The name of Yau Ma Tei has not yet been found in historic documents prior to British rule. However, Kwun Chung was mentioned in many historic document. Kwun Chung was a river valley with village and cultivation. On the hill south near the coast was Kwun Chung Fort built by Chinese (Qing) official Lin Tse-hsu to defend against British. During the Battle of Kwun Chung in 1839, the fort, together with Tsim Sha Tsui Fort successfully kept British from Kowloon. The fort with the hill was demolished for development during early British rule of Kowloon.
Prior to the ceding of Kowloon to British in 1860, Yau Ma Tei was a beach and a bay gathering many Tanka fishermen. Its water remains an harbour for fishermen after several times of reclamation by Hong Kong Government. Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter became an exotic water area where restaurants on boats offered dishes of indigenous seafood. These typhoon shelter dishes remain famous to this day and are even offered on land. The typhoon shelter not only hosted fishermen, it was a port in Hong Kong. Numerous piers were built along its shore.
Inland, the reclamation became the residential area for the ever-increasing Chinese population, with retail shops on the street level. Shanghai Street was the main street before being replaced by Nathan Road.
Along Waterloo Road, is the Fruit Market which is a century old fruit market and its adjacent Yaumati Theatre was once the largest theatre in Kowloon. The Kwong Wah Hospital was the first hospital on the Kowloon peninsula established in 1911. YMCA headquarters and its hostel in Hong Kong are also located on that road.
Yau Ma Tei Police Station is an important historical building in the area.
Having cinema in a district is very important because people watch film in cinema. At the same time more people watch films in cinema, more people visit that area. In 1960-1970, there were 7 cinemas in Yau Ma Tei. So Yau Ma Tei was a crowded place at that time. During this 30-40 years, new towns were developed. The cinemas moved away. And Yau Ma Tei became an area with a lot of elderly. Most of the elderly were the one who worked in 1960-1970 in Yau Ma Tei.
There are advantages and disadvantages for Aging Population. Elderly can have more communication with the shop keeper. People can have more communication. This is the advantage. For disadvantages, as some of the elderly can't walk well. Shops may need to install facilities such as lift and skidproof plastic tape on the side of stairs. Shops need to pay for it. Less teenagers and young people visit the district so the development of the district slow down.
The Wah Yan College, Kowloon is located in Yau Ma Tei. It's a boys' school. The Methodist College is located in Yau Ma Tei. It's an EMI school for both boys and girls.