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Street Stories: Light Street

Story of the Street

Light Street or Lebuh Light is the oldest road in the city of George Town in Penang. It was named after Captain Francis Light, the Founder of Penang and first Superintendent of the colony. Light Street was created between 1786 and 1787, soon after the founding of George Town. The street is called Po-lê-khaú (玻理口) in Hokkien which meant the entrance to the Police Court (now the Legislative Assembly buildings). This is because the State Assembly Building at Light Street was once used as part of the Central Police Station. 

It was the port settlement’s first street. Many of early administrative government buildings and European mansions were built along the street. After Captain Francis Light first landed on Fort Cornwallis on 17 July 1786, he ordered his crew to fire silver dollars from the ship’s cannons into the jungle. Then, the Padang at The Esplanade was created. After that, he created Light Street, which was named after himself.

Administrative and judicial buildings were built along Light Street by the British, gradually turning it into the administrative heart of Penang. For the first half of the 19th century, Light Street was occupied by East India Company soldiers, policemen and British administrators. Besides, Light and his business partner, James Scott had their residences built along Light Street too.   

Significant Buildings

Convent Light Street
Convent Light Street Penang  Street Stories: Light Street haha 1 1 1024x968

Convent Light Street is the oldest girls’ school in Southeast Asia. It was founded by French Catholic nuns of the Holy Infant Jesus Mission in 1852. There was a group of five nuns who travelled from France to Singapore to form a Catholic institution. At the request of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Boucho in George Town, three nuns from the group then sailed from Singapore to Penang. 

Convent Light Street Penang  Street Stories: Light Street pic1 1 1 1024x510

The three nuns were first settled inside an attap hut. With the increase in the number of children, they had to find a new place for their convent. Then, Mother St. Mathilde found the Government House which served as the residence of Captain Francis Light in 1786. In 1859, the nuns bought the Anglo-Indian style building and the surrounding seven-acre compound. A field of the compound was later sold to St. Xavier’s Institution, the oldest Catholic boys’ school in Malaysia. A wall separating the field from Convent Light Street was constructed. It now serves as the boundary between the Core Zone and the Buffer Zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The convent continued to expand until 1934. During the past, it was one of the most highly regarded missionary schools in Penang. Today, Convent Light Street has fully adopted the standardised Malaysian education system.

Supreme Court of Penang

The Supreme Court of Penang had been established inside Fort Cornwallis in 1808 and was subsequently relocated to its present location at Light Street in 1809. It is the oldest high court in Malaysia. Initially, the original court building was a wooden structure with an attap roof. The current Palladian-style building was built between 1901 and 1905. It continues to serve as the Supreme Court for Penang. Furthermore, its establishment also marked the introduction of a modern legal system in Malaya, which evolved to become the current judiciary of Malaysia. 

Logan Memorial
Logan Memorial Penang  Street Stories: Light Street haha 11

There is another court building constructed across Light Street opposite the Supreme Court. It houses the Sessions and Magistrates Court. The Logan Memorial is a Gothic-styled monument erected in front of the new Sessions and Magistrates Court. It was built in the memory of James Richardson Logan, a Scottish lawyer who successfully fought for the rights of Asians in colonial Penang.

Logan Memorial Penang  Street Stories: Light Street haha 6

The monument was erected in 1873 within the premises of the Supreme Court of Penang. It was moved by the Japanese during WWII. It remained within the Supreme Court until 2007 and was relocated to its present location. The monument consists of four female figures, with each facing one of the four directions: 

  • Justice, with a sword, faces northeast (overlook the Sessions and Magistrates Court)
  • Fortitude, with a club, faces northwest (up Light Street towards Convent Light Street)
  • Wisdom, with an open book, faces southwest (overlook the Supreme Court of Penang)
  • Temperance, with a chain and bit, faces southeast (down Light Street)
Dewan Sri Pinang

Dewan Sri Pinang is a multi-purpose auditorium located between Light Street and Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah. It was built in the early 1970s in the Brutalist architectural style generated from the modernist architectural movement. It is one of the most popular auditoriums in Penang that serves as a venue for conferral of state titles, funerals of public figures, live performances, international theatre productions and even wedding dinners.

Bank Negara Malaysia Building
Bank Negara Malaysia Branch in Penang  Street Stories: Light Street haha 10 1024x733

Bank Negara Malaysia Building is a modern building located on Light Street at the junction with Pitt Street (Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling). The building was built in the Brutalist architecture style in the late 1970’s. It houses the Penang branch of Malaysian central bank. 

Chung Siew Yin Building
Wisma Great Eastern (Chung Siew Yin Building)  Street Stories: Light Street haha 13 1024x600

Chung Siew Yin Building is a double-storey Art-Deco style house built in the mid-19th century. It was the residence of Chung Siew Yin, the daughter of Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, who was one of the richest men on Penang Island during that period of time. An Art-Deco style wing was added to the building in the mid-20th century. It was designed to merge with the older architecture of Chung Siew Yin Building. Wisma Great Eastern now comprises the both original buildings. It is the Penang headquarters of Great Eastern Life Assurance Co. Ltd., which is currently the largest Singapore-based insurance company and the oldest insurance firm in Asia. 

Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce 槟州中华总商会
Penang Chinese Chamber Of Commerce  Street Stories: Light Street haha 15 1024x987

The Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce (PCCC) was established in 1903. It was Malaysia’s first Chinese Chamber of Commerce. It played a vital role to safeguard Penang’s Chinese commercial interests. The PCCC was founded to supervise business transactions amongst the Chinese in Penang with common business activities. It is also to form a united front for Penang’s Chinese merchants to exert pressure on the Straits Settlements government. The PCCC is currently one of the strongest commercial institutions in Malaysia.

Penang Chinese Chamber Of Commerce  Street Stories: Light Street lolo 1

The building of PCCC was constructed in 1928. The first phase was designed by a local architect, Chew Eng Eam in 1926. Then, the second phase, which is the western wing, was designed later in the Art Moderne style (combining both Art Deco and Moderne architectural styles). Both wings have been restored in 2016 and the western wing has been converted into The Chambers Hotel.

Foo Tye Sin Mansion
Hong Leong Bank (Foo Tye Sin Mansion)  Street Stories: Light Street haha 16 1024x713

It was one of the first non-European mansions to be erected along Light Street. Foo Tye Sin Mansion was built around the mid-19th century. Foo Tye Sin was a Justice of the Peace and an influential community leader during that period of time. He was a Hakka born in Penang and educated at St. Xavier’s Institution and the Penang Free School. Tye Sin Street is named after him. One of the appealing features of Foo Tye Sin Mansion is the fourth storey lookout tower at the back. However, the mansion is now converted into a branch of a local bank.

State Assembly Building
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The State Assembly Building is a public building built in the early 19th century. This Anglo-Indian classical style building was originally served as part of George Town’s Central Police Station. A block was added in 1890 to house the administrative offices of the Straits Settlements Police Force. Then, the building was converted into the current home of the State Legislative Assembly in 1959. Meanwhile, the additional block is now used separately as the Immigration Department Building. This Anglo-Indian style building contains elements of classical Greek and Palladian architecture. For instance, the massive white colonnades supporting a large pediment were inspired by ancient Greek temples.

Immigration Department Building
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Immigration Department Building is an impressive double-storey building. As mentioned above, it was built in 1890 and located within the compound of the Central Police Station. It was originally intended to house the administrative office of the police force. However, it now houses the Penang Island office of the Malaysian Immigration Department. In addition, the building has a porte cochere facing north.

Jubilee Clock Tower
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The Jubilee Clock Tower which is also known as the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. This famous clock tower was commissioned in 1897 by a Penang millionaire, Cheah Chen Eok. This clock tower was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Besides, it is also a testament to Penang’s royal connections. This Moorish style clock tower stands 60ft-high, with each foot representing a year of the Queen’s 60-year reign. Due to the impact from bombs being dropped around it during WWII, the Jubilee Clock Tower is slightly tilted. In fact, it is hardly noticeable.

Pinang Fountain (Light Street Roundabout)
Pinang Fountain (Light Street Roundabout)  Street Stories: Light Street haha 28

The Pinang Fountain on the Light Street Roundabout is a metal, betel nut-shaped fountain. It was designed to symbolise Penang Island as Penang Island was often referred to as the island of betel nuts. The metal structure is 4.8 metre tall and a spray of water comes up from inside the structure. 

Where to Stay

The Chambers Hotel
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The Chambers Hotel is a small independent boutique hotel located at the western wing of the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce. The hotel features two types of rooms, which are Deluxe Room with one large double bed and Premier Room with two double beds. Besides, the hotel also features a terrace and views of the sea.  

What to Eat

Constant Gardener Coffee
Constant Gardener Coffee in the building of Penang Chinese Chamber Of Commerce  Street Stories: Light Street haha 14 1024x478

Constant Gardener Coffee is tucked within the Penang Chinese Chambers of Commerce Building. It is a place that serves specialty coffees, teas, smoothies and more. Meanwhile, they also offer Chicken Mushroom Pie, Croissant, cakes and even ice cream sandwiches. Though it is quite hard to look for parking, it is a good place for gatherings or enjoy your me-time here.

Hameed Pata Mee Sotong
Hameed Pata Mee Sotong  Street Stories: Light Street haha 29 1024x672

Hameed Pata Mee Sotong is a stall located in the Padang Kota Lama food court. It could be considered as one of the best mee goreng in Penang. The addition of sweet and spicy chilli cuttlefish enhances the entire plate of mee goreng. The super-spicy cuttlefish has been stewed in a blood-red chili sauce which is the main character of the plate. On a side note, the perfect companion for this Mee Sotong is the Coconut Shake!