The Disappearance of the Historic Hallpike Street

Hallpike Street was previously a little known road that once existed between High Street and North Boat Quay. But the road had a significant history that goes back to the 19th century. Located near to the recorded landing site of Sir Stamford Raffles, it was also once the premises of Hallpike Boatyard, a large boat-building company owned by an English blacksmith named Stephen Hallpike (1786-1844).

Beside his blacksmith and boat-building businesses, Stephen Hallpike and his wife Ellen Richardson also run a boarding house that provided food and lodging for paying guests. Singapore, by then, was a thriving port called by many Chinese junks, Bugis prahus and European clippers. In 1831, for instance, eighteen junks from Shanghai arrived at Singapore, bringing with them $200,000 worth of cargoes.

Stephen Hallpike went on to become a successful and well-reputed person within the European community in early Singapore. Some records shed light on his background, that he was a former inmate who had been convicted of larceny in England and was shipped to Singapore in 1819 along with 159 other convicts. Regardless of his past, Stephen Hallpike settled well in Singapore and lived till an age of 58. He died in 1844, and had his tombstone erected among those at the Fort Canning Cemetery.

Until the 1870s, the northern bank of the Singapore River was almost exclusive for boat-building and repair works. Many boatyards were building tongkangs, but it was at Hallpike Boatyard where Elizabeth, Singapore’s first ocean-going vessel, was constructed. The 194-ton sailing ship was launched in 1829, an incredible feat for the newly-established trading post then.

In 1848, Ranee was completed at Hallpike Boatyard. The 60-foot long vessel was the first ever steamship built in Singapore. It represented the advancement in technology, ahead of the growing global trades that boomed in the 1860s with the opening of the Suez Canal and the popularisation of steamships.

Hallpike Boatyard was located beside another important landmark, the old Parliament House. The double-storey colonial mansion was built in 1827, and served as the first courthouse until 1865. The building was bought by the colonial government in 1841 and continued to function as a courthouse and other administrative offices. The old Parliament House would later become the Supreme Court (1875), Legislative Assembly House (1954), Parliament of Singapore (1965) and The Arts House (2004).

Due to the proximity of the boatyard, the colonial authority tried to shut it down several times as the loud noises from the boatyard’s operations were daily distractions to the public offices in the vicinity.

Hallpike Street, which was later named after Stephen Hallpike, was likely to be built in the 1870s after the decline and closing down of the Hallpike Boatyard. Several rows of shophouses appeared at Hallpike Street by the early 1900s.

Many immigrants from China started gathering at Hallpike Street, but the shophouses were mainly occupied by wealthy merchants before the Second World War. The short road would be busily choked with cars and rickshaws scuttled past daily, throwing up thick clouds of dust. Hallpike Street did not become a proper asphalt road until 1956.

Development caught up with Hallpike Street in the seventies, when nine of its old pre-war shophouses, along with other shophouses in the city area, were acquired by the Singapore government in the urban renewal projects. There were about 50 residents living and working at the Hallpike Street shophouses. Before the acquisition, the shophouses were belonged to Lee Wah Bank, Cathay Finance and a Chinese businessman. Cathay Finance was the agent for the estate of the famous cinema magnate Dato Loke Wan Tho (1915-1964).

There were also many street vendors selling hawker food at Hallpike Street. When the redevelopment kicked off, the street hawkers had to be relocated to the Boat Quay Hawker Centre, built in 1973. The hawker centre was famous for its delicious local food along the not-so-pleasant Singapore River.

By the late eighties, the surrounding areas along the Singapore River had changed rapidly. Sections of the long North Boat Quay was converted into a wide pedestrian walkway, and the street signage of Hallpike Street was removed as it was connected directly to North Boat Quay.

By the early nineties, the street, its shophouses and even its name had disappeared and forgotten. It was noticed by some heritage enthusiasts then, as they wrote in to the newspapers and authority requesting for the reinstatement of the street name. It, however, did not change the fact that Hallpike Street had completely vanished in history.

