A Walk Through The Old Neighbourhood – Redhill Close

Redhill Close is a small estate of 21 blocks of flats numbered 1 to 3 and 5 to 22. There is no block 4 found. Many would think this is due to the number being considered inauspicious for the Chinese, but the fact is block 4 was demolished to make way for the construction of a new road.

Like the old Tiong Bahru flats, Redhill Close’s pinkish blocks, nicknamed “chek lau” (seven-storey in Hokkien), and designed with trapezoid roofs, curved-top facades and residential units at the ground floors, were built in 1955 by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), which means they have witnessed the development of Redhill for 55 years.

When the flats were first built, they were rented at a monthly rate of $52 to the residents previously living at the kampong in Redhill. This rental policy lasted until 1982, after which the flats were sold to their occupants so that the long-time residents could at last have their own units.

The peaceful estate is located between the popular Redhill Market, famous for its satay bee hoon and prawn noodles, and the Bukit Merah Food Centre, which is on the other side of the busy Jalan Bukit Merah and serves delicious chicken rice, fishball noodles and fish soup.

There is a famous Malay myth about how Redhill, or Bukit Merah (literally means hill red), got its name. In the past, the coast of Singapore was infested by fierce swordfish. The villagers and fishermen would be attacked if they ventured near the water. A little boy called Hang Nadim proposed a solution for the Sultan, which was to build barriers made of banana tree trunks along the affected coast.

When the swordfish tried to attack the villagers again, their pointed beaks pierced through the barriers and were trapped immediately. The smart boy became popular among the villagers, inviting jealousy from the Sultan. Fearing his rule would be threatened in the future, he sent his soldiers to kill the boy who lived on top of a hill. The poor boy’s blood flew down the hill, soaking the whole hill red.

Redhill, also fondly called ang sua by the Chinese, actually once referred to a larger hill at present-day Henderson estate. In fact, the whole Bukit Merah lies on a stretch of hilly plains, where the highest point is Mount Faber at 105m high. Years of development have seen the hill near Henderson trimmed down to the current size and the Malay kampongs replaced by the flats at Redhill Close in the fifties.



A large part of the area at Redhill, Hendersen and Tanglin Halt were allocated for industrial use during the sixties. Glass manufactor, liquor distillery and food, garment and perfume factories once thrived here.

In the early seventies, HDB built many flats for the poor and old folks at Bukit Merah View, just beside Redhill Close separated by Hendersen Road. The one-roomed flats were fully subsidised by the social welfare service.

The National Day Parades (NDP), usually held at the Padang (1966-1974) and the National Stadium (1976-2006), were organised at decentralised locations in the period between 1975 to 1983. In 1975, Redhill was selected as one of the sites for the decentralised event for the NDP. The contingents of army, navy, air force, police and other uniform groups and unions assembled and marched on a big open field at Redhill.

A stretch of the current 3.5km-long Jalan Bukit Merah, the main road here, was known as Silat Road in its early days. In 1924, The former Sikh Police Contingent built the Silat Road Sikh Temple (Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road) along the road, which has the largest Sikh temple dome in the world. It also houses the tombstone of the famous anti-British Sikh revolutionary Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji (died 1856), shifted to the temple from Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 1966. During the Second War World, the Sikh Temple served as a refuge for Indian women and orphans.

A small Chinese temple called Tang Suahn Kiong San Soh Hoo Chu Temple, previously the second oldest temple in Singapore after Thian Hock Keng Temple (built in 1842), once stood at Henderson Road, but it was torn down in 1978 to make way for a swimming pool. The temple trustees and devotees appealed to the authority without success to conserve the 120-year-old temple. It was built in 1858 and worshiped Kwan Kong, the God of War.

Recently, the flats at Redhill Close are selected for the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS). The estate has gone through the Main Upgrading Programme (MUP) in the nineties, adding an extra space at the kitchen and having the lifts upgraded, but that cannot stop the prime residential land from being used for redevelopment.

Many residents, most of them elderly, express sadness in having to move from the place they have called home for decades. Some of the prominent residents include the former samsui women who had contributed massively to the construction sector of Singapore from the fifties to the sixties. New replacement units at nearby Henderson Road will be prioritised for them.

Published: 08 December 2011

Updated: 03 December 2012

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54 Responses to A Walk Through The Old Neighbourhood – Redhill Close

  1. Dan says:

    Yes, there was a glass factory there, around the present junction of Jln Bukit Merah and Henderson Road. And still can’t forget the push cart duck noodle stall along the main road.

