Friday, January 8, 2016

FIRST REPRINT 2016 - paperback available on Amazon


Colombo Jumbo: The Origin of Colombo Street Names

by Geoff Ells
Published by Aradur Press (2012) - First Reprint 2016
ISBN: 978-955-44046-0-1
240 pages with illustrations

"All street names mean something, even if the meaning is now lost for most people. The art is to rediscover it using history, botany, language, public records or even genealogy. This task has taken me nearly three years and is still not complete.                                               
Colombo Jumbo sets about discovering the origins of the street names of Colombo and, in so doing, weaves a fascinating patchwork history of the Island.  Exploring nearly a thousand old and new names, Colombo Jumbo uncovers the personalities, events, communities and changing landscapes which have shaped modern Colombo.                                            
What emerges is a veritable political, religious, economic, social, natural and cultural history of Sri Lanka represented through the street names of its capital city. The values, icons and symbols of power celebrated by different communities at different times are all captured in their choice of Colombo street names."

Thursday, April 3, 2014


The Old Town Hall (In Main Street, Pettah) was was designed by J.G. Smither, an architect in the Public Works Department at the Colombo Municipal Council. He also designed the Colombo Museum.
The building work started in 1870. The Town Hall was completed in 1873 and was opened by the Governor, Sir William Gregory. It was built as the main office, chambers and hall of the Colombo Municipal Council. It was also a courthouse.

The upstairs Hall and Offices are now empty...

...and there are dummies in the office...


...showing a real meeting that took place in 1906.

There is a Museum downstairs exhibiting traction engines, an old garbage van with solid rubber tyres and the original mobile library van. The Office downstairs is now part of a Fire Station.

The building is now in a dreadful condition....something should be done to protect it from further decay.
 The Old Town Hall: A priceless symbol of our past 

a monument of fading magnificence - The Island

Stamboul Place

Stamboul Place doesn't appear in Colombo Jumbo. 
That's because it is a Private Road and is not listed in Arjuna'a A-Z Street Atlas.
Sir Mohammed Macan Markar Mawatha does.
Villa Stamboul
Villa Stamboul today
Sir Mohammed owned Villa Stamboul which, when it was built, was the only property between this stretch of Galle Road and the sea.
Sir Mohammed was the Turkish Consul 1903-15.
Stamboul is, of course, a corruption of Istanbul.

Despite being a Private Road the Council is now insisting on it being opened up for two way traffic from Galle Road to Marine Drive.  I met three of Sir Mohammed's great granddaughters this week and they were understandably upset about it. Why should their road (not much wider than a footpath) become a rat run for big, fat SUVs?

Old Name:  Church Road
O L M Macan Markar
The ‘Blue Giant of the Orient’ was a blue sapphire weighing 486 carats (97.2g). Cut and polished it measured 6.4cm x 4.4cm and was valued at £7,000.
The ‘Blue Belle of Asia' was another sapphire. This one weighed 400 carats (80g) and was sold to Lord Nuffield and later became part of the British Crown Jewels.
These gems and Ceylon’s largest Cat’s Eye (chrysoberyl), weighing 105 Carats (21g), were all owned by Sir Mohammed Macan Markar who had inherited the jewellery business started by his father, Othman Lebbe Macan Markar, in 1860.
Sir Mohammed was the Consul for Turkey (1903-15). He was also a member of Galle Municipal Council (1906-31) and Colombo Municipal Council (1940-1943). He was the founder President of the All Ceylon Muslim League in 1945.
He was a member of the Legislative and State Councils and became the Minister of Communication and Works.

Longest Street Names

I was asked recently what the longest street names in Colombo are.

Here is a provisional top four with the old name below and the number of letters in brackets:

1. Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nahimi Mawatha (43)
Maligakanda Road (15)

2. Venerable  Muruththetuwe Ananda Niyami Mawatha (41)
Thimbirigasyaya Mawatha (22)

3.  Venerable  Baddegama Wimlawansa Thero Mawatha (40)
Symonds Road (11)

4. Venerable Pelpola Vipassi Thero [or Himi] Mawatha (35)
Model Farm Road (13)

Around the world there a a few streets that can give Colombo a run for its money:
Bolderwood Arboretum Ornamental Drive (34) (New Forest, U.K.)
Northeast Kentucky Industrial Parkway (34) ( Kentucky, U.S)
Burgemeester Baron van Voerst van Lyndenstraat (42) (Gramsbergen, Belgium)
But these long names seem to be exceptions, whereas in Colombo it seems to be becoming the rule.

Is there a limit?

There is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerych wyrnrobwlllantysiliogogogoch Road (60) in Ynys Mon (Anglesey), Wales. This was named as a joke and has been a successful tourist attraction...maybe this is what the Council has in mind here.

But Dwudziestego Pierwszego Praskiego Pu┼éku Piechoty imienia Dzieci Warszawy.(65) in Poland surely tops the list.

Maybe Colombo is not trying hard enough!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Whodunnit? Playing detective with road names in Colombo

I'm in the Sunday Times this week 3rd November 2013: an interview with Smriti Daniel.

 After spending five years here exploring his fascination with the history behind street names and name changes, Geoff Ells has published, Colombo Jumbo. Here he describes his work in an email interview with Smriti Daniel