Published: 27 October 2017

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Nostalgic Coloured Photos of Former Seng Poh Road Market

In the late 1940s, Tiong Bahru was recovering from the horrors of the Second World War. Jobs were scarce, so many turned to street hawking. A new market emerged at Tiong Bahru, converted from two old shophouses in the vicinity. As more street hawkers joined, the limited space resulted in many rifts and conflicts. The street hawkers soon decided to shift their stalls and pushcarts to the nearby spacious Seng Poh Road to continue their trades.

In 1950, the Municipal Commission approved the construction of the Seng Poh Road Market, a large simple wooden building with zinc roofs. When the new market was completed, more than 200 hawkers applied to sell poultry, fish, vegetable, fruits and cooked food. In 1951, the Municipal Commission declared the Seng Poh Road Market, and the equally popular Lim Tua Tow Road Market at Upper Serangoon Road, as the new public markets.

Except for some repairs and a replacement of the battered roof, Seng Poh Road Market remained largely unchanged, in the next 40 years, until the late eighties. In the early nineties, it was given a major cleaning up. The old market’s history, however, came to an end in 2004, when it was torn down for a complete redevelopment. Its hawkers were then relocated to a temporary spot at Kim Pong Road. After two years of redevelopment, a new Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre was completed and opened in 2006.

Here is a trip down the memory lane of the former Seng Poh Road Market:

(All photos above are credited to Tiong Bahru Estate)

Published: 26 October 2017

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First Toa Payoh Secondary School No More

Although Toa Payoh was the second satellite town in Singapore after Queenstown, it was the first to be built solely by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

In 1968, First Toa Payoh Secondary School (FTPSS) became Toa Payoh’s first secondary school, located at Toa Payoh Lorong 1. Initially made up of students from the nearby Kim Keat Vocational School and Thomson Secondary School, FTPSS was officially opened in May 1969 by Eric Cheong Yuen Chee, Member of Parliament (MP) for Toa Payoh, as an English and Chinese fully-integrated school.

FTPSS was an active participant in the inter-district track and field, cross country, badminton, football and hockey tournaments in the seventies. In 1971, the secondary school also held the two-day Festival of Music and Dance, where as many as 49 schools in Singapore participated in the events of cultural and folk dances performed in artistic and coordinated moves.

In the seventies, the FTPSS campus was also one of the schools in Singapore used by the Adult Education Board (AEB) to conduct a series of skill-learning courses for the public, such as tailoring, interior designing, dressmaking, photography and copper tooling.

In 1980, FTPSS, along with Jurong Secondary School, became two of the nation’s many pre-university centres to offer 3-year commerce courses for students with acceptable GCE ‘O’ level results. Pre-universities, together with junior colleges and polytechnics, were part of Singapore’s educational system for students to further their studies after secondary education. The pre-university classes at FTPSS lasted until 1991, when the school adopted the single-session schedules.

FTPSS had been actively involved in the campaigns that emphasized on social contributions and environmental protection. In the late seventies, its students were encouraged to participate in the “Use Your Hands” campaigns, beach cleaning activities and old newspapers’ collection for charitable events.

The new millennium saw FTPSS underwent a series of mergers due to falling enrollment of students in the vicinity. In 2001, it merged with Thomson Secondary School and Pei Dao Secondary School.

Another merger followed three years later, as FTPSS merged with Upper Serangoon Secondary School in 2004. In the same year, the secondary school was relocated to a new campus at Toa Payoh East, where the site is now temporarily occupied by Pei Chun Public School. FTPSS had its last merger in 2016, this time with Bartley Secondary School at the latter’s campus at Jalan Bunga Rampai.

In September 2017, hoardings have been erected around the former premises of FTPSS, together with the old school buildings of First Toa Payoh Primary School (FTPPS), at Toa Payoh Lorong 1. Demolition has commenced and is expected to be completed by early 2018. Located beside FTPSS, FTPPS was also started in 1968, and was shifted to Toa Payoh Lorong 8 in 2002 after merging with Braddell, Westlake and San Shan Primary Schools.

Although the name First Toa Payoh Secondary School and its original school campus have officially walked into history, its 48-year history, legacy and spirit shall be continued to be well-remembered by its many generations of former students.