  2. Very nice. I wonder if Redhill will become cool in the same way as the other SIT estate, Tiong Bahru, has been gentrified? Can we expect lattes and eggs benedict in Bukit Merah any time soon?

  3. market2garden says:

    Glass Factory
    bo leh long (Hokkien)
    Thanks for sharing
    I stay within the radius of 3.5 km.
    Probably Bukit Merah CC could expand a little bit after this.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/op2torch/

  4. Ben says:

    Are you sure Jin Bt Merah was known as Silat Road previously?
    I live in the Silat estate and there is still a Silat Road.

    • Part of Jalan Bukit Merah (stretch opposite SGH) was formerly called Silat Road, where the Sikh Temple stands. The current Silat Road is a branch off from the former major road also named Silat Road.
      Thanks for the highlight, maybe I didn’t make it clear in the article (have done the update).

      • xchristinax says:

        Hi, any idea what is the background of the school-like building opposite the Silat Road Sikh Temple? Somehow the building looks intriguing and rather mysterious to me. Thank you in advance!

  5. Jared Seah says:

    I live in Queenstown, so a neighbour to Bukit Merah :)

    We did our technical studies at Bukit Merah Secondary School during Sec 1 and Sec 2 although I studied at Gan Eng Seng School in Anson.

    I remember the joy of going to the dessert stall (tore down now) near Bukit Merah secondary School for the 50 cents Jelly. Now hard to find stalls selling Jelly dessert – not the Ice Jelly kind we find today; but the America Jello kind :)

    • Adam72 says:

      I also did my technical class at BMSS though we were the last batch i think as we (GESS) moved to Raeburn Park in Spottiswoode in 1987. I lived in nearby Redhill Rd in Blk 74, a rental block from 1977-1979. It was torn down and now new flats are there…

      • pam says:

        Adam72,

        I also stayed at blk 74! 1974-1984.

        Dear remember Singapore,
        This article brought back precious memories. Thx!

  6. Timothy says:

    I think a few blocks of flats at henderson are slated for en bloc but the business are still around. I wonder if these 1 room subsidized flats will still remain.

  7. nam says:

    is there anymore photos that we can follows along the tracks of memories. like the market that used to have a chai tao quay in trishaw before was moved into the store. Bukit Merah south school that I have studied the 70s there. those shop houses next to the existing pertol stattion facing Jalan Bukit Merah behing a deep drain with in front a very big strong tree near to
    the seven storey flat , a bus terminal for number 41. really missed those time.

  8. Tim says:

    Are these flats scheduled for en-bloc? Am quite surprise as like you mention as they have went through MUP in 90s(late 90s i think), still end up for SERs. Prime property area will always be prime property area…

    • Yes Tim, they are scheduled for en-bloc
      The nearby Tiong Bahru (Jalan Membina) and Redhill have already seen prices of new blocks of HDB flats soar skyhigh
      I foresee Bukit Ho Swee flats and Bukit Merah Central will be the next to be affected :(

      • Tim says:

        Hi ,

        Thanks for sharing. I am staying around Bukit Merah area. It is sad to see these places go especially those redhill flat opposite Bukit Merah Central – Already, the old Regal Theatre is being torn down i think. Thanks for taking effort to share your write ups- it is indeed a blessing. Should you need help in pictures (around Kampong Bahru or Telok Blangah area – do let me know. I would be happy to help if can. Cheers.

  9. Tim says:

    I wonder which part of Henderson will there be relocated to? The whote stretch of Henderson(94 to 96) are earmarked for en-bloc also it seems.

  10. Tan Kheng Cheok says:

    I stayed in one of the blocks as a young boy in the 50′s and 60′s. In those days pigs from the neigbouring squatter houses would wander around the estate leaving their poo behind. We had open air movies that charged 10 cents per show. I remembered there was also an old man that sold laksa carried on his back. The price for a bowl was 10 cents. Hock Lee bus service plies between Redhill Close and Chulia Street. Around August we would be flying, fighting and chasing kites around the estate. Those were fond memories…….

    • nam says:

      There was a man in bicycle selling hand made toys too. A “Tow Xuan” seller and also
      mua chi seller with alot of metal made fan around his mobile stall. good old times …….

  11. elroygoh02 says:

    There is a Chinese temple located on a steep hill in the Jalan Bukit Merah flats that I used to go and you have to drive or walk up a steep road to reach it.

