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Bishop Street, George Town, Penang

Bishop Street, George Town

Bishop Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a street within the city's commercial centre. It runs from northwest to southeast, linking Pitt Street to the west with Beach Street to the east.

As its name implies, Bishop Street once had a Christian connection. Captain Francis Light, after having founded George Town in 1786, invited a French Catholic priest, Father Arnaud-Antoine Garnault, to settle on Penang Island. Upon arriving in George Town, Father Garnault established his presbytery along the street, hence its name. Another Armenian church was also set up along Bishop Street in the early 19th. century.

Bishop Street sign, George Town, Penang

Bishop Street sign

Bishop Street gradually evolved into one of the streets within the commercial heart of George Town. European mercantile and retail businesses spilled out of Beach Street into the eastern half of Bishop Street, whereas the western half of Bishop Street adjoining the more Oriental Pitt Street was home to a number of traditional Chinese trades.

Today, many of the Chinese shophouses and colonial buildings along Bishop Street have been refurbished and converted into museums, trendy cafes and restaurants. A number of banks also operate their main Penang branches along the street.

Every Sunday, the Occupy Beach Street event, which aims to promote healthy living and the Penang state government's car-free Sundays initiative, is held and includes Bishop Street.

Etymology

Bishop Street was named in honour of Father (later Bishop) Arnaud-Antoine Garnault, who had established his presbytery along the street and the first Catholic church in George Town at nearby Church Street.

Throughout the 19th. century and into the 20th. century, several traditional Chinese trades were set up along Bishop Street. As a result, the Chinese had different names for different sections of the street.

  • Between Pitt Street and King Street
    • Cantonese :
      • Shun Tak Kongsi Kai
    • Hokkien :
      • Sun Teik Kongsi Kay

Both the Cantonese and Hokkien names referred to the street of the Sun Teik clan house.

  • Between King Street and Penang Street
    • Cantonese :
      • Lui Sung Lai Pai Thong Chin
    • Hokkien :
      • Lu Song Le Pai tng Cheng

Both the Cantonese and Hokkien names were derived from the presbytery established by Bishop Garnault.

  • Between Penang Street and Beach Street
    • Cantonese :
      • Chhat Muk Kai
    • Hokkien :
      • Chat1 Bok3 Kay1
      • Chha Kang Kay
      • Chha Kung Kay

The Cantonese name Chat Muk Kai, and the Hokkien names Chat1 Bok3 Kay1 and Chha Kang Kay, all meant the street of painting wood. The other Hokkien name, Chha Kung Kay, meant the street of woodmakers.

History

Bishop Street, George Town, Penang (old)

A 1910s picture of Bishop Street

After founding George Town in 1786, Captain Francis Light extended an invitation to a French Catholic priest, Father (later Bishop) Arnaud-Antoine Garnault, to settle on the Prince of Wales Island, as Penang Island was then called. Father Garnault and his Eurasian congregation had been escaping religious persecution in southern Thailand. Light accepted Father Garnault's permission to relocate the Catholic mission to the Prince of Wales Island and subsequently dispatched his ship, the Speedwell, to pick up the Catholics.

Upon arriving in George Town, Father Garnault established his presbytery at Bishop Street and the first Catholic church of the settlement, the Church of the Assumption, at nearby Church Street. The Church of the Assumption was moved to its present grounds at Farquhar Street in 1860.

However, Father Garnault's relations with Light were not always pleasant. When Father Garnault left in 1787, Light wrote to his superiors in British India to request for a replacement. According to Light, 'a Portuguese padre would be better than a French, the latter being too great politicians'.

In 1822, the Armenian Church of St. Gregory was also established along Bishop Street by a group of Armenians who had arrived in George Town after travelling via British India. The Armenian church, said to be the first in Southeast Asia, occupied an entire block between King Street and Penang Street.

Bishop Street, George Town, Penang (1970s)

Bishop Street in the 1970s

Throughout the 19th. century and into the 20th. century, Bishop Street gradually grew in importance to become the centre of the early service industry. Traditional Chinese trades were set up along the street, chiefly at the western stretch towards Pitt Street. On the other end of the street were European mercantile and retail trades spilling out of Beach Street.

Bishop Street, George Town, Penang (2)

The Whiteaways Arcade at the junction between Bishop Street and Beach Street once housed the Whiteaways departmental store, one of the premier European retail centres in 20th. century George Town.

In 1905, the Mercantile Bank of India moved to the junction between Bishop Street and Beach Street. Later, the junction became well-known as an upper class European retail area, with two famous departmental stores at the junction - the Whiteaways and the Pritchards.

To this day, several trades, as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) continue to operate along Bishop Street. Adding to to vibrancy of the street are a number of trendy cafes, restaurants and museums housed inside restored Chinese shophouses.

San Wooi Wooi Koon, Bishop Street, George Town, Penang

San Wooi Wooi Koon is a Cantonese district association sandwiched between European buildings near the junction with Beach Street.

Notable Landmarks

From west to east :

Banks

  • United Overseas Bank

Country of Origin : Singapore

  • Public Bank

Country of Origin : Malaysia

Museums

Two niche museums have been established along Bishop Street.

Gohkaki Childhood Museum & Cafe, Bishop Street, George Town, Penang

Gohkaki Childhood Museum at Bishop Street

Near the junction with Pitt Street, stands the PG Gold Museum. Opened in 2015 by Public Gold, it is the first gold museum in Southeast Asia. One can find and touch exhibits made of gold, as well as learn about the mining and production of gold.

The Gohkaki Childhood Museum to the east is housed inside the Gohkaki Cafe. It provides a glimpse into the childhood toys and games played by local Penangites in the past.

Education

SENTRAL College is a private college based inside the SENTRAL Tower at Bishop Street. The college offers various certificate, diploma and degree courses in business, management, accounting, tourism and computing.

Bishop Street, George Town, Penang (3)

The SENTRAL Tower (centre-right) that houses SENTRAL College is the tallest building within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Notably, the SENTRAL Tower is the tallest building within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was constructed in the 1980s, well before the building height restrictions that comes with the UNESCO listing came into effect.

Food

There are a number of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops along Bishop Street, serving various cuisines from Indian to Western.

  • Melo Coffee Shop
  • Gem Restaurant House of Fine Indian Cuisine
  • Gohkaki Cafe
  • The Cruises Steak House

Occupy Beach Street

Occupy Beach Street is a weekly event in which a stretch of Beach Street between Downing Street and Church Street, along with Bishop Street, Church Street and Church Street Ghaut, are closed to cars and lined with various recreational activities for pedestrians. This initiative by the Penang state government is in conjunction with the car-free day every Sunday.

During the weekly event, Bishop Street, as the sports section, will host several sport activities.

Political Representation

Penang State Government

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.
  2. http://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2013/08/10/the-bishop-and-the-french-connection-discovering-the-influence-of-bishop-garnault-in-the-early-days/
  3. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/bishop-street.htm

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