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History Of E W Birch Fountain, Ipoh

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Subject :History of E W Birch Fountain, Ipoh
Published By : None 
Location : Belfield Street, Ipoh
Estimated Year : 1930
Media Type : Photograph
Source : Mohd Taib, Ipoh
Remark :

This photograph shows the E W Birch Fountain. The all-marble fountain at the southern end of Belfield Street, was erected by the Ipoh Chinese business community, in memory of  Sir Ernest Woodford Birch, ICS, CMG, KCMG, British Resident of Perak from 1905-1910 and son of the first British Resident J W W Birch, who was assassinated by the Malays. At the time the area was a Chinese community *as verified bt Madi below) and was, for a time, called “Market Square” because it was close to Ipoh’s “New Market” (completed 1907).

We do not have a precise date for the completion and unveiling of the fountain, but our best estimate is 1913. This is based on a newspaper snippet from the Social and Personal section of The Straits Times of 14 October 1912, which read:

“The Chinese of Ipoh are going to put up a memorial fountain to Sir Ernest Birch on a triangular piece of ground near the Lahat Road, which will be available when the improvement to the Lahat Road has been carried out.”

An identical snippet appeared in the Singapore Free Press  and Mercantile Advertiser (Dated 17 October 1912).

In modern parlance the use of the word 'memorial' would be unusual as it usually refers to someone who has passed away and yet Birch was to live until 1929. However English usage does change over the years and in the early days such wording was not unusual.

The next firm record of the fountain's existence was on 2 May 1918, when a Malaya Tribune article in the section titled Ipoh Assizes reported that a cowardly robbery was perpetrated against an eight-year-old little girl, Mah Nee, by a Chinaman, Gnoh Cheo, near the Birch memorial fountain on 8 April 1918. Found guilty he was sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment by Mr. Justice Ferrer-Manby. There is no mention of whether the fountain was functioning. 

Then, on 12 January 1937, the section titled Around Malaya of the Morning Tribune reported that the Birch Memorial fountain in the middle of the Square in the Old Town of Ipoh was (finally) in full blast after having been on a care and maintenance basis for many years, that the event proved that the fountain worked, and that hired car drivers found the fountain useful in their washing chores. 

During the Japanese occupation (1941 - 45), we are told by an elderly resident, the four urns at the corners of the fountain were a favourite spot for the Japanese to place the severed heads of those Chinese that they had punished. Our informant remembers that when he went to Japanese school he was always terrified of the heads and ran past the fountain as fast as his legs would carry him.

By 1957 the fountain steps had become a very popular place upon which to dry one's laundry, chillies or other foods. Consequently the Town Council erected a sign prohibiting such activities. It read:

"Notice. Drying of clothing in or around the fountain or on the bench or drying of other material such as chillies, flour, food, grains is strictly prohibited. Defaulters will be prosecuted. By order of the Town Council."

Long after the Japanese surrender, on 31 May 1962, the Straits Times demonstrated their confusion by reporting:

“Plans are also underfoot to rehabilitate the Birch Memorial Fountain in Belfield Street which has been in disrepair since before the Japanese occupation. It was erected from public donations in honour of the first British Resident in Perak, Mr. J. W. W. Birch. The Ipoh Town Council plans to turn it into a park with trees and benches at a cost of about $8,000. 

Was this the E W Birch fountain or the J W W Birch clock tower?”

Ipohgirl remembers that In the early 80s, she used to pass by this fountain everyday to and fro school. From the bus window, she could see a big flock of pigeons around this fountain throughout the year. The fountain was greyish in colour! She saw traders from the nearby shops (mostly Indians) selling textile or jewellery, feeding the pigeons with grains. Clearly the marble would have suffered from the pigeon droppings.

Azlan Zaaiya, another blogger remembers that the fountain was still there in the early 90s. However the condition was very bad because of erosion had carved through the marble.

Today, we are sad to report that, in the name of development, this splendid heritage feature which was in need of restoration, was demolished in the late 1990's and replaced by a new fountain of a much lesser quality and style. 

Personal Stories of the Fountain

Madi remembers "In the 40s, I was staying at 78 Belfied Street near to the old fountain. The majority of people staying there were Chinese and not Indians. My grandfather was operating an electrical shop there. In the evening the fountain would be brightly lit and the area around the fountain would be quite crowded. We kids would be playing around the fountain while the elders would be sitting around the benches there.It was a pleasant place and quite safe as there were few or no cars. 

Some interesting Pre-history

Ipoh Remembered advises us that:

Birch himself suggested the fountain while he was still Resident of Perak. 

He also helpfully suggested a favored location: the People’s Park, which he himself had just helped establish as a public recreation ground — but I suspect that that the Chinese community in turn favored that location for a delightful little temple of its own, leaving the esteemed Mr. Birch’s fountain to be built elsewhere.

To support this idea Ipoh Remembered quotes and extract from an article in the Malay Mail, of November 13, 1910:

"In view of the approaching departure for good of our popular Resident, who sails for the old country on December 6, a public meeting was called for Friday afternoon in the Ipoh Club, which was largely attended by all the leading European residents in the place, for the purpose of deciding what form our parting souvenir of his long and successful administration should take. […] The Chinese community are likely to erect an ornamental fountain to his honor in the People’s Park, on a wish expressed by Mr. Birch himself."

Subsequently Ipoh Remembered added:

Mr. Justice Ferrer-Manby" is mentioned.

In fact his name was (Percy Alan) Farrer-Manby. He was the Judicial Commissioner in Ipoh.

His predecessor in that post was Lionel Woodward. As I've mentioned before, when Lionel arrived in Ipoh the government built a house for him at the intersection of Hugh Low Street and Tambun Road. Upon Woodward's leaving, Farrer-Manby occupied the house for a few years with his wife, Lilian.Their daughters was born there. The girl, Charlotte, was their only daughter. She died two decades ago.

Later, the house became the official home of the Menteri Besar. It has since been re-built, of course.


 To read more about E W Birch, click here. 

To read more about the above Town Council sign, click here.

To read more about J W W Birch click here.

To read more about Belfield Street, click here.

Filename : 20080129-107