Penang’s Heritage in Numbers

Traditional Trades in George Town

THERE ARE A total of 607 traditional traders in George Town, Penang. They represent 63 unique trades, and are members of the city’s intangible heritage. Such businesses, as included in the Traditional Trades Inventory compiled by George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), are often more than 50 years old, family-owned, associated with traditional customs, handicrafts, skills, festivals and rituals, or are rare in the local context.

The top 10 most common traditional trades are listed in Table 1. Coffee and tea shops dominate the city’s traditional trades (9% of all traditional traders in George Town), followed by shops specialising in traditional medicine (7%), dried food provisions (6%), and religious and ceremonial goods (5%).

The rarest traditional trades include a florist specialising in Indian garlands, a bar that dates back to 1920 on Lebuh Chulia, stores selling items related to traditional pastimes and traditional occupations, etc. (Table 2).

The Clan Jetties

The Clan Jetties of Penang were established in the mid 19th century. At its peak, there were more than 20 water villages, but time and changes in society have whittled that number down to seven. The Peng Aun and Koay Jetties were demolished in 2006 to allow for development.

The majority of the remaining jetties have populations that originate from the Tong An District in China’s Fujian Province, except for the Yeoh Jetty, whose residents came from the Haicheng District. Today, the majority of residents are the elderly – the younger generation has moved out to pursue new job opportunities and different lifestyles.

Most jetties remain largely residential. As shown in Figure 1, the Chew Jetty has the most number of buildings (75), followed by the Lim Jetty (30) and the Lee Jetty (24). The Ong Jetty has only two buildings. Both Chew and Lee Jetties have undergone substantial physical changes in response to the influx of tourists since George Town was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Fort Cornwallis

The building of Fort Cornwallis dates back to 1786, when Francis Light landed in Penang Island, then called Prince of Wales Island. The fort was used for military, administrative, cultural and social purposes; but was no longer a military base by 1897.

When the Japanese invaded Malaya, it had already been converted into a public space with some warehousing. After World War II, the fort fell into neglect for a protracted period of time. It was finally listed as a National Monument under the Malaysian Antiquities Act, and became a space for recreation and entertainment soon after. In March 2000 conservation efforts were carried out with public funding, and the fort has been used as a public space since.

Over time, however, the fort naturally saw wear and tear, cracks, leaning walls, salt contamination, microorganism growth, erosion of mortar joint and more. To preserve it, the George Town Conservation and Development Corporation (GTCDC), a tripartite partnership between the Penang State Government through Chief Minister Incorporated, Think City and Aga Khan Trust for Culture, is currently spearheading extensive conservation works.

As shown in Figure 2, drafting of the Conservation Management Plan and efforts to get it endorsed by Jabatan Warisan Negara (Department of National Heritage) began in 2015. The entire process of planning and executing pilot conservation works has taken five years at a cost of RM5.07mil, and are mainly concentrated on the Storerooms and include archaeological excavations. Completion of the Storerooms and the South and West Moats will be carried out between 2021 and 2023, and is expected to cost another RM10mil.


The Esplanade is a popular landmark and recreation space, commonly known to locals as Padang Kota Lama. Between the end of 2015 and August 2016, the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) carried out a project to improve the drainage and subsoil systems of the Esplanade, with GTCDC co-monitoring the construction works. The expansive field located by the sea was suffering from water ponding and flooding issues due to improper usage.

In total, MBPP spent RM2.3mil to improve and upgrade the Esplande. Think City, through GTCDC, was involved in other upgrading works, including the dismantling of the performance stage and the improvement of the field’s walkway which cost RM230,000. The agency was also responsible for drafting regulations for correct usage of the Esplanade.

Penang’s Heritage Buildings

By Arkitek LLA and Yap Jo-yee • Photography courtesy of Arkit ek LLA

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

The landmark, known also as the Blue Mansion, is Penang’s first high profile Grade 1 restoration effort, and has set the benchmark standard for restoration works in the George Town World Heritage Site.

The entire process of restoring the mansion to its former glory costs RM4mil, spanning an entire decade, from 1990 to 2000. It is one of the filming sites for “Crazy Rich Asians” and the Academy Award-winning movie, “Indochine”. The mansion today serves as a boutique hotel with a museum and a fine dining restaurant.

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.

The Khoo Kongsi Temple and Pavilion

The iconic complex underwent two phases of restoration. The pavilion was restored during the initial phase, followed by the temple in the second phase. Both cost RM2.7mil. The conservation work was recognised for its excellence when it was awarded the “PAM Architectural Award” in 2000.

The Khoo Kongsi Temple and Pavilion.

The Loke Wan Yat Mansion

Located on Gurney Drive, the villa is an outstanding piece of work by romanticist David McCloud Craik. It was built in 1924 in the Arts and Crafts architectural style, and is shaped like a butterfly. But time had taken its toll and conservation experts took four years to restore the mansion. The effort costs RM460,000.

The Loke Wan Yat Mansion.

Mission House

One of the most important buildings in George Town, Mission House was the earliest site for the Protestant church in Penang. It was built between 1876 and 1878. Conservation work lasted from 2011-2016, at a cost of RM4.4mil.

Mission House.

Suffolk House

The mansion is Malaysia’s only surviving Georgian-style architecture. The cost of restoration at RM7.5mil is jointly funded by the Penang State Government, HSBC and from donations. The mansion was originally Francis Light’s residence, built within his pepper estate, Suffolk. After his passing, the house was used as the home for subsequent governors of Penang and the Straits Settlement.

In the 1810s and 1820s, it became the Government House, utilised for official political meetings. One notable meeting concerned the founding of Singapore which Stamford Raffles attended. The award-winning conservation work was carried out between 2000 and 2007, and was split into three phases.

Suffolk House.

Seri Mutiara – Residency of the Governor of Penang

The 1890 Anglo-Indian bungalow was built by the British to serve as the home for the Governor of Penang, a role it continues to hold today. It underwent restoration in 2002 at RM5.5mil. As the first occupant of the mansion was A.M. Skinner, who was also Chairman for the Penang Botanic Gardens, a garden was created within the compounds of the Residency, filled with rare and native tropical plants. Today, aside from housing the Governor of Penang, it is also home to one of the three baobab trees in Penang.

Seri Mutiara.

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