Skip to content

Category: Downtown

Rowe and Co. Department Store



“..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.


Mapping Rangoon: Bogyoke Market and the Aung San Thuriya

As mentioned in this week’s article on Scott’s Market, just as the market is now named for Bogyoke Aung San, its internal streets are named for winners of the Aung San Thuriya medal – the highest military honour in Myanmar, itself named to honour Aung San. It’s the equivalent to the Victoria Cross in Britain, or the Medal of Honour in the USA.

Click here or the main image above to learn more about the medal and its winners, with an interactive map of the market.

Leave a Comment

Scott’s Market



The original tenants of Scott’s Market had previously held stalls in the Municipal Bazaar on Strand Road, between what are now Shwe Bon Thar and Shwedagon Pagoda road. In 1904 the Port Commissioners decided they wanted to connect the various new wharves and jetties along the river-front, which meant relocating the market. Heavily disputed negotiations held up the project, but after 16 years and one world war, eventually an agreement was reached. The Commissioners bought the land from the municipality, but rather than actually pay out any money, it would be used to establish a new, permanent market area.

1 Comment

Burma Athletic Association Grounds



“I am convinced that the entire secret of the English for keeping well in tropical countries is summed up in the word ‘exercise’.”
– Joseph Dautremer, Burma Under British Rule, 1913

Football and boxing were the two most popular sports amongst British soldiers, and the first organised football league took place in 1894, won by the West Yorkshire Regiment. Games were generally played on teams own fields, or at the local parade grounds. One member of the Burmese Athletic Association suggested that a water tank north of the railway station could be reclaimed and used as a permanent athletic field. Apparently the idea was ridiculed by his fellow members, asking what he thought would be possible beyond swimming or water polo – but he pressed ahead with the plan. By 1909 the reclamation had progressed enough that football games could be held on it, along with cricket and tennis.

1 Comment

The High Court



One of the most iconic downtown buildings, the High Court building was completed in 1911. It was built on what had been the site of the dramatically titled Death Gate. This was the north-west entrance to the small town of Rangoon, which at the time sat on an island surrounded by swampy marsh. Dead bodies left the town through this gate, and so did convicted criminals being taken to the execution grounds. Those grounds are now buried somewhere under the middle block of 25th and 26th street. Originally the court had a lake in front of it, taking up part of what is now Mahabandoola Park.

Leave a Comment

Sule Pagoda Road, north



“All the comforts of living available in Britain were also to be had in Rangoon. The Maison Continental on Sule Pagoda Road and the Vienna Cafe on Phayre Street, and in Maymyo, served continental food. The Rangoon Exchange Gazette informed these distant Englishmen and almost-Englishmen that Iraq had been bombed, that the Prince of Wales broke his collarbone, and that Woodrow Wilson had died.”
– Ruth Cernea, Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma, 2006

This photo is taken looking south along Sule Pagoda road, to the pagoda and the fire station. In the foreground is the Maison Continental, a popular place for European food. The Continental was renowned for its confectionery: cakes and scones, melt-in-the-mouth puff pastry, hot cross buns at Easter and plum pudding at Christmas. Today it is part of the footprint of the Sule Shangri-la hotel. Unsurprisingly for such a central part of the city, there is plenty of history in the time period between the two.


Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department



“The Government of India, under the control of the Secretary of State in Council, is the supreme authority in Burma. All revenue collected in Burma belongs primarily to the Government of India and the Secretary of State; all the expenditure incurred in Burma is spent on their behalf.”
– M.F.Gauntlet, Accountant-General, in 20th Century Impressions of Burma, 1910

Britain’s colonies were first and foremost a business that had to be profitable. Ownership of revenue was divided between the local British administration and the imperial British government in India, to which it reported. Division was generally done by sector; profits from key strategic industries were controlled centrally, and less crucial ones by local government. It was the responsibility of the Accountant-General that revenue was correctly collected and sent to British India, and that rules were followed on how the remainder could be spent. In the grand bureaucracy of the colonial administration, it was a hugely important position.

Leave a Comment

Old Town Hall and the Emmanuel Baptist Church



This view, looking east from Sule Pagoda, takes in three interesting buildings: Ripon Hall, used as Rangoon’s town hall and later replaced by the current city hall, the Rowe and Co. Department Store, which is now Aya Bank, and the Emmanuel Baptist Church, which retains its function today, but in a new structure. Here we’ll talk about city hall, the design of which marks a successful resistance to British architectural dominance, and the Baptist church. Rowe and Co. will have a post of its own in future.


Surti Sunni Jamah Mosque



The oldest original mosque in the city, the Surti Sunni Jamah Mosque was built in 1852 by the Sunni community from Western India. It’s apparently on the site of the first ever mosque in the city, built around 1826 but destroyed in the second Anglo-Burmese war. Surti Sunni Jamah sits on what was then Mogul Street, now Shwebonthar, at the heart of the traditionally Indian section of downtown.


Phayre Street, Middle



“Sun hats are very necessary”
– Thomas Cook Ltd Travel Guide to Burma, 1912

This set is a favourite of mine, because the three buildings in the foreground are all original, but with varying degrees of alteration. And then looming over all of them is the infamous Shwe Bank building.