Katong Park Guards

Katong Park is one of the oldest parks in Singapore, being built in the 1930s. It was once a favourite place for families to have picnics in the weekends due to its splendid seafront view. During its heydays, it had a large swimming bay, children playground, changing rooms, food outlets and even hawker stalls at Meyer Road which attracted large crowds at night.

However, the land reclamation in 1966, and later the construction of the East Coast Parkway (ECP) that started in the seventies, blocked the excellent views. The popularity of Katong Park declined after that.

Katong Park was formerly the site of Fort Tanjong Katong, used from 1879 to 1901 by the British as a defensive fortification in the southern part of Singapore. It was designed by colonial governor, engineer and architect Sir Henry Edward McCallum (1852-1919). During the turn of the 19th century, the British were concerned about the influence of other European powers such as the Dutch and the Russian (although the Russia Empire never extended their influence to the Southeast Asia). Fort Tanjong Katong, along with Fort Siloso, Fort Connaught and Fort Serapong of Sentosa, were built to defend the all-important Keppel Harbour.

Due to soft ground and lack of accessibility of supplies, Fort Tanjong Katong was deemed ineffective as a fortress. After only two decades of usage, the fort was abandoned and the pair of 8-inch guns, the fort’s main defensive weapons, were shifted to other places. Since the late 1910s, Fort Tanjong Katong was buried and largely forgotten, replaced by Katong Park and the land reclamation along East Coast.

In 2011, an observation of an exposed bastion wall by a Katong resident called Jack Sim prompted the authority to excavate the forgotten site. The archaeological dig took place in 2004, with discovery of more infantry bastions, moat and drawbridge, and was hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds in the history of Singapore. A year later, the site of Fort Tanjong Katong was reburied again for future excavation.

Due to its popularity, Katong Park was targeted and rocked by three bomb explosions in September and October of 1953. It was the period of Konfrontasi, when Indonesian president Sukarno openly opposed the formation of Malaysia (Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Brunei) and sent his team of saboteurs to Singapore to carry out the terrorist acts.

The windows of the nearby Ambassador Hotel (also known as Duke Hotel and later, Katong Park Hotel) were smashed by the impact of the explosions. One of the oldest hotels in Singapore, the seven-storey Ambassador Hotel was built in the early sixties. It was acquired in 1982 by a hotelier Teo Lay Swee, before the ownership of the hotel changed hands again in 1992 to a Chui family from Macau. The hotel was eventually demolished by late 2002 to make way for a residential project.

The pair of interesting sculptures of guards standing in front of Katong Park, along Fort Road, was donated by Jack Sim. They have the images of a British and Indian Sikh guard, which symbolised the multi-ethnic civil defence forces of Singapore in the 19th century.

Published: 06 March 2012

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10 Responses to Katong Park Guards

  1. Wai Fun says:

    Was there a few days ago but the two guard sculptures were no longer there.

  2. Laura says:

    My mom brought me here to play on the long wooden swings on iron chains and climbed trees when I was about 6 years old. You don’t see swings like that around these days.

    • John O says:

      yes– My Family used to go there when we were young- Loved those swings ,To me it was a huge park whe I was young…

  3. Eddy Lim says:

    Were there 2 large stone lion statues there in the 60s / 70s? I remember going there and having a family photo in front of the stone lions, I know it is somewhere in Katong, not sure if it is here in Katong Park (I was around 5 years old then) ….

