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Light Street

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Light Street, George Town, Penang (21 August, 2011)

B. Melayu

Light Street, or Lebuh Light in Malay, was the first street to be laid on the newly established settlement on George Town. It is said that Captain Francis Light fired a cannon filled with silver coins to induce the locals to clear the humid, mosquito-infested dense jungle. It should be pointed out that Penang Island was not uninhabited when Light landed there - there was already settlements along the banks of Sungai Pinang, at Batu Uban, and Tanjong Tokong.

Location of sights along Light Street

Hotels on Light Street

  1. The Chambers Hotel (opening soon)

Historic Buildings on/near Light Street

  1. Chinese Chamber of Commerce (GPS: 5.42012, 100.34168)
  2. Foo Tye Sin Mansion (GPS: 5.41975, 100.34209)
  3. Fort Cornwallis (GPS: 5.4203, 100.34384)
  4. Francis Light's Well (GPS: 5.42257, 100.33918)
  5. Government House (GPS: 5.42273, 100.3389)
  6. House of Yeap Chor Ee (GPS: 5.41982, 100.3418)

Fields on Light Street

  1. Padang Kota Lama (GPS: 5.42072, 100.34221)

Schools on Light Street

  1. Convent Light Street (GPS: 5.42146, 100.33856)

Auditoriums on Light Street

  1. Dewan Sri Pinang (GPS: 5.4213, 100.34045)

Monuments on Light Street

  1. Logan Memorial (GPS: 5.42107, 100.33984)
  2. Queen Victoria Memorial Clocktower (GPS: 5.41944, 100.34426)

Fountains on Light Street

  1. Municipal Fountain (GPS: 5.42076, 100.34098)
  2. Pinang Fountain (GPS: 5.41912, 100.34408)

Commercial Buildings on Light Street

  1. Wisma Great Eastern (GPS: 5.42005, 100.34091)
  2. Wisma Pelaut (GPS: 5.41956, 100.34252)

Government Buildings on Light Street

  1. Bank Negara Malaysia Building (GPS: 5.42052, 100.34044)
  2. Immigration Department (GPS: 5.41902, 100.34367)
  3. Penang Supreme Court (GPS: 5.42076, 100.3398)
  4. State Assembly Building (GPS: 5.41936, 100.34312)

Light Street, with view of Wisma Great Eastern, Bank Negara Malaysia Building and Supreme Court Building (21 August, 2011)

After the land was cleared, Light named the first road after himself. Subsequent roads were laid out from Light Street. Light had no experience in town planning (something that would manifest itself in later decades, when British officers reexamined his town layout and found it wanting, as I've described in the historical plan to relocate George Town). He also had limited assistance from the British East India Company, and did the best he could with the resources in hand.

In the earliest days, Light had his house built on Light Street. His friend and trading partner James Scott also had his home on Light Street. Fort Cornwallis as we know it today had not yet existed, but Light had a crude palisaded fortress built of nibong trunks at the tip of the cape. It was not the most ideal site for a fort, and Light, with no military experience, did not know it. He was however successful in repelling an attack mounted by Sultan Abdullah in 1791.

Light Street in front of the State Assembly Building (21 August, 2011)

Light built a jetty at one end of Light Street, and at the other, he dug a well for the new settlement (this, I believe, is a different well from the Francis Light Well, which Light dug for his personal use). The jetty was removed when the land was reclaimed to create Swettenham Pier. Light Street was arrow straight. It ended where the gate to Convent Light Street is located today. A short road called Prince Street (now part of Light Street) linked it to Farquhar Street (at that time known as Penang Road)

For the first half of the 19th century, much of Light Street was occupied by the military, the police and the British administrators.

Light Street in front of Wisma Great Eastern (21 August, 2011)

Until Penang was elevated to the status of Presidency in 1805, there wasn't much money for public works either. Only after Penang gained that status was there grander buildings erected, among them the Recorder's Courts Building, which today is used as the State Assembly Building. At that time, it was part of the Central Police Station, before the Central Police Station move to Claimant Place, leaving a shadow of itself in the form of the Beach Street Police Station. During this period, Light Street was known in Hokkien as Po3lay3 Khau4 , meaning "entrance to the police station".

By the second half of the 19th century, as land use was relaxed, rich Chinese tycoons began buying real estate previously occupied by the Europeans. As a result, newly rich entrepreneurs such as Foo Tye Sin, Koh Seang Tat, Goh Ban Bee had their properties on Light Street - to be able to afford a Light Street address would mark a Chinese as "having arrived".

Light Street continues to evolve little by little from the turn of the 20th century and into the 21st century. The Light Street Roundabout did not materialise until after the Second World War.

New buildings added to Light Street since the mid 20th century include Dewan Sri Pinang, Bank Negara Malaysia and Wisma Great Eastern but most of the other buildings along it have remained little changed since at least 70 years ago.

Lebuh Light road sign (30 November 2008)

Getting there

You can reach Light Street by taking the Rapid Penang Free Shuttle Bus to Station No. 5 (Bank Negara).

Light Street history plaque (30 November 2008)

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