Posts Tagged ‘Chinatown’

Chinese New Year 2005

Sunday, February 13th, 2022

Chinese New Year 2005

On Sunday 13th 2005, 17 years ago, London was celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Rooster which started the previous Wednesday – it was 4072.

Chinese New Year in Soho is something I’ve avoided in more recent years – as I wrote in 2005: “I used to enjoy the rather anarchic celebrations in Chinatown, but it’s now more of an ordeal, with far too many people coming in to watch and too much organisation.”

Trying to photograph in such crowded situations was a problem, and one I confronted in two main ways in 2005, something reflected in the two pictures above. At the top is a picture taken standing back some distance with a telephoto lens, while the lower picture is taken with a fisheye lens, both on a Nikon D70 DX camera.

De-fished version

Usually now when I use the a fisheye lens like this, I would convert the perspective to give straight verticals – as in the above image. But back in 2005 I didn’t have a good plug-in to do this conversion, and although it was possible with various programmes I was using for making panoramas it was a rather time-consuming process.

For this particular event I rather liked the fisheye effect, at least in some pictures. Although it does clearly misrepresent those faces close to the edges of the picture, for me it pulls the eye towards the centre of the picture and perhaps gives a greater impression of the crowding I was working in.

A small problem is that the image you see in the viewfinder is the fisheye one, and not that in the ‘de-fished’ version. But as you can see, the fisheye image which you see has the same horizontal limits at the centre of both the horizontal and vertical sides, with just a little of the image towards the four corners being lost. It’s still possible to frame accurately when working.

It’s not I think correct to call the effect of the fisheye lens ‘distortion’. It is simply a different way of recording the subject on a flat rectangle. Most fisheyes I’ve used (and I own four different examples, for DX and full-frame Nikon, for Fuji and for micro 4/3) seem actually to have rather less actual distortion than my ultra-wide rectilinear (i.e. ‘normal’) lenses.

In the de-fished image you can see that as well as the verticals of the building being straight, people at the edges of the picture are also shown naturally, unlike in the fisheye version. I was also taking some pictures with an ultra-wide 12-24mm lens (equivalent to 18-36mm full-frame) and with that at its widest faces at the edge would have been rendered a little stretched out horizontally.

I’m not sure what some major agencies would make of conversions using software like this, whether they would regard it as an unacceptable alteration of the image. For me its just one of many acceptable corrections of the image, but clearly it does alter the image as recorded by the camera. It would be possible to design a specialised wide-angle camera which carried out the correction in firmware but the market for this would probably be small. Rather it could be provided into normal digital cameras as an option – far more useful than all those special effects which clutter the menus on many cameras now.

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East India Dock Road to Bow Common

Monday, February 7th, 2022

More pictures continuing my walk on 31st July 1988 – the previous post is Bow Common to West India Dock Road, so this returns to close to where that started. Like most of my walks it was more about exploring a neighbourhood than getting anywhere.

East India Dock Rd, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-61-positive_2400
East India Dock Rd, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-61

East India Dock Road was built as its name suggests when the East India Docks were opened in 1806 to provide a more direct and less congested route than Poplar High Street to them from the end of the Commercial Road, also then recently built in Limehouse. It is now part of the A13 and this section in Poplar has in turn been largely bypassed by the Limehouse Link and Aspen Way opened in 1993. Traffic was still very heavy along it in 1988.

The picture with rubbish on the pavement and gutters, a small rather derelict shop to let gave a picture of a run-down area which contrasted with the word Wonderful on what seems a rather faded fabric on a restaurant at right. Buddleia is growing in front of the billboard, always a sign of dereliction. Interestingly the the advert is for a low alcohol lager, hardly a thing back then when most drivers on the streets after closing time were drunk, although the breathalyser had come in back in twenty-one years earlier. But even the introduction of Kaliber in 1986 had not really galvanised the market – but low alcohol beers are now a massive growth area, and some are even drinkable.

There is still a Chinese restaurant in the building at the right of this picture, and rather surprisingly that small shack is still in place in front of Amory Place, now a minicab office.

Chun Yee Society, East India Dock Rd, Birchfield St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-62-positive_2400
Chun Yee Society, East India Dock Rd, Birchfield St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-62

There are still traces of London’s first Chinatown in Limehouse, which began in the area around 1900, but the centre of the Chinese community had moved to Soho in the 1950s, partly because of extensive bomb damage in Limehouse, but also because of dirt-cheap rents in an area with a bad reputation where few then wanted to live in central London.

