The Birch House within Penang Times Square in the George Town city centre is a colonial mansion that once served as the office of Eastern Smelting, a 19th. century tin smelting firm. It has been restored and now houses a McDonald's outlet.
Located at Dato' Keramat Road, the mansion was named after Sir Ernest Woodford Birch, a British Resident of the neighbouring Sultanate of Perak. He played an instrumental role in the establishment of the tin smelting industry on Penang Island.
The Birch House was built in 1908 to house the office of Eastern Smelting, a firm that owned the adjacent tin smelting facility where Penang Times Square now stands on. The firm was founded in 1897 as Seng Kee Tin Smelting Works by Lee Chin Ho, an ethnic Chinese smelter who was the first to use European reveberatory furnaces.
The house was named after Sir Ernest Woodford Birch, the British Resident of the neighboring Sultanate of Perak between 1905 and 1909. At the time, the Kinta Valley in Perak was a major tin producing region. As an advocate of tin production, Birch and three other associates bought controlling interest in Eastern Smelting in 1907 and began to develop the tin smelting industry on Penang Island.
Tin mined in the Sultanate of Perak and southern Thailand was shipped to George Town, where it was then transported to the tin smelting facility at Dato' Keramat Road to be smelted into tin ingots. The ingots would carry the acronym ESCOY, which stood for the Eastern Smelting Company.
Chin Ho, the founder of the company, lived in the Birch House upon its completion. The back door conveniently led to the tin smelting facility, and it was rumoured that the back door was also the place where surly workers and the odd manager were 'sorted out'.
In addition, Chin Ho installed a small figurine of a Tang dynasty general on top of the roof. It was intended to counter influences said to be emanating from Nagarathar Sivan Hindu Temple across the road. The figurine stands to this day on top of the roof of Birch House.
After the Second World War, the house was renovated, giving it its modern façade. However, the tin industry began to die a slow death towards the end of the 20th. century. Consequently, the tin smelting facility at Dato' Keramat Road was shut down and left abandoned.
In the early 2000s, Ivory Properties Group bought the site of the tin smelting facility and began the construction of Penang Times Square. Concurrently, Birch House was renovated to its former glory. After restoration works amounting to RM2.5 million (Malaysian Ringgit), the mansion was turned into the firm's headquarters.
Today, the Birch House, now part of Penang Times Square, also houses a 24-hour McDonald's outlet.
Penang State Government
N.28 Komtar State Assemblyman : Teh Lai Heng (Democratic Action Party)
Malaysian Federal Parliament
P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)
- Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
- Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.