A Central fixture for almost 70 years, now this tiny umbrella stall is a monument to fast-changing Hong Kong

The stall on Peel Street was run by Ho for nearly 70 years until 2014, one year before he died

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 April, 2016, 3:36pm

The workplace of late umbrella mender and maker Ho Hung-hee will be preserved and taken in by the Hong Kong Museum of History, for its cultural significance and testament to the fast-changing nature of a fast-paced city.

Perched on the sloping Peel Street in Central for almost 70 years, the little hawker stall stuffed full of tools was the place where the man dubbed the “King of Umbrellas” worked his magic on brollies from his arrival in Hong Kong in 1947 until his death last year at the age of 87.

Now Ho’s stall and all the umbrellas in it are to be moved to the museum, and possibly held in a permanent exhibition on Hong Kong history.

“Umbrella menders and makers were actually quite a common profession in the post-World War II era in Hong Kong,” said the museum’s assistant curator, Carol Lau – part of the team identifying possible artefacts – on the stall’s significance. “It is also a testament to the changing face of Hong Kong’s hawkers and the policies involved.”

Ho – who was identified as a master of his craft in an intangible cultural heritage list of 63 local traditions and customs – was well known in his industry. He mended umbrellas for famous people including the British royal family.

He also held the record for making the most expensive umbrella in the world. It was made out of American ox skin with a 100-year-old German frame, and he sold it to an Englishman for around HK$2,400 in 1994.

Lau said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department contacted the museum in mid-February about the stall, which needed to be demolished as it no longer fit the fire safety requirements of hawker stalls, and asked if the museum would be interested in keeping it.

She said the museum got in touch with Ho’s family and visited the stall twice with Ho’s daughter-in-law, before deciding to take it.

“We’ll be taking the tools, umbrellas and other objects within the stall. We will also try to keep as many pieces of planks and tin roof as we can,” said Lau, who added that the team had taken a 3D printing expert down to photograph the stall. Experts will go to dismantle the stall on Wednesday, she added.

The museum’s permanent “Hong Kong story” section is currently being regrouped, and the umbrella man’s stall may join that exhibition. But Lau said nothing had been decided yet.