Chun Yee Society, East India Dock Rd, Birchfield St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-63-positive_2400
Chun Yee Society, East India Dock Rd, Birchfield St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-63

The house on the corner of Birchfield St still has the sign for the Chun Yee Society – Chinese School on Sundays over its doorway. not along with a larger and newer version with fewer Chinese characters. Like many similar societies it began as a Tong, variously described as a criminal gang or a semi-masonic bortherhood, and organised various festivals including those commemorating the dead. Founded in 1906 it was a shelter for Chinese sailors as well as providing a Chinese Sunday school for children and is now largely an old peoples centre. Possibly some of the games of dominoes may have got a little out of hand, but the criminality was largely in the mind of Sax Rohmer, his readers and the sensationalist press.

St Mary & St Joseph, Catholic Church, Upper North St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-51-positive_2400
St Mary & St Joseph, Catholic Church, Upper North St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-51

The Roman Catholic Church of SS Mary and Joseph, Poplar impresses mainly by its scale. Built in 1951-4, its architect Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882-63) was the brother of the better-known Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, both from a distinguished family of architects. I always think of it as an ecclesiastical version of Battersea Power Station, without the chimneys but with a rather odd green pyramid on its roof, but that’s rather unfair as it is a very individual design, sometimes described as Byzantine jazz gothic.

According to the Grade II listing text this is a camel arch, and a similar arch appears at the top of the main windows, supposedly inspired by Persian buildings. The church replaced one on the site behind me as I made the picture which was destroyed by bombing – the site is now a Catholic school. I think I chose an interesting viewpoint, but one that needed a slightly wider lens and a more upright photographer.

Flats, GLC, Temporary Housing, Brabazon St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-53-positive_2400
Flats, GLC, Temporary Housing, Brabazon St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-53

The second of these LCC temporary buildings has a sign proclaiming it as ‘LANSBURY WORKS OFFICE’ and giving its address in Brabazon St. The street got its name not from the huge white elephant civil airliner that made a few flights in the 1950s before it and the project was scrapped in 1953, but from the 1882 founder of the Metropolitan Gardens Association, the 12th Earl of Meath, Lord Brabazon.

Work began on the layout of the London County Council’s Lansbury Estate in 1949 on a large area devastated by wartime bombing, and its best-known feature, Chrisp Street Market was built the following year and became an integral part of the 1951 Festival of Britain. But construction of the estate continued for many years and was only said to be completed in 1982, by which time it had been transferred first to the GLC and then Tower Hamlets. Since 1998 it has been owned by Poplar HARCA.

But as this picture shows, this part was still not completed in 1988. The large 11-storey tower block Colebrook House with 42 flats was part of the Barchester Street Scheme by the LCC Architects department and completed in 1957-8, named after a shop built at nearby Blackwall Yard. Brabazon St now has a small park to the left of my picture and a row of neat two-story houses along the right side.

Limehouse Cut, Upper North St, Poplar, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-54-positive_2400
Limehouse Cut, Upper North St, Poplar, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-54

Bow Common Bridge, an iron bridge replacing the earlier bridge here in 1929, is where Upper North Street meets Bow Common Lane across the Limehouse Cut and the factory building here on the north-west side has now been replaced by a block of offices and flats built in 2008-2011, with the 13 storey Ingot Tower at one corner of the largely five storey development. This large site alongside the Limehouse Cut was formerly a chemical works between the Cut and Thomas St (now Thomas Road.)

Phoenix Business Centre, Limehouse Cut, Upper North St, Poplarm Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-55-positive_2400
Phoenix Business Centre, Limehouse Cut, Upper North St, Poplarm Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-55

Wikipedia recounts that this area had become popular with chemical manufacturers as they could discharge waste into the Cut, and this bridge from at least 1819 was known as Stinkhouse Bridge and the area around became a huge fire risk, culminating in a great fire in 1866. The bridge was also a popular choice for suicides, with a local coroner in 1909 noting he had held over 50 inquests on them there. As Wikipeida comments ‘ In a derisory attempt to enhance its image it was renamed Lavender Bridge.’ But the old name stuck at least until the 1950s.

The Phoenix Business Centre on the north east corner of the bridge has also been demolished and replaced by tower blocks around 2008-2010.

The Sanitas Company Ltd, Council Depot, Watts Grove, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-44-positive_2400
The Sanitas Company Ltd, Council Depot, Watts Grove, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7s-44

The Sanitas Company Limited proudly put their name across the top of their 1914 building in Watts Grove, and it remained written in stone (or at least render) for a hundred years until the building was demolished and replaced by a rather blander building completed in 2017, part of a large development on Watts Grove and the new Pankhurst Avenue.

