The Town Hall is a handsome colonial civic building located right next to the Penang City Hall. Both the Town Hall and the Penang City Hall were built in front of The Esplanade in the heart of George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Completed in 1883, the Town Hall has always been used for social events. In the past, only the European elite were allowed to attend functions inside the Town Hall. Currently, it is open for the annual George Town Festival, as well as being used for public exhibitions and other events.
Like the neighbouring Penang City Hall, the land on which the Town Hall now stands was previously occupied by a private residence. A merchant, George Seton, had built his residence here and leased it to accommodate visiting British Royal Navy admirals. A great fire in 1812 destroyed that residence.
The foundation of the Town Hall was laid on 1 January 1879 by the then Lieutenant-Governor of Penang, Sir Archibald Edward Harbord Anson. Designed by military engineers Captains Innes and Satterthwaite, the main building, which consisted of an assembly hall, a grand ballroom and a library, was completed four years later.
The Town Hall was intended to be the headquarters of the Municipal Council of George Town, as well as a public hall for entertainment, the lack of which had been complained about for a while. In addition, the Town Hall served as the birthplace of the Penang State Library; the Prince of Wales Library was moved into the building and renamed the Penang Library.
In 1890, an annex was added. The porch and the top floor were also added in 1903, while the main ballroom stage was enlarged to a standard size. In 1930, the left wing, which was built using cement plaster, was completed.
The insufficient office space in the Town Hall eventually led to the construction of the adjacent City Hall. The Municipal Council of George Town quietly moved into the City Hall upon its completion in 1906.
Since its inception, the Town Hall has been used for social events. During the British colonial era, some of the largest, most extravagant balls on Penang Island were held inside the building. It also became the venue for theatrical and musical performances, as well as church services by the Wesley Church in 1891. However, only the European elite were allowed into the Town Hall, earning it its nickname, the European Club.
In 1999, a segment of the famous movie, Anna and the King, was filmed inside the Town Hall. The interior of the Town Hall was chosen to depict the courtroom scene in the movie.
However, by the end of the 20th. century, the Town Hall fell into a derelict state. The previous tenants had made several irresponsible modifications to the building. After the last tenant moved out, it was revealed that the roof was leaking and the wall plasters were tearing out, due to the use of a paint which stopped proper evaporation of ground water and led to salt accumulation inside the porous walls.
The Penang Island Municipal Council had considered tearing down the Town Hall. Fortunately, the National Museum intervened by gazetting the Town Hall as a historic monument in 1993.
Today, the refurbished Town Hall has been used for public speeches, art exhibitions and concerts. It is also open to the public for the annual George Town Festival.
Appearances in Media
- Anna and the King
- Genre : Historical period film
- Country of Origin : United States of America
- Year : 1999
Anna and the King, produced by 20th. Century Fox, is centred on a fictionalised account of Anna Leonowens, a British woman who became the teacher of the Siamese King Monkut's children and wives in the late 19th. century.
The royal court room scene was filmed at the Grand Ballroom inside the Town Hall.
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)
- Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
- Langdon, M. A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. Penang : George Town World Heritage Incorporated.