Published: 08 October 2017

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Boon Lay, JTC and the En-Bloc Flats

As part of the early industrial development of Jurong, small residential estates were built to accommodate the increasing workers’ population as well as the resettled farmers and fishermen from the Jurong and Tuas villages. Hence, by the mid-sixties and mid-seventies respectively, the housing projects of Taman Jurong and Boon Lay were launched.

The Taman Jurong residential district was first developed by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and then by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) between 1964 and 1975. The development of Boon Lay estate, on the other hand, began in 1969, when the villages were cleared and the tracks of Jurong Road expunged, replaced by the construction of new tarmac roads.

The Boon Lay estate, consisting of Boon Lay Drive, Boon Lay Place and Boon Lay Garden, was named after Chew Boon Lay (1851-1933), the Chinese pioneer who had owned huge gambier and pepper plantations in the Jurong vicinity in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

By the mid-seventies, the small housing estate was taking shape, with the network of roads completed, and new JTC flats ready for the workers at the nearby industries. The construction of JTC flats lasted until 1979. As many as 53 blocks were built, numbering from 161 to 220, and ranging from 10-storey to 15-storey and 20-storey tall. Simple public amenities were built too, such as a children’s playground with swings and see-saws, and mini football field, between Block 192 and 196.

The blocks of 167 to 172 have designs similar to the former JTC flats at Yung Kuang Road, where two parallel blocks were served by a common lift system in between the blocks. From their top views, the blocks look like the letter “H”. There were other similarly designed flats at Boon Lay Drive (Block 161-166, 192-197), but most were demolished in the late eighties and early nineties.

Since the beginning of 2017, the 40-year-old Block 167-172 of Boon Lay Drive have been vacated. It was six years ago, in 2011, when the flats were selected in the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).

In 1988, six empty rental blocks at Boon Lay Drive, built in 1973, were used as Fighting in Built-Up Areas (FIBUA) for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen. The three-room flats had been awaiting for demolition by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). It was the first time SAF conducted their urban warfare training outside their designated facilities at Pasir Laba’s Basic Combat Training Centre and the FIBUA Village at Jalan Sarimbun.

The FIBUA exercise was carried out from Mondays to Saturdays and lasted for six months, where blanks and thunderflashes were constantly used. It was an unforgettable moment for the Boon Lay residents to experience the sounds of firing and explosives at their doorsteps.

Interesting Trivia

In 1989, after the FIBUA exercise had ended, Block 192, one of the six blocks scheduled to be demolished, could not be torn down despite the large amount of explosives used by HDB. Dubbed by the amused residents as the “invincible” block, Block 192 stubbornly stood for several months, before finally demolished using the conventional ball-and-crane method.

The balloting for the Boon Lay flats were carried out in different stages in the mid- and late-seventies. Block 198, 199 and 200, for example, were completed by the JTC in the mid-seventies. As many as 131 units, at $35,000 each, were offered in 1976 to the Jurong workers, with the balloting officiated by Ho Kah Leong, the former Member of Parliament (MP) for Jurong.

The ownership of the JTC flats was at first limited to the workers at Jurong. After 1977, the restriction was lifted and the units were subsequently put up for sale and rental to those working outside of the Jurong vicinity. In 1982, the management of the JTC flats at Boon Lay was handed over to HDB as the sole housing agency in Singapore.

The Boon Lay flats of the seventies had basic installations such as telephone lines, where the owners could request for new telephones to be fitted by the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS), a statutory board established in 1972 from the government’s Telecommunication Department.

But the flats were not without issues. In 1977, residents living at 198 to 206 blocks of Boon Lay Drive made complaints of brownish and salty water flowing from their taps, which, after investigations by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), was due to corroded pipes and water storage tanks. For weeks, the residents had to make daily trips to the nearby refuse centre to collect water for their cooking and washing purposes.

Other than the frequent water disruptions, the Boon Lay residents also faced another headache in the mid-seventies, when construction activities, reclamation works as well as smoke from the nearby plywood factory and Jurong power station polluted the air badly and staining the residents’ furniture and clothes with grime. The situation only turned better after the Ministry of Environment’s Anti-Pollution Unit stepped in to monitor and limit the emission from the power station and factories.