Previously the site stretching down to Yeo Street annd Glaucus Street had been occupied as it was when I made this photograph as a council depot by various of Tower Hamlet’s Councils municipal services (latterly Veolia.)

The Sanitas Company Limited was a local company which specialised in disinfectant and soap-based products. So far as I’m aware they had no connection with other and now better known companies using the name Sanitas, the Latin for Health.

My walk will continue in a later post.

Clicking on any of the pictures will take you to a larger version in my album 1988 London Photos from where you can browse the album.

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Limehouse, Isle of Dogs & Poplar

Friday, January 21st, 2022

Emmett St, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-63-positive_2400
Emmett St, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-63

Limehouse, Isle of Dogs & Poplar

This post starts where my previous post on the walk left off, on Emmett Street, no longer present, a victim of both the Limehouse Link tunnel and the edge of the Canary Wharf development at Westferry Circus. I think it this was taken just a little further south than the previous picture and the view between buidlings with several cranes is to the luxury flats being built on the Limehouse bank of the Thames.

Westferry Rd, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-65-positive_2400
Westferry Rd, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-65

A little further south on Westferry Road, with the high dock wall at the left and Cascades Tower, designed by the architects Campbell, Zogolovitch, Wilkinson and Gough (CZWG) in the distance ahead. This unusual block of luxury flats built in 1985–88 was the first private high rise block in Docklands. Going down Westferry Road was entering a huge building site – and the graffiti on the bus shelter states WORLDEXIT (though its actually where a bus would take you back into the world.) When built the flats were almost impossible to sell or rent and Tower Hamlets council let them to teachers at £17 a week. Now they are rather more expensive, at around £400 per week for a one bed flat, and selling for around £500,000 and no teachers can afford to live there.

I think the slight rise in the road, which also bends slightly is possibly the former Limehouse Basin entrance and this section of Westferry Road was perhaps what had previously been Bridge Road.

Westferry Rd, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-66-positive_2400
Westferry Rd, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-66

George Baker & Sons (Millwall) Ltd, builders and joiners, were according to the Survey of London only at this site from 1985 until it was cleared in 1987-8. But the name here looks older and this is the remains of a fairly elegant three-storey building, a photograph of which from 1987 is in the Survey of London. It was built on what was then Emmett St in the 1860s for Thomas Dominick James Teighe and Frederick Smith, sailmakers and ship-chandlers, and from 1902 to the early 1980s occupied by Fitch & Son, provision merchants.

Westferry Rd, Isle of Dogs, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-53-positive_2400
Westferry Rd, Isle of Dogs, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-53

Considerable building work taking place close to Westferry Circus, with Cascades Tower visible in the distance.

South Dock Entrance, Westferry Rd, Isle of Dogs, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-41-positive_2400
South Dock Entrance, Westferry Rd, Isle of Dogs, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-41

Sand and gravel works on the north side of the former South Dock Entrance, with a view across the River Thames to Columbia Wharf in Rotherhithe.

Westferry Rd, Isle of Dogs, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-43-positive_2400
Westferry Rd, Isle of Dogs, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-43

A bus stop at left on Westferry Road, the Island Car Service, much needed as the bus service was poor and unreliable and Timber Merchant John Lenanton & Sons Ltd on the corner of Manilla St, with the Anchor & Hope public house part visible at the right edge, and behind one of the towers of the Barkantine Estate. The car service was in the shop at 31 which for many years was Wooding’s newsagents. The Anchor & Hope had been opened since at least the 1820s, and possibly as it until recently stated on its frontage was established 1787. The building is still there though it closed as a pub in 2005. It was extensively refurbished for residential use in 2015 and the ground floor later became a gym.

Ming St, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-44-positive_2400
Ming St, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-44

I walked back north to Ming St in Poplar, part of London’s first Chinatown, and renamed to reflect this in 1938 when many of London’s streets were renamed to avoid confusion – previously it had been since 1820 one of many King Streets. This was part of the Limehouse of Sax Rohmer‘s racist imaginings of opium dens and crime in his 18 book Dr Fu Manchu series, begun in 1913 and continued after Rohmers death by his biographer and assistant Cay Van Ash.

His work brought wealthy upper-class slum-tourists to the area, where they perhaps enjoyed meals in restaurants such as Wah Ying, but they will have found little evidence of Fu Manchu and his team of assassins, human traffickers and drug traders of the dreaded Sci-Fan secret society. Chinatown was one of the more law-abiding areas of the East End, and the Chinese certainly more law abiding than most.

