinese population), the East End Chinatown had an extraordinarily bad reputation.

It wasn’t just the fault of a slavering press looking for scandal and writing lurid headlines about opium dens and the white-slave traders there were also numerous writers, novelists and even film-makers that were helping to greatly exaggerate the danger and immorality of the area. At times it seemed that Limehouse was almost singlehandedly responsible for corroding the moral backbone of the British middle-classes.

Limehouse in 1927

Limehouse in 1927


Shop in Pennyfields in 1924

Shop in Pennyfields in 1924

Limehouse in 1910

Limehouse in 1910

HV Morton the famous travel essayist and journalist wrote about Limehouse in his book ‘The Nights of London’ in 1926:

The squalor of Limehouse is that strange squalor of the East which seems to conceal vicious splendour. There is an air of something unrevealed in those narrow streets of shuttered houses, each one of which appears to be hugging its own dreadful little secret… you might open a filthy door and find yourself in a palace sweet with joss-sticks, where queer things happen in a mist of smoke……The silence grips you, almost persuading you that behind it is something which you are always on the verge of discovering; some mystery of vice or of beauty, or of terror and cruelty.

The fact that the Chinese community liked to gamble and smoke opium was bad enough but it seemed to be the fear of sexual contact between the races (which the drug-taking of course only exacerbated) that frightened so many people; especially the newspaper editors of the time. ‘White Girls Hypnotised by Yellow Men’ shouted the Evening News, writing that it was the duty ‘of every Englishman and Englishwoman to know the truth about the degradation of young white girls’.

Limehouse Nights a collection of stories by Thomas Burke

Limehouse Nights a collection of stories by Thomas Burke

Thomas Burke, writing for an apprehensive suburban readership that lapped up his writings, even in the US, wrote a number of ‘sordid and morbid’ short stories and newspaper articles about the Limehouse Chinatown. One of his stories, from a collection entitled Limehouse Nights, was called ‘The Chink and the Child’ and was actually made into a successful film called ‘Broken Blossoms by DW Griffiths starring Lilian Gish.


Broken Blossoms directed by DW Griffiths

Broken Blossoms directed by DW Griffiths in 1919, its alternative title was The Yellow man and the Girl. Lillian Gish was 26 at the time.

Another of the stories from Limehouse Nights was called Tai Fu and Pansy Greers and was about a young white woman who submitted her self to a ‘loathly, fat and old’ Chinese man:

He was a dreadful doper. He was a connoisseur, and used his selected yen-shi (opium) and yen-hok (a needle used to cook the opium pellet) as an Englishman uses a Cabanas…She went to him that night at his house in the Causeway. He opened the door himself, and flung a low-lidded, wine-whipped glance about her that seemed to undress her where she stood, noting her fault and charm as one notes an animal. He did not love her; there was no sentiment in this business. Brute cunning and greed were in his brow, and lust was in his lips… What he did to her in the blackness of that curtained room of his had best not be imagined. But she came away with bruised limbs and body, with torn hair, and a face paled to death.

Sax Rohmer was another former journalist that used his knowledge of Limehouse to write popular fiction, notably the incredibly successful Fu Manchu novels about a depraved Chinese man whose evil empire’s headquarters was based improbably in Limehouse:

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present…Imagine that awful being and you have a mental picture of Dr Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.

Sax Rohmer

Sax Rohmer


The Mask of Fu Manchu released in 1932

The Mask of Fu Manchu released in 1932

Myrna Loy in Mask of Fu Manchu

Myrna Loy in Mask of Fu Manchu

Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories went on to inspire over thirty films and television series throughout the following decades. However Rohmer also wrote a novel called Dope in which a character called Rita Dresden was unashamedly based on Billie Carleton. A silly socialite in the same novel called Mollie Gretna envies the Scottish wife of the Chinese drug dealer:

I have read that Chinamen tie their wives to beams in the roof and lash them with leather thongs. I could die for a man who lashed me with leather thongs. Englishmen are so ridiculously gentle to women!

