The Penang Light & Pitt Streets Walking Tour is a free self-guided tour which visitors to Penang can do on their own, guided by the information provided on this website. It takes you through two significant streets in the Unesco World Heritage Site of George Town. These two streets give enormous insight into the development of the early British settlement in George Town. The distance covered is just 3400 feet (1km) and can be completed on foot in about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I recommend doing it in the early part of the day which is cooler. Doing it on a Sunday morning is even better, as the place will be devoid of traffic. Feel free to print out the itinerary and map. To print out the map, do a screen save (Zoom to the size you want, then click on Print Screen. Next, go to your Paint application under Accessories. Click Edit, click Paste.)
We start our walking tour at the sidewalk in front of the Light Street - Beach Street roundabout (the same place as the Upper Beach Street Walking Tour). On our left side is the the Immigration Department building(1). On our right is Fort Cornwallis(3), the British-built fort that stands today as the largest intact fort in Malaysia. It was first built with nibong trunks and was rebuilt twice before assuming the present shape that dates to the beginning of the 19th century.
Light Street, or Lebuh Light as it is now called, was the first street in George Town that was laid out. Francis Light, the founder of the settlement, named it after himself as Superintendent. When the street was first laid out, it was lined with European residences or British government buildings. The grounds of some of the European residences were gradually bought over by wealthy Chinese tycoons, especially from the second half of the 19th century. The eastern end of Light Street used to end at a pier used by the East India Company as a jetty until such time that that part of George Town was reclaimed. The site where the jetty stood is where you find the Penang Port Commission building, along King Edward Place (Pesara King Edward).
Light Street was known as Po Le Khau in Hokkien, meaning "entrance to the Police Courts". This refers to the Magistrate's Courts and Recorder's Courts building, a 19th century Anglo-Indian structure which today houses the State Assembly (Dewan Undangan Negeri)(2). It was build like a Greek temple to represent "temples of justice". The Central Police Station of George Town occupied a much bigger area than it does today. Both the Immigration Department building and the State Assembly building were part of the police office complex. Today, the police station is reduced to a small building facing Beach Street, with quarters behind it.
On the opposite site of Light Street is Fort Cornwallis (3). From the very beginning of the settlement until late in the 19th century, the fort was functioning as the military and administrative centre for the East India Company. The Padang, or field, next to the fort was used for military parades and exercise. This whole area, known today as the Esplanade, was originally called North Beach.
At the junction of Light Street and Penang Street is the first of several mansions belonging to wealthy 19th century Chinese tycoons. It is the Foo Tye Sin Mansion(4), built by a man whose name remains on Tye Sin Street (Lebuh Tye Sin) today. A pillar in the Chinese community, Tye Sin acted as a commissioner to investigate the causes of the Penang Riots of 1867. English educated at Penang Free School, Tye Sin built his mansion in the Neo-Classical style some time between 1870-80. His decision to build in a European style was emulated by other Chinese tycoons in Penang. Today, Foo Tye Sin Mansion is restored and houses a bank.
Across Penang Street from Foo Tye Sin Mansion is the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Building(5), designed by Penang architect Chew Eng Eam in 1926. Compare it with the Loke Thye Kee Restaurant building, also designed by Chew in 1919. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce Building has a colonnaded five foot way. At the top of the building is the Open Hall. It is a place where the Chinese businessmen came to entertain, as it has a good view of the Esplanade across the street.
Linked to the Chinse Chamber of Commerce building is a 1950's style Chinese-run hotel building. It continues the five-foot way from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Building, right up to the junction with King Street (Lebuh King).
On the other side of King Street is Wisma Great Eastern(6), a recent development around a mansion called Chung Siew Yin Mansion (or Chung Siew in Building). The double-storey Chung Siew Yin Building was originally constructed in the 19th century, and was renovated in the late Art Deco style in 1952. It housed the New Straits Times in the 1980's before being left unoccupied for many years. Today it has been restored with a 5-storey annex added to it by a local insurance company.
Immediately after is the Bank Negara Malaysia building. It occupies the land which was previously Gan Goh Bee Mansion. Gan Goh Bee (also written Gan Ngoh Bee) is a wealthy Chinese merchant in the late 1880's, trading in pepper, rice, tin, opium and spirits. He had businesses extending to Calcutta, Rangoon and Singapore, and was a trustee of the Penang Free School. The Bank Negara Malaysia building was built in the 1970's to house the Penang branch of the central bank.
We arrive at the corner of Light Street and Pitt Street. Today known as Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Pitt Street was named after William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), who was Prime Minister at the time the settlement was established. Francis Light named it after Pitt as an afterthought, realising he may have offended the prime minister for naming Light Street after himself, and wanted to make amends.
Pitt Street penetrates into early George Town as a knife cuts into flesh, revealing many layers of its cosmopolitan flavor. At the outermost, nearest the sea, are the civic and religious buildings of the British administration, in the form of the Penang Supreme Court building and the St George's Church housing the Church of England. From there, practically every community in early Penang has a representation: the Eurasians, the Chinese, the Hindus, the Indian Muslims, the Armenians and the Malays.
