For much of the 19th century, the area was a collection of Chinese villages, with Koay Kangnga ("Across the River") being the settlement closest to the Prangin Canal. Beach Street continues south in the form of a country path that meandered along the coast towards the plantations in Gelugor and Batu Lanchang (by the way, "Batu Lanchang" in the 19th century refers to much of what is Green Lane today).
Living in the Seven Streets Precinct area (it wasn't called that yet) were Hokkiens who worshipped at temples such as the Seng Ong Beow Temple, at that time surrounded by mangrove, somewhere between land and sea. The kampung houses within that area were not arranged in any particular order - it is similar to the kampungs we see today, with clusters of houses interrupted by vegetable plots. The settlers, mostly farmers, sent their produce to the Prangin Canal, where they are loaded to boats and distributed elsewhere in town. Similarly, fish and imported goods come in through the canal and are sent to godowns and sundry shops.
Penang actually became more prosperous from the 4th quarter of the 19th century, when tin mining in Perak propelled an economic boom which even the repeated clan warfares could not derail. There was an influx of immigrants from China, the poor to work in the tin mines and the harbour - where much workforce was needed to load and unload tin and later rubber, the middle class setting up provision shops and retail businesses, while the upper class owning tin mines and were the main benefactors of the clan associations and builders of ornate clan temples.
The Seven Streets Precinct has all along been a working class neighbourhood. Even before the brickhouses were built, it was a no-man's land to the gentrified Baba Nyonyas, a place where clan warfares and triad activities were rampant. So it was until as late as the 1970's and early 80's.
The Seven Streets Precinct was originally earmarked to be included within George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the size of the core and buffer zones were subsequently reduced in area to what it is eventually inscribed.
Pre-war houses in the Seven Streets Precinct (2 December 2008)
McNair Street, the main thoroughfare in the Seven Streets Precinct (2 December, 2008)
Seven Streets Precinct at night (26 May, 2017)
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