The first presence of Chinese people in Liverpool dated back to the early 19th century, but the main influx arrival at the end of the 19th century.

In 1942, a strike was held by Chinese sailors in Liverpool for equal pay to that of local seamen. The strike lasted for four months. The strike was ultimately unsuccessful, resulting in the Chinese being forbidden shore jobs and being offered one-way voyages back to China. The Chinese archway erected in Liverpool in 2000 superseded Manchester’s as the largest in Europe. In 2006, a memorial plaque in remembrance of the Chinese sailors expelled from Britain in the late 1940s was erected on Liverpool's Pier Head.

  • Date: 15-Dec-2009
  • Place:
    • Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AQ
    • Chinese Seamen’s memorial plaque, Pier Head, Liverpool, Merseyside, L3
    • Former site of Arthur Holt/Blue Funnel Offices, Pitt Street, Liverpool, L1 5JJ
    • Chinese Arch / Chinatown, Berry Street, Liverpool, L1 (other streets connected to Chinatown, Nelson Street)
    • Wah Sing Community Centre & Chinese Language School, 149 Duke Street, Liverpool, L1 4JR, UK
    • Pagoda Community Centre, Henry Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 5BU

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15 December 2009

Again, an early start, but had a puncture as we were going to meet Moira at the Liverpool Maritime Museum. Moira was our local researcher and artist. The weather was not too bad but still very cold. We were excited when the mini-bus entered the city centre; there were a lot of different colourful penguins standing guard of the city (I suspected the city of Liverpool followed the idea of Chicago Cow). We had a brief meeting before starting our journey. Moira is a good organiser with plenty of experience in oral history projects. But her strength is that she is well connected to the local Chinese community.

We first visited the exhibition – “Art of the Sea Paintings”, then the Maritime archive and Ocean archive. An hour in the archives made us all very excited. We were browsing through 3 brown boxes containing plenty of old photos, and tried to figure out which ones might be useful to the project. Ryszard made one sketch based on a photo and of a monument in the cemetery.

Then we drove to Chinatown; we entered the Nook pub in Nelson Street which the local Chinese have patronised since 1941. We spoke to the local supermarket owner about the Chinese arch (it was sponsored by Shanghai city, and the Chinese workers who built the arch had spent months in Liverpool where the local community undertook responsibilities for their board and lodging). And we met with a group of elderly Chinese after lunch, one of them told us his wage was £7 a week for washing dishes in 1967. The last stops of our journey in Liverpool were Wah Sing Chinese Community Centre in Duke Street and Pagoda Chinese Community Centre in Henry Street, before we waving goodbye to Moira and continuing our journey.

- by Chungwen Li


Brief Summary

Liverpool is a World Heritage City yet despite the Liverpool Chinese Elders being the oldest Chinese community in Europe, little is known of their journey, settlement and dialects.

Liverpool ship owners Alfred and Philip Holt established the first direct steamship service from Europe to China in the late 1800’s consequently the Chinese first came to Liverpool as seafarers and trade links between Liverpool and Shanghai were firmly established. However, in 1871 no Chinese lodgers or Chinese crew on ships at anchor were on record in the City.

The Chinese seamen settled close to the docks in and around Cleveland Square. When the first Chinese shop opened in Pitt Street shortly after World War One, Pitt Street and Frederick Street were already populated by Jewish, African and Scandinavian seamen.

Liverpool was granted City Status in 1880 and China decided to establish an embassy in Britain in 1868 but was met with a hostile reaction. In 1906 due to the spread of anti-Chinese feelings the council set up an investigative commission.

In 1918 statistics obtained by the Police stated the total number of Chinese men on shore in Liverpool as 3,200. (Hyde E. Francis, Blue Funnel: A history of Alfred Holt & Co of Liverpool, 1865 – 1914.)

As the first gambling dens opened up in 1917, the Chinese Seamen’s Welfare Centre opened in Bedford Street to provide a place for the sailors to gather.

Plans to re-build Chinatown were first published in the Post and Mercury as early as 1934 when many residents were becoming increasingly resentful that the area had been given the name ‘Chinatown’.

The Docks and surrounding areas were heavily bombed in World War Two and as a result Pitt Street and Upper Frederick Street were later demolished by Liverpool Corporation. The Chinese community then spread into Nelson Street and Great George Square.

