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Leith Street, George Town, Penang

Leith Street, within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the earlier streets of George Town. The famous blue Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion can be seen to the right.

Leith Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of the earlier streets in the city. It runs between Northam Road to the northeast and Chulia Street to the southwest.

Laid out in the early 19th. century and named after the first British Lieutenant-Governor of Penang, Leith Street was initially inhabited by ethnic Indians who had migrated to George Town. Towards the end of that century, the street gradually became more gentrified and transformed into the 'Hakka Millionaire's Row', with rich Chinese owning opulent homes along the street such as the famous Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.

Leith Street sign, George Town, Penang

A bilingual Leith Street sign, featuring its Chinese name.

Today, Leith Street is bustling with tourists who come to the blue mansion daily, while shophouses to the south have been converted into budget hostels and coffee shops.

Etymology

Sir George Alexander William Leith

Sir George Alexander William Leith (1775 - 1842), the first Lieutenant-Governor of Penang. He was notable for securing Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai) from the Sultanate of Kedah; Seberang Perai remains part of the State of Penang to this day.

Leith Street was named after Sir George Alexander William Leith (1775 - 1842), who served as the first Lieutenant-Governor of the Prince of Wales Island (as Penang Island was then called) between 1800 and 1803.

During his tenure, Leith reorganised the local administration of the island, which was founded only over a decade earlier by Captain Francis Light. He also supervised all public works carried out with the help of Indian convict labourers, established a rudimentary judiciary in which he served as the Judge and the Magistrate, and issued land grants for the first time in the island's history. The land grants were the reason why many earlier institutions on the island dated their establishments back to the early 1800s, although they had been in existence since Light's founding of the island in 1786.

More importantly, Leith acquired Province Wellesley, a strip of land opposite the Prince of Wales Island, from the Sultanate of Kedah for agricultural purposes. To this day, Province Wellesley, which has been renamed Seberang Perai, forms the mainland halve of the State of Penang.

Originally, Leith Street was lined with coconut trees and thus it was called Nyiur Cabang in Malay. Towards the end of the 19th. century, as Hakka millionaires began building mansions along the street, it became known in Penang Hokkien as Lien3 Hua3 Ho2 ('Lotus River'), Hakka Lor ('Hakka Street') and Siang Ho Chu Cheng ('in front of Siang Ho's house'). The term Lien3 Hua3 Ho2 referred to the lotus pond within the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.

History

Leith Street, George Town, Penang (1928)

Leith Street in 1928. Some of these buildings were later destroyed during World War 2.

Leith Street was created in the early 19th. century, soon after the tenure of Lieutenant-Governor Leith between 1800 and 1803.

Originally, the street, lined with palm trees, was inhabited mostly by Indian Muslims, including Bengalis and Biharis, who spilled over from the adjoining Chulia Street and Penang Road. The Benggali Mosque serves as a reminder of the street's Benggali Muslim heritage.

Engineer's Institute, George Town, Penang (1900) (2)

The Engineer's Institute at Leith Street in the 1900s. This building was destroyed in December 1941 by Japanese bombers.

Cheong Fatt Tze

Cheong Fatt Tze, one of the richest men in Southeast Asia in the late 19th. century, was one of the rich Hakkas who lived along Leith Street.

Towards the end of the 19th. century, Hakka millionaires began moving into the street, building large opulent mansions such as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Leong Fee Mansion and Yeoh Wee Gark Mansion (now The Edison George Town). It was in this period that Leith Street became known as the 'Hakka Millionaire's Row'.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, George Town, Penang

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was constructed by master craftsmen brought in from China, and it combines Chinese architecture with European interior design.

One of Penang's premier private hospitals also has its roots at Leith Street; Penang Adventist Hospital was established within what is now Lum Foong Hotel in 1924.

By the end of World War 2, however, the street had lost much of its lustre, with buildings being destroyed by the war and the mansions gradually falling into decrepit state as their owners passed on.

Leong Fee Mansion, Leith Street, George Town, Penang

Leong Fee Mansion now houses Equator College.

Towards the turn of the 21st. century, Leith Street was given a new lease of life. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was restored in the 1990s, winning the UNESCO Asia-Pacific's Most Excellent Project Award for Cultural Heritage Preservation in 2000, while Leong Fee Mansion has been turned into an arts college. Meanwhile, the shophouses to the south have been in use as budget hostels and coffee shops.

Interestingly, it was at the intersection with Muntri Street where the renowned shoe designer, Jimmy Choo, began his apprenticeship at shoe-making.

Penang Cheong Fatt Tze mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, arguably one of the most famous tourist destinations within George Town.

Notable Landmarks

From north to south :

Religion

  • Benggali Mosque
Jimmy Choo wrought iron sculpture, Leith Street, George Town, Penang

Jimmy Choo wrought iron sculpture at Leith Street

Street Art

The Jimmy Choo wrought iron sculpture, installed at the intersection with Muntri Street, celebrates the life of the renowned shoe designer who spent his early years within George Town. He started making shoes at the Hong Kong Shoe Store located at this particular intersection. The description is as follows.

This is the place where the famous shoe designer, Jimmy Choo, started his apprenticeship.

Pau Seller mural, Leith Street, George Town, Penang

Pau Seller mural at Leith Street

There is also a wall mural titled 'Pau Seller', located at the side of Wil House near the southern junction with Chulia Street.

Chocolate Boutique, Leith Street, George Town, Penang

Chocolate & Coffee Museum

Museum

  • Chocolate & Coffee Museum

Food

From north to south :

  • Red Garden Food Paradise
  • Lum Foong Cafe

Hotels

Lum Foong Hotel, Muntri Street, George Town, Penang

Lum Foong Hotel was the site where Penang Adventist Hospital was founded in 1924.

From north to south :

  • Waldorf Hotel
  • The Edison George Town (Yeoh Wee Gark Mansion)
  • Lum Foong Hotel
  • Modern Hotel
  • Wil House
  • Oriental Hotel
  • Siok Hostel

Education

Equator College, formerly known as Equator Academy of Arts, is now housed within the Leong Fee Mansion at Leith Street. It is one of the foremost arts, media and design colleges within northern Malaysia, offering diploma courses in arts, media, design technology, interior design, architecture and marketing.

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, Penang.
  2. Cheah J. S., 2013. Penang 500 Early Postcards. Editions Didier Millet.
  3. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/leith-street.htm
  4. http://wongchunwai.com/2013/12/the-jimmy-choo-connection/

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