Planet Suffolk: Bringing together the Suffolks of the world

Suffolk House, Penang, Malaysia

Suffolk House is situated on the banks of the Air Itam River (Black Water River), on Penang Island (Pulau Pinang), off the northwest coast of Malaysia. It is around four miles west of George Town.

Population:  The population of Georgetown is 740,200 (2010)

How to get there:-

By Road: The Island of Pulau Pinang is joined to the Malaysian mainland by the Jambatan Pulau Pinang highway (also known as the Penang Bridge), which connects to the E1 highway that runs north to south along Malaysia’s west coast. Once across the bridge, head north on Lebuhraya Jelutong. Turn left onto Jalan Tunku Kudin  then continue on  Jalan Masjid Negeri. Turn right onto Jalan Air Hitam, then take the 1st left.

No rail services on Pulau Pinang island. The nearest station is at Butterworth on the mainland.

Ferry services run from Butterworth on the mainland to George Town.

Penang International Airport is situated approximately 10 miles south of George Town.

Time Zone: Malaysia Time (GMT +8).  No daylight saving time in summer.


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History & Derivation of Name

Suffolk Estate Bridge



History & Derivation of Name

Suffolk House is built on the land of the Suffolk Estate, named by Francis Light who was born in 1740 in Dallinghoo, Suffolk, England. Light established the first trading port in 1786 on ‘Pulau Pinang’ or Penang Island. He renamed the island Prince of Wales Island, after the future King George IV. He also named the main settlement George Town after the reigning monarch of the time, King George III.

The first house, on what was then the 850 acre Suffolk Estate, was a simple timber & attap construction, described as an Anglo-Indian Garden House, which Light built sometime between 1786 & his death from malaria in 1794.

There is some dispute about who built the two storey, Georgian style building known as Suffolk House that stands today.  One theory is that it was built by Light himself in the early 1790s.  It is more likely, however, that it was built by William Edward Phillips, an army administrative officer who arrived in Penang in 1800 to become secretary to the Lieutenant Governor. Phillips bought the Suffolk Estate in 1805 from James Scott and William Fairlie who were the executors of Francis Light’s will. It has been suggested that, as there was no access road to the estate until 1808, the house could not have been built until after that date; although it is known that the house was in existence by 1811, as Lord Minto mentions that he paid a visit to Phillips magnificent lodge in that year.

The house was used as the governor’s residence, & then a government building until 1928, when it was purchased by the Methodist Church of Malaya for use as a school. Apart from the years of the Second World War, when the Japanese occupied the building, it was in continuous use by the Methodist Church until 1975, when it was deemed unsafe & the school was forced to vacate; although they continued to own the building until 2000.  Although campaigning to restore the house had begun in 1961, it wasn’t until November 2000 that restoration work began; by which time the roof & much of the upper floor had collapsed.

Suffolk House is now restored to its original design, based on paintings of the house done in the early nineteenth century. It is managed by a non-governmental organisation concerned with the conservation and preservation of Malaysia’s heritage buildings. It is open to the public on a daily basis & also boasts a top class restaurant & a ballroom. 

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Suffolk Estate Bridge

In front of Suffolk House stands Suffolk Estate Bridge, a reconstruction of the eighteenth century bridge that once stood on the Suffolk Estate & spanned the Air Itam River. The reconstruction was built by local property developers IJM Corporation & was completed in 2007.






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Penang, in the north west of the Malaysian peninsula, is the country’s second smallest state. It consists of Pulau Pinang, or Penang Island, along with Seberang Perai, or Province Wellesley, on the mainland.  The combined population in 2010 was 1,510,143. The capital is George Town. The name Penang or Pinang refers to the areca nut palm (Areca catechu).

Originally part of the Sultanate of Kedah, the island was leased in 1786 to Captain Francis Light (see above). In 1826, Penang became part of the Straits Settlements under the British administration in India, moving to direct British colonial rule in 1867. Occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, it returned to British hands after the cessation of hostilities. In 1946 it became part of the Malay Union, & two years later became a state of the Federation of Malaya, which gained independence in 1957.

Today Penang has the third largest economy of any Malaysian state; with manufacturing, agriculture, banking & tourism being major industries.

Situated on the north western tip of the Island, Penang National Park is the smallest national park in the world, at just 9.9 square miles. As well as being an important place for nesting turtles, it also contains  wetlands, mangroves, mudflats, coral reefs,  a meromictic lake (a lake in which layers of water do not intermix) & what are widely regarded as the best beaches in Penang.

In July 2008 George Town was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its unique architecture & culture.

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