The small housing estate was also plagued in the seventies and early eighties by burglaries, armed robberies and gangsterism. In the year 1980, there were as many as eleven murders at Boon Lay; the most shocking case being the attack of five Malaysian workers by an armed gang. The anti-crime police unit launched a major operation, rounding up dozens of suspected gangsters at the new Jurong Town Police Station.

The new police station, located at the junction of Boon Lay Drive and Corporation Road, was officially opened in 1980 by Goh Chok Tong, then-Minister for Trade and Industry, at a construction cost of $2.7 million. Serving as the new headquarters for the Rural West Division, it aimed to provide swift response and assistance to the Jurong vicinity that already had a 250,000-strong residential and working population in the early eighties.

In 1986, the Boon Lay Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) was set up at Boon Lay Place, first as a temporary post at a container cabin, and later at the permanent location at Block 210’s void deck. The purpose of NPPs was to tackle petty crimes and offences, such as thefts and conflicts, and carry out patrols and house visits.

There was also the Jurong Fire Station, located at the corner of Boon Lay Drive. Officially opened in 1975 by Othman bin Wok, the then-Minister for Social Affairs, it had a grand opening ceremony made up of a firemen marching contingent, inspection of new equipment and facilities, and spectacular fire-fighting demonstrations.

Amenities and services for the Boon Lay residents would improve over the years. In 1978, the Singapore Bus Service (SBS) introduced new direct feeder services between the residential and industrial sectors at Boon Lay and Taman Jurong during the peak hours so that the commuters need not transfer to other buses at the Jurong Bus Interchange.

The new services 249 and 249A, costing 20 cents per trip, plied between Boon Lay Drive, Corporation Road, Jalan Samulun and the National Iron and Steel Mills, and were terminated at the former Boon Lay Bus Terminal. Today, the premises of the former bus terminal has been converted into an open-air parking space.

A hawker centre and market were added at Boon Lay Place in 1976. Many street hawkers from Jurong Road 13th and 15th milestones were relocated to the hawker centre’s new food stalls.

The Boon Lay Shopping Centre was up in 1978, becoming Jurong’s first shopping and residential complex. The simple neighbourhood hub, in its early days, had many money changers to cater to the large foreign population, most of them Malaysians, working at the Jurong industrial estate.

In the early eighties, Boon Lay residents had their own cinema too, when Shaw Organisation opened the Savoy Cinema, or commonly known as the Old Boon Lay Cinema, beside Boon Lay Shopping Centre. The cinema lasted for more than a decade until the late nineties.

Several schools were established at Boon Lay estate during its development stage.

Boon Lay Garden Primary School was set up in 1977, catering to the new housing estate’s increasing number of families. Opened by Ngeow Pack Hua, former MP for Boon Lay, it had about 1,080 students and 27 classes in its first year of enrollment. In 2001, the school was relocated to a new campus along Boon Lay Drive. Today, its classes have increased to 50 with more than 1,500 students.

Jurong Vocational Institute, Boon Lay Garden Primary School’s old neighbour along Jalan Boon Lay, was set up as early as 1969 (its official opening was in 1973) to train students in their technical expertise and provide future skilled workers for the booming industries at Jurong. It was converted in 1992 into the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Jurong.

The old campus sites of Jurong Vocational Institute and Boon Lay Garden Primary School are currently occupied by River Valley High School.

Another school at the Boon Lay vicinity was Boon Lay Secondary School, established in 1977 and officially opened in 1979 as a bilingual school with classes in both English and Chinese streams. The school began with only 13 classes, but gradually expanded to 34 classes by the early eighties. In 1998, Boon Lay Secondary School became a sole English-medium school, and it moved, a year later, to its new premises at Jurong West.

Interesting Trivia

One of Singapore’s two remaining clock-design playgrounds can be found at Boon Lay. The other one is located beside the Bishan Bus Interchange. Such sand-based playgrounds, along with other iconic designs, were commonly found in the new towns and housing estates in the eighties and nineties.

