Every day against the setting sun, the aroma of dinner being prepared wafted through the huge cluster of squatter houses in Jalan Peel.
Children streamed out of their wooden houses for playtime, romping through the narrow lanes, their laughter contagious.
Nearby, in front of the iconic Queen’s Coffeehouse, food sellers rushed to set up their stalls to welcome the throngs of foodies who flocked to the area even after midnight.
Further away, residents of rows of government quarters in Jalan Cochrane went about their daily lives amid the city rush and rural neighbourliness.
Such was the heartwarming scene in Jalan Peel and its nearby area of Taman Maluri, before the squatter homes and government quarters made way for redevelopment.
You will not see much in the area now, save for endless stretches of hoarding behind which modern commercial zones are coming up. Construction noise, box-like buildings and swirls of dust now take centre stage.
Sentimental feelings have been swept aside as swanky high-rise blocks will soon occupy the area.
The soul of Jalan Peel is pretty much gone.
The only consolation we have is that the good food is still there — for now.
Michelle Auyong, 41, has worked hard to preserve a piece of the old Jalan Peel. You can have a taste of that by patronising her nasi lemak stall.
Among those born and bred there, she was married to the boy she grew up with in the neighbourhood, and had helped her mother-in-law out at the nasi lemak stall even before she was married.
Now with three kids, she said her wooden home was one of the handful that had survived but she doubt she could live there for long.
“No matter where we move to, we will continue running this stall here as regulars will always come back to look for us. After all, it has been here for more than 40 years!” she said.
It is learnt that communities had started to gather in the area since the 1940s. The government quarters in Jalan Cochrane was built before World War II.
SMK Convent Jalan Peel started off as a branch to Bukit Nanas Convent School in 1949 with only six classrooms while SMK Cochrane was founded in 1957 to offer secondary education to the residents there.
St John Ambulance national headquarters premises was built in 1959 while Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus came about in 1960.
The row of shophouses where Queen’s Coffeeshop is located looks worn out with the times.
Roads in the area were named after chief secretaries who served the Federated Malay States.
Sir William Peel (1875–1945) was the British chief secretary of the Federated Malay States and governor of Hong Kong.
Peel was born in Hexham, Northumberland, England.
He began his colonial service as a cadet in 1897, then promoted to acting district officer of Nibong Tebal in 1898, Bukit Mertajam in 1899 and Province Wellesley until 1901.
The following year, he was appointed as the acting second colonial secretary in Singapore where he stayed until 1905 when he returned to Penang to serve as acting second magistrate and coroner, and later acting auditor.
Between 1908 and 1922, he held various positions in the Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements, including acting resident councillor of Penang, president of the Municipal Commissioners of Singapore and chairman of European Unemployment Committee.
In 1922, he became British adviser for the government of Kedah. In 1926, he was promoted to be the chief secretary to government and in 1930, Peel became the governor of Hong Kong.
Peel married Violet Mary Drake, the daughter of the late W.D. Laing, with whom he had two sons. He retired in 1935.
There are a number of other streets named after Peel, including Peel Rise in Hong Kong and Peel Avenue in Penang.
St John Ambulance Malaysia chief of operations Datuk Lai See Ming has been frequenting the area since 1970s, and he always made it a point to go to Queen’s Coffeeshop for a bite.
Memories of the row of food outlets that have now been replaced by a hypermarket still makes his hungry.
“Unlike now, Jalan Peel was a quaint area back then, it was always nice to spend time there,” he said.
Andy Lai Kin Fatt, 48, has a sense of pride for food hawkers in the area.
“We still prepare the food ourselves, we do not leave it to foreign workers, unlike what most restaurants do elsewhere in KL,” said Lai, who took over the stall from his aunt who had been operating there since 1960s.
“So come here for real food, to help us keep this place going,” he said.