Timothy Tye

RunnymedeRunnymede, Penang. This 3-storey main building was built in the 1930's. (28 May, 2006)

The Runnymede (GPS: 5.42429, 100.32946) at Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, formerly Northam Road, is the name for a group of buildings located by the sea front in Jalan Sultan Ahmad ShahGeorge Town, Penang. Also known now as Wisma Persekutuan, Runnymede is famous because Sir Stamford Raffles, who later founded Singapore, used to reside there when he was living in Penang.

In March 1805, Raffles was just an assistant secretary to the new Governor of Penang, then called Prince of Wales Island. He had just married Olivia Marianne Fancourt née Devenish, a widow whom he met when she was submitting a petition for a pension from her late husband, Jacob C. Fancourt, a surgeon in Madras before he died.

According to historian Marcus Langdon1, the original Runnymede was a brick bungalow which was built by Raffles in 1808. It served as the home of the Raffleses until 1810. The building was sold in 1815 to the British East India Company (EIC) for $4,800 Spanish dollars. The EIC then allocated it as the residence of visiting navy captains, and it was used as a residence until 17 September, 1901, when a fire broke out destroying it. Two years later, the house was rebuilt, but that was before the Runnymede Hotel was established.

According to StarMetro1, the building became part of a naval and military base during the Second World War, and came into the hands of the Malaysian Second Army Infantry Division from 1986 until 2000.

RunnymedeRunnymede main building. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeRunnymede main building from the sea wall. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeStaircase going up the Runnymede main building. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeThe corridor at Runnymede. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeThe corridor, as viewed from a different end. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeThe grand ballroom at Runnymede. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeThe seaview at Runnymede. (28 May, 2006)

Olivia was almost a decade older than Raffles, but it did not seem to matter to him. The newly-weds arrived in Penang together with Raffles's sister Mary Anne and found temporary accommodation in the Government Guest House before moving to an attap bungalow at the foot of Mount Erskine (then called Mount Olivia).

In 1807 Stamford Raffles commission a new home to be built along the North Beach. According to Olivia, in a letter to John Casper Leydon, an old friend of Raffles, it was to be a brick house which she hoped would be completed in eight to ten weeks.

The house was named Runnymede, after the field on which King John of England signed the Magna Carta. It was to be a single storey building with louvered wooden window shutters, carved balconies, deep cool eaves and large, open living spaces within. During their stay at Runnymede, Raffles' two sisters came to live with them, which adds to the liveliness of the place.

In 1811, Raffles was transferred to Malacca and Runnymede was put up for sale. It transferred ownership through many hands until 1921, when the roof of the house where Raffles used to stay in caught fire and the house was totally destroyed. After the fire, the surrounding buildings were bought over and renovated into a hotel. Two Scotsmen, W. Foster and H Parker, ran the hotel, called Runnymede Hotel, providing some competition to the Eastern & Oriental Hotel down the road.

The main three-storey seafront building was built in the 1930's. It houses a huge ballroom on the ground floor, with guestrooms on the first and second floors above. In 1935, the Runnymede Hotel has its own post office, telegraph office, hairdresser, book stall, reading room, billard room, railway ticketing office, and a fleet of chauffeured motorcars. There were cocktail dances every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with dinner dances every Thursday and Saturday.

The British Navy took over the hotel in 1940, but in 1942, with the Japanese occupation, the Japanese military used it as a base. It was again used by the British Government for military occupation in 1951 until 1957, when the British sold it to the government of the newly independent Malaya for a token sum of M$1.00. Since then, Runnymede was known as Wisma Persekutuan, and was used as a government resthouse. Recently the military has moved out, having secured a new site at Bukit Gedung, Penang, and so when we paid Runnymede a visit, it was temporarily between owners.

RunnymedeThis seafront building at Runnymede is believed to be the closest to the original structure where Raffles lived in, and which has since been destroyed by fire. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeAnother section of that building at Runnymede. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeBuilding at Runnymede. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeView of the Runnymede complex from the second floor of its main building. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeAn administrative building at the entrance to the Wisma Persekutuan complex. (28 May, 2006)

RunnymedeThe beach at Runnymede. (28 May, 2006)

Updates on Runnymede

12 February, 2015: The Star reports that the Consumer Association of Penang is baffled by the demolition of ancillary buildings at the Runnymede property. Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow stated that planning permission had been given to a developer by the then municipal council (MPPP) for a 23-storey office block (A), another 23-storey office block (B), two 21-storey office block (B2 and B3), a 21-storey hotel block (C) and the conservation of the former Runnymede Hotel. Of this, only one of the blocks were constructed, now called Menara KWSP.

31 July, 2015: Developer Runnymede Group of Companies is planning a mixed development project on North Beach to be called Runnymede Bay. It will include the historic Runnymede Hotel as the centrepiece in the development.

Penang Property Talk reports that in addition to the historic building, the proposed development will include a 31-storey hotel, a 12-storey office suite and a 61-storey luxury condominium with 373 units. The plan is awaiting approval.

6 November, 2012: e-architect reports that international engineering consultancy firm Web Structures has been appointed to restore Runnymede in a £60 million development. This is to create a mixed development of offices, retail outlets, residences and a hotel. The developer Warisan Pinang Sdn Bhd is a member of the Prima Prai Group.

Runnymede is on the map of Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah (Northam Road)


  1. StarMetro (12 February, 2016): Historian: Raffles built Runnymede in 1808

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