In 1981, the Boon Lay residents had a chance to witness the National Day Parade at their doorsteps. The National Day Parade in 1981 had been decentralised and was held concurrently at several venues, including the sport complexes at Jurong, Queenstown, Toa Payoh and Jalan Besar.

55 contingents and cultural groups lined up at the Jurong Stadium, witnessed by the former Minister for Labour Ong Teng Cheong and 10,000 spectators, before marching from the Fourth Chin Bee Road to Boon Lay Drive.

The Boon Lay estate is now part of a larger Boon Lay district, which is inclusive of the Jurong West New Town. Like Taman Jurong, new HDB developments have been launched at Boon Lay in the recent years, as replacement and upgrading for the aging JTC flats. The previous SERS project was carried out for Block 180-184 in 2006; the redeveloped site is now known as Boon Lay Meadow. It is now Block 167-172’s turn to be redeveloped.

More Photos of the En-Bloc JTC Flats (Block 167-172) at Boon Lay Drive:

Published: 17 September 2017

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Goodbye to the old Golden Shoe Hawker Centre

Many refer it to the Golden Shoe Hawker Centre, although its formal name was known as the Market Street Food Centre. Located at second and third levels of the Golden Shoe Carpark, the 33-year old food centre was formerly one of the most popular eating places at Raffles Place and Shenton Way.

The hawker centre had 56 stalls, serving a wide variety of affordable and delicious local food such as nasi lemak, chicken rice, roti prata, bak chor mee and fish soup. It was a common sight to see congested crowds, “choped” tables with tissues and long queues at the stalls during the lunch hours from Mondays and Fridays.

On 31 July 2017, the stalls were shuttered for the final time, bringing an end to its 33 years’ history. An interim hawker centre has been set up next to the Telok Ayer MRT Station at Cross Street.

The old Golden Shoe Carpark will be demolished and replaced by a new 51-storey integrated tower made up of offices, serviced residence, carparks and retail shops. One level will be reserved for a food court, which will be occupied by most of the former Market Street Food Centre stallholders. When completed in 2021, the building will be one of the tallest at Raffles Place.

The name “Golden Shoe” refers to the piece of prime land at the city area in the sixties and seventies. The 80-acre district, shaped like a shoe, was bounded by Collyer Quay, Raffles Quay, Shenton Way, Telok Ayer Street, Church Street, Boat Quay and Fullerton Square. It was where the most crowded and expensive office space could be found in Singapore, especially at the likes of Robinson Road, Change Alley, Raffles Place, Cecil Street and Market Street.

In 1970, the government announced the urban renewal project for the Golden Shoe district, hoping to attract influxes of investment capital and redeveloping the vicinity to match the prestigious “Golden Mile” that was fronting the Nicoll Highway. Under the Controlled Premises (Special Provisions) Act, landlords could evict tenants under certain conditions, in order to free up property for redevelopment.

Thousands of small businessmen and shopkeepers were affected. Many of them were sub-tenants, and had been doing businesses at the district since the 1940s. The move, however, was applauded by the various chambers of commerce in Singapore, pointing out that the rent-controlled premises and a shortage of good class office accommodation had been a hindrance to the development of Singapore’s prime district as a financial centre.

The compensation process soon kicked off, and many old shophoues and buildings were demolished. Within a few years, rents and land values at Raffles Place and Shenton Way rose rapidly. By the early seventies, many new skyscrapers were erected, such as the $10-million Cecil House, and the $80-million Ocean Building.

The Golden Shoe Carpark building was opened in May 1984 at a construction cost of $50 million. Its massive 1,074 parking lots was able to ease the increasing demand of carpark space in the city. 500 lots were initially reserved for season parking, which was offered at a rate of $130 per month, similar to that of the nearby Market Street Carpark.

The 10-storey building also came with three floors of hawker stalls, 17 shops, a restaurant and even a petrol kiosk at its ground level. Some of the early tenants at Golden Shoe Carpark were the minimart owned by Siang Heng Brothers and the famous Noodle Garden Restaurant.

In November 1984, the Market Street Food Centre at Golden Shoe Carpark building was officially opened by Ong Pang Boon, the Minister for the Environment. Within a short time, the new hawker centre established itself as a popular eating place among the workers at Raffles Place.