In November 1944 the Sunday Express reported both the opening of the first Chinese bank outside London in Bold Place and the publication of England’s first hand written Chinese newspaper. (Lynn, Loh Irene 1982, The Chinese Community in Liverpool and their unmet needs.  Merseyside Area Profile Group)

Mr C. K. Cheung founded the Wah Sing in 1965. It started formerly on the first floor of the Tai Wah Restaurant opposite the ABC Cinema in Lime Street for members to learn the thoughts of Chairman Mao Zedong and to distract the community from gambling. Members later suggested teaching their children Cantonese and the Chinese school was established with eight children which now has over two hundred and sixty students.

In 1977 Merseyside’s first ever Chinese pressure group formed and held their first public meeting to discuss language barriers and ease social and cultural problems. (Lynn, Loh Irene 1982)

By the 1980’s the Chinese community had moved to other parts of Merseyside Manchester and the Wirral.

In 2000 the Imperial Arch was opened; it was the largest Chinese arch outside of China. (Lau, Steve 2002, Chinatown Britain.  Chinatown on line, UK)

Today Liverpool Chinatown appears to exist only as half of Nelson Street. The recent regeneration of the city centre has had a minor impact on the development of the area yet despite appearing to be deserted during office hours Liverpool Chinatown is thriving. Community centres and organisations are filled with the Chinese and wider community enjoying activities, education and friendships.

Liverpool Chinatown Visit Timeline

Maritime Museum:

Exhibition – Art of the Sea Paintings: Currently showing China through the lens John Thomson 1868 – 1872.

Maritime Archive and Ocean Archive: Including the Liverpool University History Project photographs sourced from the local Chinese Community.

The River Mersey: Starts at the confluence of the Rivers Tame and Goyt in the town of Stockport, just south of Manchester and ends at Liverpool Bay, Merseyside. It is approximately 70 miles long.

Chinese Monument: Commemorates the Chinese merchant seamen who served and died for the United Kingdom in both World Wars. It also records the forced repatriation of sailors who had married local women and fathered children.

The Three Graces: On the world famous Liverpool Waterfront including the Royal Liver Building, The Cunard Building and the former offices of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board

Old Chinatown.

Cleveland Square and adjoining area.

Rope Walks Identified by English Partnerships in the mid 1990's as a target area for regeneration.

Chinatown inclusive of Nelson Street, Berry Street, Duke Street and surrounding areas, Great George Square, Chinese Gospel Church and other organisations.

Nook Pub, Nelson Street frequented by the original Chinese sailors.

Lunch: Elders Lunch in New Star Chinese Restaurant Duke Street.

The Wah Sing Chinese Community Centre: A well-respected and established organisation in Liverpool with strong links to other major Chinese communities in the UK and Europeis.  It is a registered charity organisation serving the Chinese Community living in the Merseyside area by providing social, cultural and educational activities. The centre was formed on 5th September 1965 and it has been based at 149 Duke Street, in the Chinatown Area of Liverpool, since its foundation.

The Pagoda Chinese Community Centre, Henry Street: Founded in 1982, this centre works with the Chinese community in Merseyside to provide a wide range of services including welfare advice, bilingual health advisory centre translation and interpreting and the Chinese Youth Orchestra.

- by Moira Kenny

Scripted and Narrated by Moira Kenny
Produced by John J. Campbell

Audio Archive

Audio tour Liverpool Chinatown, the 25th of July 2008, 4.29pm. Weather hot, sunny. I’m standing on the corner of Duke St at a junction by the traffic lights, on my right looking down Duke St towards the river the Liver buildings are behind the new development, but still in sight, I’m standing by the closed up entrance of the Whitehouse pub, directly ahead is Nelson St and the splendid Chinese arch, directly up to my left upper Duke St and the Hondo supermarket, leading to the Anglican Cathedral. To my Sharp left Berry St leading to the city centre, the lights change and I run across before cars turn into Duke St from Berry St, three drops of rain hit my forehead then stop. On the corner of Nelson St and Duke St is a large cream building painted magnolia for capitol of culture to make it look better, it is known as the Scandinavian hotel. The back of the building is red brick and sandstone, eighteen sections of windows each consisting of thirty six small windows, wire mesh and barbed wire. One large uncovered extractor fan, one covered extractor fan, one light broken hanging from a rusted fire bell, herringbone design of bricks to the top of the building, seven art deco reliefs. Three ceramic Batchwell Control rectangular objects, one domed shaped cone, all cream. The units are leading into the building by two lead pipes through wood, the wood is split in sections and the layers are raised showing the difference in tone and texture.