  4. TCH says:

    I lived in Teachers’ Rest House, 32B Meyer Road just opposite Katong Park and had many fond memories there. This was around 1962. The seafront was right there with a rectangular swimming ‘pagar’ . A cafe with old rattan chairs sold food I cannot recall. Among swings mentioned in the playground was this pyramidal rotating device that pivoted at its apex. I would spin it and hop on,
    riding till I felt giddy. From time to time a British military band would perform on the stage. Opposite the park was Embassy Hotel with a huge metal ball adorning the rooftop. Every evening the band will open with the same theme song for years. The metal ball was studded with coloured lights. Where we lived was an old mansion run by the YMCA housing like 20 different families, nearly all teachers. Some ate dinner together at a canteen of sorts and were quite friendly people. The chinese-medium teachers preferred to keep to themselves. Next to the house were two palatial mansions belonging to Tan Boon Khak , the brother of tycoon Tan Lark Sye. I remember the news about the former being kidnapped. One of my friends was a malay boy whose father was Tan’s gardener and recalled that his grandfather used to light up
    the car’s oil or carbide lamps of the old man wanted to go out at night. Apart from black and white
    pig-tailed amahs we hardly saw anyone outside the house. A huge blue Packard parked in the garage.
    One time the British army held an anti-riot exercise in Katong park. Mock rioters unfurled banners and shouted slogans till troops arrived, and dispersed them in a ‘box formation’ Around that time
    the government held variety shows called Aneka Ragam Rakyat that drew huge crowds to the park. No public transport ran along Meyer Road. Singapore Traction Company had a service that came from Mountbatten Road. turned into Fort Road and then to Tanjong Rhu Road end
    …a place called Rhu Cross. That end of Tanjong Rhu had many shipyards the largest being Vosper Thornycroft. Arthur Road began at the junction with Meyer Road where the hotel stood and joined Mountbatten Road. Somewhere there was a malay grave called Keramat Kubor Panjang. The concrete grave was like several meters long’ Legend had it that it grew due to the saintly qualities of the deceased.
    I remember the recently ‘discovered’ fort ruins. Bulges and stumps of concrete were already sticking out of the ground since my time but nobody thought anything of it.

  5. Ramli Mohd Tahar says:

    Interesting recollection TCH. Thank you.
    This is my recollection on Katong Park:
    1953 — I was born and grew up in Kampong Amber (behind Chinese Swimming Club) and beside
    going to the beach at Amber Road, walking to K.P for outing with my mother was trip I
    look forward to. Along the way we stopped at a provision shop ( after Crescent
    Road) to buy biscuits. After running and playing at the Park many *attractions* – (swing,
    slides, monkey bars) we head to the Stall ouside the Park (along Meyer Road, opp the
    Hotel) for Mee Rebus, Indian Rojak or Mee Goreng !!! As and when my mother can
    afford it, otherwise its just bisbuits and water! On the way home we visited my gardener
    uncle who was staying at the quarter of a large house at Mayfield Road (??)
    I attended Tanjong Katong Malay School at Arthur Road. And Katong Park is a
    regular post Exams outing destination for the students.

    1965 – 1969
    I was a Trainee Teacher at the same school. The Katong Park outing for the students
    was still a regular feature. We organise games like tug-of-war, rounders. By now the
    swimming enclosure is gone, land reclaimation has already began. I started
    Rad Run for my students, along Arthur Road, passing Katong Park, along Meyer Rd,
    turning to Crescent Road, along Wilkinson Road to Tanjong Katong Malay School.

    I got married in 1969 and now the outing with my mother to Katong Park includes my
    wife and our 2 children. We still walk along Meyer Road to K.P pushing the baby pram
    along the way. My son Din and daughter Rose found a wonderful place to run, romp
    and play in Katong Park. What thrill them most was to sit on the parked grass cutting
    tractor for a photo shoot.
    There was also a Silver Owl Cafeteria for drinks and snacks. But we still enjoy sitting
    on a mat under a tree and enjoying home made spread made by my wife. Nasi lemak,
    sardine sandwiches, goreng pisang!!

    What a simple joy and happy memories! Thank you Katong Park.

    Ramli Mohd Tahar

  6. The iconic merry-go-round at Katong Park in the 1950s


    (Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore)

  7. Mas Yud says:

    Katong Park ,where I’m here always with friends plays of all parts for a living . Selling ” kueh ” ,catch spiders ,swim into the longkang till outing to the openseas , and much more..next to katong park ,there also a pre war godown warehouse and pre ww2 hiding places for military personals kept alerts from enemy ambush. And next to it ,will be Singapore Swimming Club known also as Tj.Rhu Road . It all just left only history & memory. At that time I’m staying jkampong Amber or known as Amber Road & after that’s moved to Kg.Arang Road. where theres Our first places living in a such houses call ” flats “. from kampong boy’s . Thanks to All memories of the places such as ” KATONG PARK “.

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