This was the building known as Raffles House in Penang, along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah/Northam Road. Notice the five 19th Century Doric order columns.
It stood on the site of Stamford Raffles’ house, which was damaged in a fire in 1901. It was rebuilt or reconstructed in 1903 and opened as a hotel. (See timeline further below.) The solid structure of the building may well have been the original. Heritage circles had asked if they could investigate and record the building but it never happened.
Instead, the building was among several that were demolished at the Runnymede site over the Lunar New Year by the developer.
This double-storey house stood to the east of the main three-storey building, which is the only building left standing. The three-storey building was built in the 1930s as an expansion of the original hotel (i.e Raffle’s House). It went on become one of two premier hotels in Penang.
Ironically, the 1930s building was spared while the older Raffles House, connected to the newer building via the hotel lobby, has now been flattened.
The Penang Island City Council would have us believe it was not aware that the demolished buildings had any heritage significance.
These photos of Raffles House were taken by L. A. K. James (and reproduced with permission) during a Badan Warisan Malaysia site visit to Runnymede on 29 May 2006.
For comparison, check out the single-storey colonial residence of Stamford Raffles preserved in Fort Canning in Singapore. (Thanks to blog visitor benny for the link.)
Long before he established a British settlement in Singapore in 1819, Stamford Raffles arrived in Penang with his wife Olivia in 1805 to take up his position as assistant secretary to Philip Dundas, the colonial governor of Penang. At first, Raffles bought a house at the corner of Love Lane and Farquhar Street but then they moved to ‘Mount Olivia’ while waiting for Runnymede, along North Beach, to be built in 1808. In January 1809, Raffles and Olivia move to Runnymede. Bricks villas are also built in adjoining grounds to house other colonial officers.
More photos of Raffles House at the Penang Travel Tips website.
Timeline of Runnymede’s early history
Research by Marcus Langdon
1805: Penang, a British East India Company (EIC) settlement, is elevated to the fourth presidency of India.
Thomas Raffles, with the appointment of Assistant Secretary to Government, arrives in Penang in September along with the new presidency government personnel. His first wife, Olivia, accompanies him.
1806: Raffles leases a house on the western corner of Love Lane and Farquhar Street.
1807: Raffles purchases the house on the western corner of Love Lane and Farquhar Street, but moves to Pulau Tikus where he rents a house. He is appointed Secretary to Government on 26 March.
1808: Due to financial difficulties and ill health, Raffles sells the house on the western corner of Love Lane and Farquhar Street. He constructs Runnymede on North Beach (the current site). ‘Mr. R. is building a pretty brick house on the beach, which I hope will be finished in eight to ten weeks.’ (Olivia Raffles to John Leyden, 3 August 1808).
1809: Raffles and Olivia move in to Runnymede in January. The Prince of Wales Island Gazette of 14 January reported: ‘The north beach will, erelong, assume a very handsome appearance, when the several elegant villas now building, are finished. The new buildings commence with Runnymede, the property of Mr. Raffles, and adjoining are the grounds of Mr. Hobson, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Erskine, Capt. Douglas, Mr. Pearson, and Mr. Lawrence; on most of which houses are erecting.’
Northam Road is then surveyed and formed, cutting the property into two parcels – one each side of the road.
1810: Raffles is seconded as Agent to the Governor General with the Malay States to advise Lord Minto on the invasion of Java. Runnymede is sold in November, being purchased by James Cousens, Assistant Secretary to Government. The auction notice listed it as ‘That Valuable and very eligible Estate, on the North Beach, with a most excellent Brick built Dwelling House, and Offices, erected thereon…’ Raffles and his wife are relocated to Malacca.
1815: Mount Olivia in Penang is sold in October.
Cousens is found guilty of embezzlement and his property is seized. Runnymede is purchased by the EIC for $4,800 Spanish dollars and allocated as a house for visiting Navy Captains.
1822: Runnymede was advertised for sale by the EIC by public auction on 21 September, but the market proved very quiet and the property was passed in.
1823: Runnymede was sold to Robert Scott in January for $2,500 Spanish dollars.
1826: Raffles dies on 5 July in Britain.
1901: Runnymede remains a private residence up until a fire on 17 September 1901, as reported in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser of 21 September 1901: ‘A serious fire occurred in Penang on Tuesday last, when “Runnymede,” one of the old Penang residences was burned to the ground.’
1903: The house was then rebuilt, as reported in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser of 12 June 1903, reprinting from the Pinang Gazette:
‘A historic landmark, “Runnymede House,” Northam Road, Penang, has just disappeared in the building of a new house in its place. “Runnymede” was burnt down some two years ago and about a year before its extinction was the property of Mr Jones, but was sold to Chinese, who used the premises as a Club called the “Penang Literary Association.”