The first generation of the stallholders at the hawker centre were the street hawkers formerly plying their trades at D-Almeida Street and the back lanes of Market Street and South Bridge Road. The relocation of the street hawkers to a proper food centre was part of the government’s effort to clear all food hawking off the streets by the late eighties.

The Central Business District (CBD) has been constantly evolving. One of its changes was the demolition of old carparks and the subsequent redevelopment of their sites. This included the Raffles Place Carpark (closed in 1984), Empress Place Carpark (closed in 1989), Fullerton Square Carpark (1954-1989) and the Market Street Carpark, Singapore’s first multi-storey carpark (1964-2014).

Published: 14 August 2017

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Little Guilin and the Former Granite Quarries of Singapore

According to Singapore’s geological map, the island’s strongest rock formation is found at the Gombak Norite, where its rock is tested to be more than ten times stronger than concrete. During its heydays, there were nine quarries operated at Gombak Norite. The Bukit Timah granite formation, on the other hand, covers an area of 200 square kilometres and stretches from Woodlands and Sembawang to Bukit Batok. The rock formation in this vast region is about six times stronger than concrete.

Gombak Norite also contains some rock formations that are millions of years old, although Singapore’s oldest rock is found at Pulau Tekong’s Sajahat Formation, which is estimated to be 300 million years old.

Little Guilin

It is here at Gombak Norite where the former Gammon, Seng Chew, Lian Hup and Poh Hin Quarries once operated. By 1984, the Gammon Quarry was disused, and a year later, the authorities decided to convert it into a park. Hence, Little Guilin, with its tranquil lake and towering rock cliffs, was born, named after the famous natural granite formations in Guilin, China.

Little Guilin’s highest point reaches 133m, making it the second tallest hill in Singapore after Bukit Timah Hill, which is also a huge block of granite, standing at 163.63m above sea level.

The Little Guilin project was in-charged by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), which initially wanted the abandoned quarry to be filled and a road built over it. Before the preservation decision was made, the board surveyed the site and faced two difficult problems – preventing the place from becoming a safety hazard to the residents of the new town, and making sure it would not develop into a stagnant, mosquito-breeding ground.

By then, the water-filled quarry was one or two metres above the “safe” depth, and there were suggestions to lower the water level, but this would result in the water losing its shifting lights and sparkle. Hence, a low granite retaining wall was built at the edge of the quarry. In this way, visitors could be prevented from getting too close and falling into the waters while the water level could be retained.

The second problem was more difficult in solving. As the land around the quarry slopes away from it, rainwater tends to flow away rather than into it. But HDB’s engineering team in the end managed to locate a small quarry at a higher ground to supply Little Guilin with an adequate supply of fresh water.

The development of Little Guilin was completed by the mid-eighties. Part of Jalan Perang, a long narrow road that was once the only accessible way to Gammon Quarry, was rebuilt as Bukit Batok East Avenue 5. In 1990, the Bukit Gombak Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station was opened, providing additional convenience to the new scenic spot.

In the vicinity also lies the the former Seng Chew Granite Quarry, sitting on a small hill about 500m north of Little Guilin. Like the former Gammon Quarry, it was also previously accessible only by Jalan Perang. After its abandonment, rainwater filled it up and the former quarry became a lake.

The development of Bukit Batok Town Park saw one side of the once-heavily forested hill trimmed to become the contoured slopes today. A drainage system is also built to allow excessive water from Seng Chew Quarry, especially during the thunderstorms, to flow down along the slopes to the underground canals.

Granite in Demand

A search with the Registry of Companies (ROC) shows that the company operating Seng Chew Quarry had existed from 1949 to 1960. The period between the fifties and seventies was indeed the golden era for local granite quarrying industry; numerous quarry companies were set up in Singapore due to the increasing demand for granite, such as Koko, Malaya, Jurong, Lian Moh, Chih Yee, Asia, New Asia, Eng Kee, Lam Eng, Atlas and Gim Huat.