Opposite the junction to Pitt Street is the grounds of Dewan Sri Pinang. Another mansion once stood here, Edinburgh Lodge, belonging to Koh Seang Tat, a Chinese tycoon who was the grandson of Kapitan China Koh Lay Huan, the first Chinese Kapitan for George Town. In conjunction with the building of Town Hall, he built the Municipal Fountain in 1883 as a gift to the British government. Edinburgh Lodge was named after the Duke of Edinburgh, who visited Penang in 1869 and stayed there.
As we walk down Pitt Street, we pass first the Penang Supreme Court building(7). It stands on a site that has been continuously used for court purposes since 1809. The present building was inaugurated in September 1903. In 2007, the latest extension was completed on the building, with an annex across the road along Light Street.
Between the supreme court and St George's church is Farquhar Street (Lebuh Farquhar), named after Robert Townsend Farquhar, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang in 1804. R.T. Farquhar is the person responsible for ordering the demolition of the Malacca Fort. He wanted to develop Penang at Malacca's expense. The order was carried out by William Farquhar, the Resident of Malacca. Stamford Raffles, on a visit to Malacca, tried to stop the demolition, but only managed to save the Porta de Santiago.
Next is the St George's Anglican Church(8), built in 1816. The first wedding to be held there was that of W.E. Philips, who married the daughter of J.A. Bannerman, the Governor of Penang at that time. W.E. Philips was the man who took over the pepper estate belonging to Francis Light on which he built Suffolk House.
On the left side of Pitt Street are Straits Eclectic shophouses. During the early days of George Town, this area, bordered by Pitt Street, Bishop Street, Beach Street and Church Street was settled by Eurasians, invited by Francis Light, who was sympathetic to their plight. The Eurasians were descendents of the Portuguese who were ousted from Malacca when the Dutch took over it in 1641. Some settled in Phuket (at that time called Ujong Salang, which the English pronounced as Junk Ceylon). Facing religious persecution there, they fled to Kuala Kedah, and from Kuala Kedah, they came to Penang (then called Prince of Wales Island).
We past the junctions of Bishop Street and Church Street. Next comes China Street. As the name suggests, we are at the heart of the early Chinese settlement in Penang. This road was established by Koh Lay Huan, the first Kapitan China of Penang. He was already with Francis Light when the latter established Penang. Opposite the junction of China Street is the Kong Hock Keong(9), literally "Temple of the Cantonese and Hokkien Community", but better known as Kuan Yin Teng, or "Temple of the Goddess of Mercy". The temple was built on a knoll overlooking the sea at the end of China Street. Unfortunately, when the British reclaimed Beach Street at the later half of the 19th century, they built China Street Ghaut. And then, they put up the Malayan Railway Building with a clock tower. This not only blocks the auspicious sea view from the temple, but also added a big clock which in Chinese geomancy means, "your time is up".
Past the Kuan Yin Teng, the area widens. There are stalls selling joss sticks and other religious paraphernalia, catering to the Goddess of Mercy Temple, and flower vendors catering to the Mahamariamman Temple. There used to be a police station here that has since been relocated. The Hokkiens called this place Tua Ba Lai, meaning Big Police Station.
When Penang was established, a lot of Indians came over, either as laborers or merchants. The Mahamariamman Temple(9), with its back facing Pitt Street, was one of the first Hindu temples in Penang, established as a shrine in 1801, and grew in size from then on.
Chulia Street cuts across Pitt Street. It was named after the Cholas, South Indians who came to Penang as merchants. The sections of Pitt Street, on both sides of Chulia Street, are still occupied by people of South Indian descent, either as Hindus or Muslims. The biggest place of worship for the Indian Muslims along Pitt Street is the Kapitan Keling Mosque(10). It has entrances along Pitt Street and Buckingham Street, although originally its main entrance was on Chulia Street. As with the Kong Hock Keong and the Mahamariamman Temple, the Kapitan Keling Mosque was also established at the turn of the 19th century, in 1801 to be precise.
The section of Pitt Street in front of the Kapitan Keling Mosque, now shaded with neem trees, was where public auctions were carried out. As a result, the Pitt-Chulia road junction was called Simpang Lelong. Today the shophouses here thrive on money changing and the jewellery trade, businesses held by the Indian Muslims.
Kampung Kolam, nothing more than a busy road today, was a settlement of Tamil Muslims in the 19th century. It was named after water tanks that were placed from which the poor got their water supply. The Kampong Kolam road was built at the turn of the 20th century.
Our walking tour ends at the junction of Pitt Street with Kampong Kolam. Over this short distance, we have gone through a multitude of cultures. We saw the earliest buildings in Penang, such as Fort Cornwallis, we also see the gradual change in street character, from British to Chinese to Hindus and Indian Muslims. On our other walking tours, we will retrace the other streets in George Town.
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