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Sunday, July 21, 2024
The Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets. Image by Robert Postings.
CultureLife & livingLocal

Sailors’ Palace today: A very Chinese affair in a very British building

Inside Sailors’ Palace, one of Limehouse’s last remaining Edwardian buildings, you will find a small slice of China complete with calligraphy, Chinese signs and a dragon.

Walking through Poplar and Limehouse there is little left to mark this area as London’s first Chinatown. But at Sailors Palace in Limehouse just off the busy A13, you will find a small slice of China. 

From the outside, the history of Sailors’ Palace seems clear. The neo-Tudor building was built in 1901. A bust of Britania with two ships above the large doorway and stones in the wall outside show it once housed the headquarters of the British and Foreign Sailors Society as well as a nautical school.

But when you step inside, it reveals its modern purpose. The Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets has been using this building as their base since 1985. 

Here, the local Chinese community enjoy everything from ping pong to calligraphy. You can find Chinese newspapers to take, posters in Chinese advertising events, and even the hand sanitiser and teapot have Chinese characters on them.

Two red packets, normally filled with money and given as gifts at Chinese New Year, sit propped above the door to the office. On tables people attending classes have left ubiquitous metal flasks, often filled with hot water or tea. 

Tower Hamlets has over 10,000 Chinese residents, totalling 3.3% of the population and the highest number in England and Wales after the City of London and Cambridge. Making this Chinese space in Poplar essential to the community.

However, the building’s history still shines through. Beneath a mantelpiece with a smiling Buddha and a Chinese dragon, you can find the engraved words: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Nelson issued the message before the Battle of Trafalgar.

Door of Sailors Palace in Limehouse where the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets is based.
Door of Sailors Palace in Limehouse. Image by Robert Postings.
The Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets at Sailors Palace in Limehouse, Poplar.
The Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets. Image by Robert Postings.
Banner of the Chinese Association of Tower hamlets hanging inside Sailors Palace in Limehouse.
The banner of the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets. Image by Robert Postings.
A Chinese calendar hung behind the door at the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets in Limehouse.
A Chinese calendar hung behind a door. Image by Robert Postings.
A Smiling Buddha statue in the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets at Sailors Palace, Limehouse.
A Smiling Buddha statue. Image by Robert Postings.
A series of bookmarks pinned to the wall at the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets in Limehosue.
A bookmark with the characters ping an (平安) meaning safe and sound. Image by Robert Postings.
Red packets placed above a doorframe at the Chinese association of Tower Hamlets in Limehouse.
Red packets above a doorframe. Image by Robert Postings.
A teapot with Chinese characters on it at the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets.
A teapot with Chinese characters. Image by Robert Postings.

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