  12. Edmund Chua says:

    I believe there used to be a Blk 4 previously, but was demolished so that a road can be opened up many many years ago. Was told there used to be a Grocery Store in Blk 4

  13. Edmund Chua says:

    From the neighbours, Blk 4 is located between between SPC (yellow oval) and Blk 5/7.
    it is not a residential block but a single level shop houses with 7 units,
    inc one coffee shop at one end of the building.

    Demolished before 1980s, to make way for the link road to Jln Bukit Merah
    (it was sitting right on the new link road previously, so … it had to go)

    • I just got my hands on a 1988 street directory and Block 4 wasn’t on the map…
      Have to continue sourcing for older street directories to check which year it was demolished

      • cardelo says:

        Managed to get a 1972 street directory. This should shed some light in the mystery.


        Street directories back then weren’t drawn in detail. The flats were not shown even though we know there were already there. But comparing how Redhill Close changed, my guess is that Blk 4 should be between SPC and Blks 5 & 7.

      • Thanks! Don’t mind I embed your map here at a smaller size ;)
        Can also see from the map that part of Jalan Bukit Merah was called Gagak Selari Timor. There was also Gagak Selari Barat, which together with Gagak Selari Timor, was renamed as Jalan Bukit Merah (extension) in the 1970s

  14. Evo0134 says:

    sorry dude , I had been living in Redhill close for 29 years since i was born , sorry but my mom told me there no block 4 in here , i didn’t why , but 4 didn’t exist here . :(

    • GR says:

      Block 4 was a row of single storey shop houses. It was up a little slope where the no 8 Hock Lee bus had its terminus. The corner coffee shop was famous for its wan ton mee. I lived for 20 years in Ang Sua and moved out in 1972. Remember the guy who used to rent bicycles; also the tow kua seller next to coffeeshop (near market), only $0.10 best in the world and travelling tau suan seller, you lower your basket to buy, and also wayang.

  15. Edmund Chua says:

    exactly when demolished I not sure, but definitely before the eighties,
    well for curiosity sake, go ask ard your neighbours who had been living since the 50s.
    not that many left, but I am sure you can find 1 or 2 ;)

    • nam says:

      I think it might be, what I remembered, a row of 1 storey shophouses with not mistaken, a laundary shop located but that was a long long time ago. somewhere between 60s and 70s. Eactly at the yellow circle.Could it be that blk 4?

  16. Nanan says:

    Hey, if it helps, the brave smart boy in the legend who helped to stop the swordfish has a name. It’s Hang Nadim. cl;o)

  17. Stephen says:

    My mum owed a provision stall in the old Redhill Market which was demolished and replaced by the current one. The chicken sellers would slaughter their chicken live and it was a noisy and lively place. A pity that the 7 storey pinkish flat would soon be gone. I would consider them the modern day “slum” of Singapore, not in a derogatory sense, but that they serve the lowest strata of society. (My family used to live in one room flats) It is really small inside. I am proud that these are so well maintained. These should not be demolished. They can be converted into studio apartments for small families like those in Tiong Bahru. My friend lived there once and his flat caught fire. He stayed with us for sometime while the flat was being repaired/renovated.

  18. Some old photos of Jalan Bukit Merah and Redhill Close….

    Jalan Bukit Merah was an earth track in the early days

    It was developed into a tarmac road by the late 1950s (Redhill Close flats in the background)

    A bird eye view of the Redhill Close estate in the 1960s

    • Redhill Close Resident says:

      This photograph must have been taken in the 1990s when the MUP was taking place. The facade walls seen on a few blocks of the flats in the center of the photograph was an addition during the MUP.

      • Edmund Chua says:

        The last picture is a mirror image. It should be Flipped horizontally to get the right orientation. The 1st building beside the road is Blk 1, then Blk 2 and a little bit of blk3.

        You can see old Blk 71 and 72, AND YEAH , MY OLD ICONIC Blk 77 that was BENT in the Middle in the building (Before SERS Demolition)

  19. nam says:

    I am very happy to see these photos posted and I will dream …..good old times THANK YOU ! AND MERRY CHRISTMAS.

  20. Clement Teh says:

    i am glad to inform you that i located on very vague site plan showing block 4!

    Please visit our redhill tribute page:

    https://www.facebook.com/LastChanceToLiveInRedhill

    • KC Tan says:

      The old Redhill Close map in the website shows the estate in the 50s and 60s with the old market and 4 single-storey blocks of shops.
      Block 4 is the curved shape block near block 5. The other 3 blocks are near the old market. There were single-storey blocks of houses around the market. They were demolished to make way for the high-rise HDB flats around Redhill Rd and Jln Tiong.
      The 3 primary schools in the map were Bukit Merah South, Bukit Merah North and Redhill School. They were demolished and Gan Eng Seng Primary School is now located.
      Back then Jalan Bukit Merah was just a laterite track that connected Henderson Rd and Alexandra Rd.

