Bermondsey Street, London, SE1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011
Living London, Its Work and Its Play, Its Humour and Its Pathos, Its Sights and Its Scenes – George R. Sims, Editor, 1902:
Visions of palm trees and mango groves, of mosques and pagodas, rise in the imagination as one beholds the swarthy sons of the Orient, whose quaint costumes bring colour into the London streets, whose presence is emblematic of England’s far-reaching commerce and power.
The Maharajah who wears a diamond star and the ayah with her children, the Japanese who dress in solemn black, the Persian philosopher and the Parsee student, the Turk the Egyptian, the Arab, and Chinaman one meets in the West-End are all interesting figures. But to understand what Oriental London means from the points of view of character, costume, and life scenes, one must travel from the fashionable West to the humble East, for it embraces all the various spheres of society, high and low. It is in the crowded thoroughfares leading to the docks, in the lodging houses kept by East Indians, in the shops frequented by Arabs, Indians, and Chinese, and in the spirit houses and opium-smoking rooms that one meets the most singular and most picturesque types of Eastern humanity, and the most striking scenes of Oriental life.
The pale yellowish Chinaman from Peking who almost trails his pigtail, and whose loose flowing robes are caught by the breeze, and whose soft thick felt shoes glide silently through the streets, and his brother from Canton or Hong Kong who wears sailor’s clothes, and whose hair is neatly plaited round his head and covered with a large golf-cap; the red-turbaned Lascars whose toes are as nimble as monkey’s hands, and whose sea-chests contain treasures of odds and ends of cast-off European clothing mixed with bits of odorous Bombay ducks; the alert, up-to-date Japanese, whose pilot jacket has capacious pockets bulging with weird-looking little idols, the penates of his ancestors, which he will turn into cash as soon as he can ; the jaunty-looking Malays, so handy with the kris and whose lips are blood-red with the juice of betel; the Arabs and the Zanzibaris, lithe and resolute, who wear tarbooshes and turbans and large sashes, and the Cingalese, whose figures are hid in long overcoats, and who shiver with cold in the sun of an English summer, can all be observed on the quays of the docks and in the favourite haunts of Asiatics.