In 1950, there were calls to tap the granite resources at the Bukit Timah Hill. Approving the proposal would be disastrous, as sections of the hill would be blown up and its virgin forest destroyed. Fortunately, the government carried out a series of studies, assisted by an University of Malaya geologist, and concluded that the Mandai and Pulau Ubin quarries would be able to supply sufficient granite for Singapore for another hundred years.

For the other existing Bukit Timah quarries, the Commission of Enquiry into Granite Resources and Nature Reserve recommended their closures to prevent their encroachment into the forest reserve. However, behind strong economic forces, their quarrying activities would continue until the late eighties.

But by 1995, the major Singapore Quarry, Hindhede Quarry and Gali Batu (“to dig for rocks” in Malay) Quarry had ceased in their operations and became part of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Kampong Quarry

A small village called Kampong Quarry once flourished at Hindhede Road, near Bukit Timah Road 8th milestone. The Hindhede Granite Quarry had already been in existence when the village was built during the Japanese Occupation. The kampong, by the mid-fifties, had expanded to about 200 Malay residents living in 24 attap-and-zinc houses.

As the village grew in size, it became sub-divided into Kampong Quarry Bawah (“lower quarry village” in Malay), Kampong Quarry Tengah (“middle quarry village”) and Kampong Quarry Hanyut (“lost quarry village”). The name “lost” village was derived in the fifties, when the residents living there, many of them new settlers, had no occupation licenses and their houses were unnumbered. As a result, their village was not “officially” considered to be in existence.

Life for the residents at Kampong Quarry was difficult, especially in the fifties and sixties. The community was basically a fringe railway settlement, and the settlers who arrived there were taking refuge from one thing or another. The small humble village had no market, cinema, clinic or primary and secondary schools. A religious school, though, was available for the children.

Things would only improve for Kampong Quarry, as common amenities were added, in the seventies and eighties .

The track to Kampong Quarry was full of potholes, which filled with water whenever it rained. Dozens of granite-laden trucks plied daily past the village to Hindhede Quarry, stirring up a flurry of dust that polluted the houses.

By the mid-eighties, it was clear that the village would be affected by Bukit Timah’s redevelopment. For many residents, the nights of drinking coffee and chit chatting under the coconut trees would soon be over. And so was the familiar sound of the siren warning twice a day, at 11.20am and 4pm, before the blasts in the quarry.

By the late eighties, Kampong Quarry was almost vacated, after most villagers had left and resettled at the HDB flats.

Ubin’s Quarries

Other than mainland Singapore, Pulau Ubin was another rich source of granite. Granite quarrying was once a major industry on the island, supporting Singapore’s construction sector and providing ample employment opportunities for the locals. There were once five quarries at Pulau Ubin – the Kekek Quarry, Balai Quarry, Ubin Quarry, Pekan Quarry and Ketam Quarry.

The island’s first quarrying might have started as early as the 19th century. It was reported that about 3,300 tons of granite were shipped from Pulau Ubin to mainland Singapore in 1910.

The Ubin granite, over the decades, had been used extensively for the building of public flats, roads and canals, as well as many local landmarks such as the Horsburgh Lighthouse, Raffles Lighthouse, Istana and Paya Lebar Airport. The construction of the Causeway and Sembawang Naval Base, in the 1920s and 1930s respectively, made use of the granite supplies from both the Pulau Ubin and Mandai quarries (Mandai Quarry, Seng Kee Quarry and Resource Development Corporation Quarry).

Ketam Quarry, otherwise known as Aik Hwa Quarry, was in operation between 1964 and 1999. Producing almost 180 tonnes of granite every month, it made up 30 to 40 percent of Singapore’s demand for the construction and reclamation projects. At its peak, the company hired more than 100 workers, many of them residents of Pulau Ubin. When the quarry shut down in May 1999, many of its staffs chose to retire. Others remained on the island as fishermen, farmers and shopkeepers.

Pekan Quarry was another quarry on Pulau Ubin, formerly named Ho Man Choo Quarry. Located at the middle of the island, it was renamed as a reflection of its proximity to Pulau Ubin’s main village (pekan refers to “town” in Malay). After its closure, its two quarry pits were filled up with rainwater, and merged to form a scenic lake. A lookout point at the top of the quarry was built in 2007, and has been popular among the visitors.