  21. Tim says:

    I believed the building opposite the skih temple was the old silat primary school in the 80s which was then probably merged with some other primary schools in the late 80s/early 90s. It was then subsquently occupied by one one (then) new polytechnic(think republic?) before they moved of somewhere. Guess buildings like these are a relic as well as of some rarity

    • xchristinax says:

      Thank you for the information! I managed to track down the building’s identity, yes it is the old silat primary school which later merged with zhangde pri. Then the building was occupied by nanyang poly’s school of health sciences. A pity that they have to make way for further development sooner or later.

  22. Eileen Z says:

    Hi all, not sure if u all know of a coffee shop that sells bak chor mee… Its not within the redhill market but opposite…

    • Edmund Chua says:

      Old corner Coffee shop,

      actually…. I still remember seeing it, the coffee shop……. then one day the corner is gone….. the rate of change is faster than my brain neurons.

      the building is now become rental block,
      the coffee shop is now the Senior Citizen Center,

  23. Dora says:

    Hi, I used to live in Redhill in the 60s-70s. All your comments brought back fond memories (and some not so happy). I’m planning to do a heritage tour of Redhill in July based on a story I wrote for the Anthology Balik Kampong. I was doing research when I came upon this website.

  24. Tan Chee Wee says:

    There used to be a small Chinese temple under the foot of SGH that was burned down (now it is just grass and a SGH signage there), i think it is at a junction further down Silat Road. Anyone know it’s name?

  25. Ronni Pinsler says:

    The name of the temple was Tan Suah keong something like that. It was dedicated to Kwan Kong.
    It was on Henderson road not Redhill close. Deity Kwan Kong said he did not want to leave. The management had no choice but to fight Liu Tai Kerr and his urban renewal plans. An international weekly publication had the headline “Kuan Yew v Kuan Kong”. The Sng brothers who owned the title deeds of the large tract of land (9 acres??) up to the railway, offered to donate the land in exchange for the temple staying. This was refused. Some Australian architects who were drawn to the temple presented plans (FOC) showing three ways how the temple could be left alone with suggestions for alternative repositioning of the filtration plant of the pool that supposedly was the problem. The plans were rejected, most likely unread and I heard that the architect or architects had their work permits revoked. The ISD was monitoring all visitors. The temple survived for 5 more years under stressful circumstances. Finally a commando style police raid with riot squad arrested the owners, and devotees , removed the statues and completed the demolishing within a few hours.
    This is the only case i know of a temple in Singapore resisting the demands of the authorities to quit.
    Btw I am happy to see my photos “borrowed” from the NAS being used. But an acknowledgement would have been more proper not to say polite.
    Ronni Pinsler

  26. Ronni Pinsler says:

    The SGH temple was the Hang San Teng , Silat road. Read about it in Leon Combers Chinese temples in Sing… An interesting anecdote about the wild tigers in the surrounding hills being interested in the wayang show percussion instruments, and the consequence of several temple caretakers being dragged away and eaten. Thus the committee decided to ban opera shows from the 1890s . This was a truly beautiful temple before the fire..

  27. Loli says:

    Do u have any pictures of the bukit merah south school? Pls share! Thanks!

  28. epatmos says:

    Hi Remember Singapore,
    I’m also from Bukit Merah South School…. we have a Facebook page under the same name…..

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/58691321640/

    Please come and join us and found your old classmates…

  29. ah kok says:

    There is 4 more blocks (87,88,89,90) in Redhill Close.

  30. Richard Soh says:

    This is a very good article. Definitely bring back lots of childhood memories. I have been living at Redhill area for more than 35 years. I studied Redhill Pri School from 1980 to 1985. My son is attending Gan Eng Seng Pri School where it was previously occupied by Redhill Pri School. I often told my son of my childhood spent in Redhill. This is my home, my childhood and my life.

  31. QinQin says:

    Hi,

    I am doing my research in Tiong Bahru and by chance read into the whole area and realized this area used to be a old disused cemetery know as 仁记山 since 1920s ( area bounded by Alexandra road, leng kee road, Tiong Bahru road,Kim Pong Road and the old railway track, graves might be scattered only mark as ‘Chinese Cemetery’ on old records ) by Hokkian Huay Kuang according to old records.

    Quite interesting as many younger generations, like myself may not even know if not of some research work done.

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