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The last Tuesday of every month is open house night at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Each month, the RIBA’s 66 Portland Place headquarters puts on a range of talks, tours, exhibitions and film screenings around a single topic.
October’s event, City Stories!, focused on great cities and their hidden histories, and included a fascinating talk by Dr Yat Ming Loo on London’s first Chinatown.
From the mid-nineteenth century Chinese seamen from Canton and Shanghai settled close to Limehouse Docks, with communities emerging on Limehouse Causeway, Pennyfields and Amoy Place.
Between the 1890s and 1920s the area become notorious as a place of gambling, opium dens and evocative smells – the legend of Fu Manchu originated here. However, the reality was quite different, with a very familiar London street scene greeting those who were curious, albeit with clinics, shops and boarding houses run by the Chinese.
The Blitz and various slum clearance projects before and after the Second World War saw the end of London’s first Chinatown, and there is little physical trace left today.
In the 1940s and 50s many families moved to the West End to capitalise on the growing demand for Chinese food, laying the foundations for London’s present day Chinatown.
Yat Ming Loo’s upcoming book “Architecture and Urban Form in Kuala Lumpur: Race and Chinese Spaces in a Postcolonial City” will be published in April 2013.
The next “Last Tuesdays” event on 27 November, Colour Me Vertical, will explore colour, light and architecture. Admission is free.