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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
From north to south :
- Benggali Mosque
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.
There is also a wall mural titled 'Pau Seller', located at the side of Wil House near the southern junction with Chulia Street.
- Chocolate & Coffee Museum
From north to south :
- Red Garden Food Paradise
- Lum Foong Cafe
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
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.
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)
- Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books, Penang.
- Cheah J. S., 2013. Penang 500 Early Postcards. Editions Didier Millet.