Freda Kempton in 1922

Freda Kempton in 1922

Four years after the death of Billie Carleton, a girl of roughly the same age called Freda Kempton, was found dead after an overdose of cocaine. At the inquest of the young nightclub ‘dance instructress’ the press found out that on the night of her death she had been with a notorious drug dealer called, rather brilliantly, Billy ‘Brilliant’ Chang at his Regent Street restaurant. He told the Coroner at her inquest “Freda was a friend of mine but I know nothing about the cocaine. It is all a mystery to me”. Chang during the inquest was portrayed as a man with a magnetic attraction to white women and one newspaper wrote that after the verdict:

“Some of the girls rushed to Chang, patted his back, and one, more daring than the rest, fondled the Chinaman’s black, smooth hair and passed her fingers slowly through it.”

According to the coroner there was no proof that he was linked to the death but the police, and the press, were convinced that he was. By now Chang had sold his restaurant in Regent Street and opened the Palm Court Club in Gerrard Street. There’s a strong possibility that Chang was the first Chinese man to open a business in the street which was to become the centre of the new Chinatown in London forty or so years later.

Billy 'Brilliant' Chang

Billy ‘Brilliant’ Chang during the inquest of Freda Kempton

Limehouse Causeway in 1924

Limehouse Causeway, the location of Brilliant Chang’s flat in 1924

Due to continuous police raids Chang sold up again and moved to Limehouse where he opened the Shanghai Restaurant. His flat was at 13 Limehouse Causeway (coincidentally just four doors away from where Mr and Mrs Lau Ping You lived) below a top floor let to two Chinese sailors and it was here in 1924 when his luck finally ran out.

The police had already twice raided his Limehouse flat and although they found no drugs on one occasion they found two chorus girls in his bed. On the third attempt however, and armed with evidence from a drug addicted actress called Violet Payne, they found a wrap of cocaine behind a loose wooden board and they arrested the man who may have been controlling 40 per cent of the London cocaine trade.

During the trial, the press, again pruriently slavering, had a field day. The World Pictorial News wrote:

“Sometimes one girl alone went with Chang to learn the mysteries of that intoxicatingly beautiful den of iniquity above the restaurant. At other times half-a-dozen drug-frenzied women together joined him in wild orgies.”

As well as the cocaine the police found at Chang’s home a pile of identical handwritten letters:


Dear Unknown – Please do not regard this as a liberty that I write to you, as i am really unable to resist the temptation after having seen you so many times. I should extremely like to know you better, and should be glad if you would do me the honour of meeting me one evening where we could have a little dinner and a quiet chat together. I do hope you will consent to this, as it will give me great pleasure, and in any case do not be cross with me for having written to you.

Yours hopefully, Chang.

P.S. – If you reply, please address it to me at the Shanghai Restaurant, Limehouse-Causeway, E14.

Chang was sentenced to fourteen months in prison after which he was deported. His ship left from the Royal Albert Docks and it was reported that one girl shouted out as he was leaving ‘Come back soon, Chang!’.

The local council, maybe because of the’Yellow Peril’ nonsense exaggerated by the wild press reports, lurid novels and films, started to clear the slums in the Limehouse area. This started to break up the original London Chinatown and a few years later the Second World War practically finished the job as the area was razed to the ground by the wartime bombing.



The Chinatown we know today began not long after the war when a few restaurants opened in Lisle Street, the road that runs parallel to Gerrard Street where Brilliant Chang briefly ran his nightclub. The area was on the edge of Soho where foreign restaurants had long been the norm and the rents were cheap for a West End central location.

The funeral of Chong Mong Young in 1964

The funeral of Chong Mong Young in 1964

Macclesfield Street in 1972

Macclesfield Street in 1972

The number of restaurants increased mainly because of returning servicemen who had discovered a taste for food from the far East. However, when in 1951 the UK government finally recognised Mao Zedong’s communist regime, the diplomats and staff of the now defunct Chinese Nationalist Embassy suddenly had to find new jobs. A lot of them, including the famous restauranteur and cookery writer Ken Lo choose to open Cantonese restaurants in the area we now know as Chinatown.

A lot of the information and inspiration for this post comes from the really excellent book Dope Girls by Marek Kohn.

George Formby – Chinese Laundry Blues

Django Reinhardt – Limehouse Blues