For much of its history, and until a proper road existed, the area was known as North Beach. When the road was laid, it was given the name Northam Road, after Northam in Devon, England - I suppose after the birthplace of one of the early Governors of the Straits Settlements. It was given the present name Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah in conjunction with the visit of Sultan Ahmad Shah, who visited Penang as the 7th Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia in 1982.
Northam Road, George Town (22 Dec 2009)
Northam Road was the choice address of the Europeans during the 19th century. That was why the Hokkiens in Penang called it Ang Mor Lor, especially the section west of Transfer Road. However, by the early part of the 20th century, Europeans were moving out in search of "greener pastures", literally speaking, as they vacate the urban streets of Northam Road and Light Street, heading for the more leafy Ayer Rajah neighbourhood, to places such as Western Road and Ayer Rajah Road, now Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman. The vacated properties along Light Street and Northam Road were snapped up with rich local Chinese, who proceeded to put forth ostentatious mansions to flaunt their new-found prosperity, many of which bear faux-European names. These were the most sought-after real-estate in town, and most were beach front properties (and the beach was pristine back then).
Today Northam Road is punctuated by these elegant mansions of the yesterday millionaires of Penang. However, their days of grandeur have long past, and many of these grand dames are forced to house commercial enterprises. Some of these properties have given way to skyscrapers - this is one of the places in George Town where it is still permitted to build high, being outside the heritage zones.
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