It is the privilege of few residents in the Colony to know that the old house was once the property and residence of Sir Stamford Raffles, the empire maker of the Far East and the founder of Singapore. …
We hope the present owners of the house will still be mindful of the past and call the new house by its old name, so that in later days we also can look up to a landmark which will be in a degree of little less historical value to us than that “Runnymede” of old, made famous by it association with Penang as Magna Charta is to English history.’
1909: Advert, Straits Times:
‘Runnymede / Sea Side / 40, Northam Road, Penang. / Just redecorated. / A few single and double bedrooms near Sea Side, pleasantly cool and bracing, are now available, each with special bathroom attached. Cuisine unexcelled, under European Supervision. Charming Sea Views. Sea Bathing. Fine Garden near the Sea, and Stabling. Moderate Terms by Day, Week or Month. A. Kerdyk, Proprietor. Telephone No. 543. Telegrams: “Runnymede, Penang.”
1910: Straits Times:
‘The Runnymede Hotel, Penang, has had little cause for complaint in the matter of public patronage, says Penang Gazette. Its situation on the sea front, combined with excellent cooking and careful attention to essential details of management, have made the hotel very popular both with residents and visitors.’
1920: Straits Times:
‘Mr. A. Kerdyk is leaving Penang this week, after a lengthy association with the Runnymede, says the Pinang Gazette. A tobacco planter for 28 years in Deli (Sumatra), he and his family arrived here in February 1908, and took over the Runnymede, a boarding house with 16 rooms. This had no licence and no lease; but a licence was procured and the establishment carried on under the name of the Runnymede Hotel. The Hon.
Mr. Eu Tong Sen gave a lease to him, for ten years, and the hotel accommodation was extended. During his time the hotel was much enlarged, and many improvements were affected. It has always been well patronised, and Mr. Kerdyk was solicitous of the comfort of those staying there. He intends to go to Java for a time, but is opening a mercantile firm here under the name of Kerdyk and Co.’
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 2 October 1920:
‘The Runnymede Hotel, Penang, has been registered as a limited liability company with a share capital of $750,000 in one dollar shares. The directors are Messrs E.R. Henderson and Roland Graham.’
The Straits Times, 19 October 1920:
[Ad] ‘Runnymede Hotel Limited (Incorporated in the Straits Settlements) (Seaside) Penang. / The Finest Situation in Penang / Terms Moderate / Orchestra plays nightly except on 2nd and 4th Sundays. / Telegraphic Address: Runnymede, Penang. / Telephone 635 and 543. E.R. Henderson, Manager. H. Parker, Assistant Manager.’
1921: The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 12 May 1921: Death on May 10 of ‘Mr E.R. Henderson, C.A., Secretary and Manager of Runnymede Hotel, Penang, after a surgical operation yesterday at Medan for a serious internal affection, at the age of 40.’ Was son of Captain Henderson, Chief Constable of Edinburgh; arrived 13 years ago and was an accountant in the firm of Messrs. Brown, Phillips and Stewart. Recently became a partner in Runnymede Hotel Ltd and had lately formed a limited company in which he had considerable interest. He had been Treasurer of the Town, Penang, Golf and Cricket Clubs.
1925: The Straits Times, Ad states that a new billiard room annexe recently opened; private baths to all rooms; special rate for b&b; manager H. Parker.
1928: The Straits Times, 21 December: 8th AGM: president J.D. Kemp said profit on trading was $96,986.62; an increase of $22,479.22 over previous year; after debts etc net $55,807.46; share capital increased from $390,000 to $450,000. ‘Continuing, the Chairman said that during the year they purchased the adjoining property known as The Priory for $80,000.’ … land worth about $1.50 per foot…now hold 7 acres, largest held by one owner in the district. ‘Replying to another question, he said he was afraid that the original Runnymede House must eventually go to make room for a modern building.’ Mentions that it was the home of Raffles.
1930: The Straits Times, 22 November:
[Ad] ’20 Additional Rooms completely modernised and refurnished, are now ready.’ George Goldsack, Manager.
The Straits Times, 12 December:
‘Profits for Year 1930 Drop by $37,000. For the year ended Sept. 30, 1930, the net profit of the Runnymede Hotel is $21,409 compared with $58,435 in the previous year…’
1932: The Straits Times, 6 January: [report on 11th annual general meeting of shareholders of Runnymede Hotel Ltd, J.D. Kemp chairman]
‘…last year I referred to 1930 as one of the worst years in the history of Malaya, and I am sorry to say that 1931 has shown little, if any, improvement; in fact, it has been a difficult and anxious one for your board and management…’ [Runnymede came through ok with a slight increase in profit]
‘The net profit for the year amounts to $30,561 as compared with $21,409 for the previous year, an increase of $9,155. To the profit must be added the balance of $24,344 brought forward from the previous account, making a total of $54,908. An interim dividend of 2 ½ per cent in respect of the year under review was paid on April 23 and absorbed $12,500, leaving a balance of $42,408 available for distribution which your directors recommend be dealt with as follows:– Payment of a final dividend of 2 ½ per cent (making 5 per cent for the year), $12,500; carry forward to next account (subject to directors’ fees), $29,908; a total of $42,408.’ … [share capital remains at $500,000; capital expenditure increased to $1221,064. Tourist trade quiet with depression]
‘I should like to refer to the alterations and improvements which were made last year with the aim of bringing the bed and bath rooms in the sea-annexe up to date. These rooms which are very comfortable and attractive have well maintained their popularity, and we are now installing telephone in each room.’… manager Mr G. Goldsack.
