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Author: Will

The New Law Courts

c.1870

2018

Recently freed from the scaffolding that hid it for much of the last few years, the New Law Courts building we see today was first completed in 1931. The building housed the city’s district and local courts – part of the rapidly expanding colonial bureaucratic and legal systems, and the Police Commissioners office. Part of a second wave of British construction in the city, it replaced the original court in the older photograph.

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Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Merchant Road

c.1920

2018

At the south-east corner of Mahabandoola Garden on Merchant Road is the fortress-like Myanma Foreign Trade Bank. This building was previously the Rangoon branch of HSBC bank, and before that a catholic church. It was remodelled in the early 1900s to make the building appropriate to its new, secular role: the spire was removed, along with most of the ornamentation – particularly the decorative stonework around the windows.

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Dalhousie Park Memorial Garden

c.1910

2018

Located on the north side of Kandawgyi lake is a park that has held a statue of King Edward VII, a mound of ‘victory earth’, and now a statue of General Aung San.

Edward was the first son of Queen Victoria. Given the length of her reign, he spent 59 years as heir to the throne. Edward did his best to enjoy it: he was notorious for his drinking, gambling and general social carousing, as well as for a string of affairs. One of these was with the wife of Lord Randolph Churchill, the man who brought about the end of Burmese independence. We previously discussed this and admired the legendary beauty of his wife here.

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Tiger Alley

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“A tiger presents greater difficulties. If he doesn’t run away when you wave your arms and shout, you should poke your stick through his eye into his brain, or get on his back, out of reach of his claws, and throttle him. If that fails, pretend to be dead; if that even fails, you must die.”
– Beth Ellis, An English Girl’s First Impression of Burmah, 1899

In his 1939 History of Rangoon, B R Pearn included the two original photographs above as a before and after, so thanks to his foresight we have our first ever set of three images. Though the location of the first two is unlikely to be exactly the same, the area that became Doopley Street (and today Myaynigone Zay Street) will have looked identical – thick with jungle, with only small paths leading through the green towards the town of Kemmedine and the western river.

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Chettiar Temple

c.1930

2018

One of several Hindu temples around the city, the Sri Nagarthan Sulamani temple is now partly hidden by overpass that leads to a bridge over the Pazundaung creek. Thankfully the road didn’t quite reach the level of the colourful gopurum tower, so at least the legion of commuters making their way in and out of the city have a little something to look forward to along the way.

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Holy Trinity Cathedral

1945

2018

“We fought through the f’ing rain: it’s only right that we parade in the f’ing rain”
– attributed to a soldier of the 14th Army at the parade

This photograph was taken on the 15th of June, 1945, during celebrations for the defeat of Japanese forces in Burma. In heavy rain, troops paraded through the city holding British, American, Burmese and other allied flags. Large guns were towed by military trucks, and the RAF performed a dramatic fly past. On the podium, taking and giving salutes, was Lord Louis Mountbatten, then the Supreme Allied Commander for South-East Asia.

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Fytche Square

c.1900

2018

Named for the Chief Commissioner of Burma, Fytche Square was a last minute addition to the design of Rangoon. The plot was left empty following its reclamation from the swamp that preceded it, and it became a public park around 1868. The initial design seems to have been a fairly low effort piece of work. The terrain was uneven, and a rickety wooden fence ran around the perimeter. The south-east quarter of the park was taken up by an ugly water tank that preserved the original atmosphere of swampland.

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Strand Road, west

c.1920

2018

As with many major cities of the world, access to a river was the engine of Yangon’s economic development. Strand Road, running alongside that river, has been host to various important buildings during that development – though many have also been lost to earthquakes and damage from World War II. We’ll look at three such buildings here: the Imperial Bank of India, which survives to this day, the old Post Office building, and Trinity Church, both of which have disappeared in the last century.

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Rowe and Co. Department Store

c.1920

2018

“..the man being totally ignorant of the shop I wanted, and quite incapable of confessing himself to be so, took me to Rowe at a venture, that place being a large general emporium much frequented by Europeans.”
– Geraldine Mitton, A Bachelor Girl in Burma, 1907

Completed in 1910, this building was the third incarnation of the Rowe and Co. department store in Rangoon. The first had been on Moghul Street (now Shwe Bon Thar), around 1866. The building was a modern marvel, with a steel frame, ceiling fans, and a basement – an unusual feature given the swampy foundations of the city.

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Churchill Road

c.1910

2018

Churchill Road was initially named for Lord Randolph Churchill, British politician and father of Winston Churchill. In his brief tenure as Secretary of State for India, Churchill brought about the final invasion of the then kingdom of Burma. His primary motivation was commercial – the oil, ruby mines and teak forests of Burma, and through it, access to the markets of China. Developments in the relationship between France and Burma were also a source of concern, with Vietnam already under their control.

Churchill’s political star rose quickly, but burnt out equally fast. Secretary of State for seven months, he then became Chancellor of the Exchequer (the British equivalent to finance minister) aged only 37, before ending his career through political miscalculation. He died at 46 of suspected syphilis, and by then was more concerned with horse racing and Irish politics than the fate of the distant country he had forever changed the course of.

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