Ming St, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-45-positive_2400
Ming St, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-45

The Peking was another remnant of the Chinatown past, mostly now moved away to Soho, though there is still a Chinese restaurant on the East India Dock Road, along with the Chun Yee Society. Dockland Light Railway trains now run across the bridge in the distance. The building at right with a dome was Charlie Brown’s pub on West India Dock Road. All this is now demolished.

The White Horse, pub, Saltwell St, Poplar High St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-46-positive_2400
The White Horse, pub, Saltwell St, Poplar High St, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-7p-46

Going east along Ming St takes you to Poplar High St, and on the corner of Saltwell St where the High Street begins you can still see a large white horse on top of a wooden post, though it seems rather smaller now than in my picture, and is closer to the street corner. There had been a White Horse pub on this site since 1690 though I think the building in this picture is probably from the 1920s when it was taken over by Truman’s Brewery. They sold it in 2003 and it was demolished and replaced by a block of flats. According to the Lost Pubs Project,  “In 1740 it was, scandalously, run by a Mr & Mrs Howes, both of whom were actually female. ”

The horse was Grade II listed in 1973 and has the shortest listing text I’ve come across: “C18 wooden carving of a white horse on post in forecourt.” The lower part of the sign with the pub name fell down and has been removed, but the horse has been repainted since my picture.

Click on any of the images to see a larger version in my album 1988 London Photos from where you can browse the album.

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Chinese New Year 2008

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

Back in 2008 I photographed the London celebrations in Chinatown for the Year of the Rat, which took place on February 10th, 2008, and wrote this short text:

Chinese New Year Celebrations, Soho

Soho, Westminster, London. Sunday, 10 Feb, 2008

The Chinese New Year celebrations in London have rather got out of hand, with more and more people flooding in to Chinatown, and an incredible amount of sponshorship for the event. There is strong evidence in the programme, now 120 thick pages mainly of advertising, along with some of the most tedious photographs you will ever see. The genuinely useful content in it could have been handed out on a much more user-friendly 2 sides of A4.

But if you can avoid the worst of the crowds, it’s still a fun event and at times spectacular. But there are 51 other weekends of the year when its probably more interesting to come and see Chinatown how it really is.

This year the celebrations are almost certain to be considerably more muted and mainly on-line. The Chinese New Year is actually in two days time on 12 Feb and in more normal times would have been celebrated next Sunday rather like in 2008 with crowds in Soho and a procession, with events in Trafalgar Square and Leiscester Square. But for the Year of the Ox I think you will have to make do with a virtual celebration – and perhaps a Chinese takeaway.

It’s a while since I’ve actually gone to the celebrations in Soho. Said to be the largest celebrations of the New Year outside Asia, the event has become far too crowded for me, and frustrating to try to photograph. Back in 2008 I went early, before the crowds built up, but later it became very hard to get the pictures I wanted.

Using a fisheye lens did enable me to find a little space where there was really none; some of these pictures I ‘de-fished’ to give straight verticals but others I left with the obvious curvature. But more of the pictures were taken with the 12-24mm Sigma lens, giving a very wide rectilinear view even on the DX Nikon D200 I was then using.

Some of the other images – including three here – were taken on a Leica M8, mainly with a 35mm Summilux F1.4 lens. Although this was fine when taking pictures, it was an older lens and required considerable fiddling with software to get usable results, as not only did the sensor vignette badly, but the vignetting came with colour casts.

The M8 was a good black and white camera, but something of a disaster with colour. Leica and most early reviewers had failed to notice that because the M8 sensor had no IR filter it recorded much black clothing as strongly magenta, and there were other incorrect colours. The company eventually supplied those who had bought the camera with two IR cut filters, but that limited my choice of lenses to two – and one of my favourite lenses could not take a filter.

Given those limitations, the M8 was fine to use, with a simple interface that enabled you to take still pictures without the huge thick manuals that most digital cameras need. But I soon get fed up with all the hassle of processing the images, and got rid of it. It was an expensive experience that soured my whole view of Leica, and why I now use Fuji cameras rather than Leica.

We can also wish ourselves Happy New Year “Xin Nian Kuai Le” or “San Nin Faai Lok” and hope for ‘Happiness and prosperity!’ doing our best to pronounce 恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財, something like ‘gong-hey faa-choy

Chinese New Year Celebrations, Soho

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