The area around Limehouse District – more accurately Limehouse Casueway and Pennyfields, has long been associated with the Chinese criminality. Limehouse was an established slum in the middle of the nineteenth century, and with its narrow buildings and foggy streets, it had a reputation for its sordid pubs, brothels, and opium dens. To an East Londoner or a visiting sailor, it is foreign enough to be able throw off the rigid manners of Victorian Britain.

In the East End, opium dens are usually associated with the Chinese, because it is invariably the Chinese who supplied the opium in the first place, as well as preparing it for visiting non-Chinese smokers. Chinese seamen who found themselves stranded in London were allowed to work in the East London docks with a large number of them involved in unloading China tea. Many of these Chinese sailors found lodgings at the ‘Oriental Quarters’ alongside the River Thames at Shadwell. These ‘Oriental Quarters’ were frequently run by English women who were able to speak Oriental languages, and who often went by names such as ‘Nanking Kitty’ or ‘Chinese Emma’. Of these, ‘Chinese Emma’ was well known for running a Chinese gambling house, where card games would be played in the rooms downstairs whilst the first floor served as an opium den.


The narrow, cobbled lanes of West India Dock Road, Pennyfields, and Limehouse Causeway were known by K Division as the hub of a mysterious and powerful criminal syndicate, whose nefarious and elusive mastermind has been only identified as ‘Canton Lill’. Those in Limehouse being well aware that ‘Lill’ is not a shortening of the name Lilly, but rather, being in reference to ‘the tongue hanging out’, as those who betrayed ‘Canton Lill’ where invariably found hung with a red, silken robe.

A current person of interest to K Division, suspected of being a member of this secret crime syndicate, is Jeremy Twitchell, proprietor of Twitchell’s Pharmaceutical Emporium, a pharmaceutical chemists shop.


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