1933: The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertise, 20 September
CRAG HOTEL: When the Crag Hotel lease expires at the end of this month the hotel will be taken over by Runnymede Hotel Ltd. The present lessees, who also are lessees of a number of F.M.S. railway hotels, have been running the Crag for the last thirteen years. When the Runnymede takes over the concern it is understood that several important improvements will be carried out.
(See a 1930s postcard of Runnymede on page 10 here.)
1939: The Straits Times:
‘The year under review has been a difficult one’ … net profit $21,062, lower than previous year due to downturn in tourist trade due to world tensions; ‘The first mortgage debenture has been reduced during the year from $870,000 to $600,000 and an additional $170,000 following the realisation of the company’s interest in the E. and O. Hotel and freehold property, Penang.’ …’As I mentioned last year, we received 10,000 shares of $1 each fully paid in Runnymede Hotel Ltd. in part settlement of the proceeds of the sale of our interests in Penang and these are included in the balance sheet at cost.’…
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 23 December
WAR FORCES TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF RUNNYMEDE
‘Owing to losses in recent months the Runnymede Hotel will be partially closed next year, sid Mr. C. B. Redway chairman of the board of directors, at the 19th annual general meeting today. The dining hall, kitchen and certain bedrooms will be closed and diners and lodgers will have to take their meals at the E. and O. … Since the outbreak of war…the Runnymede, which depends on passenger and tourist trade, suffered a heavy loss…insufficient business for two large hotels in Penang to be run as separate entities.’
1940: The Straits Times, 16 January:
‘The Runnymede Hotel, Penang, is now closed for business. Workmen are engaged in clearing the ball room and dining room but the smaller buildings will be maintained and a skeleton staff will be retained. The company is concentrating its main business in the E. and O. Hotel.’
1941: The Straits Times, 2 January:
[good report; shareholder A.C.J. Towers suggested that to save costs of running two companies it might be best to liquidate E. and O. Hotel Ltd] ‘which is owned by the Runnymede Hotel Ltd’…
‘Our investment of 335,000 shares in the E. and O. Hotel Ltd., remains the same as it was last year and our floating assets are $17,702.02 as compared with $37,880.49 last year.’ …
‘I consider the above figures [more detail in report] justify the drastic measures the directors had to take last year when they decided to close down the Runnymede Hotel main building and concentrate on the E. and O. Hotel. Although the E. and O. Hotel is not the “luxury hotel” that the Runnymede was, it is a first-class hotel and compares favourable with any other hotel in Malaya. …
I, as chairman of the company, am often asked “When is the Runnymede Hotel going to open up again?” My reply is, “I don’t know,” and I am afraid that is the only answer I can give today. At the moment there is no room for two first class hotels in Penang.’ …
‘The Crag Hotel continues to be well patronized but in spite of the fact that is it usually full up only a small profit is made. We probably derive a certain amount of indirect business through running this hotel which does not show to the credit of the Crag hotel accounts. It appears to me that the residents of the Crag hotel get too much for their money, but rather than lower the standard of the hotel we will probably have to increase the rates charged. However, at the moment the Board has decide to leave charges as they are.’
1946: [first post-war mention] The Straits Times, 1 September: Robert Gerber sent to Penang to manage Runnymede Hotel; was manager of the Sea View Hotel in Singapore.
1951: The Straits Times, 25 May:
PENANG GOVT. BUYS RUNNYMEDE HOTEL
Choong Lye Hock Estates Ltd purchased Runnymede and the E&O ‘five days ago’ for $1,450,000. They then onsold Runnymede to govt for $750,000 (seven acres). It was already under lease to the post-war military at the time.
1971: The Straits Times, 3 November:
‘Malaysia takes over camp for a dollar. Penang, Tues. The former Runnymede camp in Northam Road became Malaysian property yesterday for a token dollar. The Runnymede, with a history dating back to the days of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, was the last British military property in Penang to be handed over to the Malaysian Government following the British pull-out. The Runnymede – a former hotel – was converted by the British into a transit camp for officers after the war.’