Next to the traffic lights on duke Street is a sign attached to the building and set back behind the railings. The sign is unpainted and made of iron. Sprinkler stop valve inside made by Hoffman Sprinkler Company Ltd Manchester. Litter strewn inside the three foot high railings consists of one umbrella patterned. One Le Coq Sportif training shoe fastened. Eleven cans various. Too many bottles to count. Plastic sheeting twisted and furled, one wooden beam, vegetation. On the front of the building is a relief painted sign, black 1887. To my left is a small walled seating area, five trees. Chinese lampposts each adourning two dragons reaching up towards the light. One larger dragon curled around mid base. Two bollards painted green and red shaped in a Pagoda design. Adjacent to the Scandinavian Hotel is a façade consisting of a green bamboo roof and a beige tiled area depicting a Chinese image red and green. Red shutters cover the window two small stone lions guard the closed entrance. Graffiti painted in red on the magnolia façade states L1, painted in a naïve block font. A security camera is attached to cover the entrance to the arch. The Chinese arch covers the entire breadth of Nelson Street obviously the biggest arch outside of China and definitely bigger than the one in Manchester.

To the left of the arch is a large overpowering building with a dome to the top of the building embroidered with circular windows. Doric columns, nine arched rectangular windows to the side of the building in Nelson St. A street sign states leading to Great George St attached to the railings, this building is known as the Blackie. Attached to the back of the Blackie-I am unaware of a noticeable gap, but I’m not looking directly at it-is social housing with maisonette detail. Below the housing is a row of office type shops, the block has a red and green façade to give a Chinese feel to the building. On the right of the arch is the Chinese free mason UK building, a history of the arch and associations is placed in a green framed perspex case outside number ten, directly above the railings. A blue plaque states: the Nestorian and Ocean pensioners association commemorating the outstanding contribution of the Chinese seafarers to the operation of the merchant ships of the Blue Funnel and Glen Line fleets of Alfred Holt and Co. Latterly the Ocean group PLC sailing to the Far East, 1865 to 1987. The brick work is painted red with stairs leading down to the basement; the top step is corrugated metal. Yams licensed Chinese restaurant, number twelve, red painted brick with two maroon sun shades both ripped, one window has one plant and draped curtains the centre of the building has five steps leading to a wooden door with a large glass panel with lead strips.

The Ma Bo restaurant red brick façade with a green arch over the window, three steps, red and white tiles lead into the restaurant. A small friendly place. Eleven crispy ducks and crispy pork hang in the window with rows of plates on top of a hot plate; the woman who is usually in the window cooking is absent. Wong’s restaurant facade painted green. Why not try our sizzling steaks and banquets? Three large steps leading up, orange square, brick window leading down to the basement. To my left Pine court housing association and Kingham and Co chartered accountants and registered auditors, to my right cream and red building central steps, Chilli Chilli restaurant and takeaway. SeYep association, number twenty two, Doric columns.

Chows house Chinese restaurant; Cantonese and Peking. To my left two red poles one either side of the street, large dragons climbing up to the top. To my right number twenty eight, Hoi Yin association, mirrored window, pagoda style frontage. Number thirty, North Garden restaurant, dragon’s times two, neon times one.  Thirty two blanked out red spray paint L1.

Jumbo city restaurant red panels green frontage, glass window, doors push. Sing nightclub is getting renovated possible new use chip shop and two flats upstairs. To my left the Nook pub, freshly painted, new sign: The Nook. Maroon and cream. Plaque on the wall Chinese inscription, English plaque: This is the centre of the oldest Chinatown in Europe and this pub, the Nook, became the Chinese local in 1940. Number forty to forty two to my right, two front doors one on either side of two rectangular windows one covered by metal grill. Number forty four, the oldest building in Chinatown freshly painted mushroom, blacked out windows and door, tiled front, black railings, empty. China City restaurant newly painted yellow doors, circular designed railings at the sides of three steps leading up to the door. Nelson St sign in English and Chinese. To my left the new Capitol Chinese restaurant, the restaurant runs along the top of the Nook pub.

At the side of the pub is Griffith St leading to Granville Court. On the first floor of the new Capitol Chinese restaurant outside the window is a sign stating Nelson St. In English and Chinese.

This is the end of the Chinatown audio tour.