The Pulau Ubin quarries ceased their operations after the granite had been mined to below sea level. Some of the pits were as deep as 40m. The island’s quarries were shut down one after another by the nineties. Ketam Quarry was the last surviving quarry until 1999. With the departure of the quarry workers, the population of Pulau Ubin dwindled from 1,200 in 1980 to about 400 by 1995.

The quarries, abandoned for years, have been gradually reclaimed by nature. Lush greenery and thick vegetation surround the pits that have been filled with rainwater, and become new homes for different species of birds and fish.

In April 2007, however, due to the disruption of granite supply from Indonesia, Kekek Quarry was reopened for limited quarrying works.

Dangers and Risks

Besides the tough manual work, the workers at the granite quarries were constantly subjected to high risks, particularly before the sixties when the concept of safety was often neglected or not taken seriously. Every year, there were dozens of reports of quarry workers killed by plunging rocks, falling off the cliffs or dynamite explosions.

Working conditions in the sixties and seventies remained extremely poor for the quarry workers. The work sites often suffered serious air pollution that was made up of white granite powder in the air produced by the blasting and grinding operations. Many quarry workers simply used towels to cover their faces, even though masks were provided by their companies.

By the early seventies, silicosis – a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust – had became the chief disease among industrial workers. The quarry workers were especially affected due to the nature of their jobs.

Other Quarries

While there were granite quarries at Bukit Batok, Bukit Timah, Mandai, Jurong, Choa Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin, Tampines and Loyang were better known for their sand quarries. The Tampines sand quarries were started as early as 1912, but the sand quarry boom occurred much later – during the sixties – when sand was in high demand due to the development of many areas in Singapore.

At its peak, Tampines had more than 20 sand quarries. Many farmers and fishermen in the vicinity, attracted by the booming industry, joined to become sand quarry workers. The sand quarrying eventually stopped in the later years, and one of the quarries, the Tampines Quarry, was filled up with water to become a lake today.

Published: 30 July 2017

Updated: 06 August 2017

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Exploring the Ruins of Syonan Jinja at MacRitchie Reservoir

During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese constructed two of their sacred sites in Singapore. One was the Syonan Chureito at the top of Bukit Batok Hill, while the other was the better-known Syonan Jinja at MacRitchite Reservoir.

The Syonan Jinja – its name means “Light of the South Shrine” – was a Shinto shrine built to commemorate the Japanese soldiers who died in Malaya during the Second World War. Designed based on Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, the construction of Syonan Jinja started in April 1942, two months after the fall of Singapore.

Under the command of Major Yasuji Tamura, the officer-in-charge of the Japanese Army’s 5th Division Engineers Regiment, almost 10,000 British and Australian prisoners-of-war (POWs) from the internment camps of Changi, Sime Road and Adam Park were forced to carry out the hard labour, including the clearance of a section of the heavily forested area at MacRitchite Reservoir, construction of a “divine” bridge across the waters, and the building of a flight of 94-step granite steps that led to the shrine.

In May 1942, the foundation stones of the shrine were laid by the notorious “Tiger of Malaya” Lieutenant-Colonel Tomoyuki Yamashita. The Syonan Times, the propaganda newspaper established by the Japanese, publicised the news of the grand ceremony that had many dignitaries and guests invited.

Syonan Jinja was dedicated to Amaterasu Omikami, the goddess of the sun in the Shinto religion and whom the Japanese emperors were said to be direct descendants of.

At its entrance was the “divine” bridge. After crossing the waters, the worshipers would pass through the torii gate before accessing the flight of steps to get to the three 4.5m-tall stone platforms where the open-sided temples stood. Outside the temples was a granite fountain, for purification and cleansing purposes, where it had water drawn from the reservoir through a pump and filtration system.

Upon its completion at the end of 1942, the shrine’s site occupied approximately 470 acres, or about 1.9 square kilometres, in size. There were further plans to expand the premises of the shrine to eventually become a Japanese park with gardens, playgrounds and even a stadium for sporting events. Part of the funds were raised through donations, often with sense of intimidation, from sources such as the Overseas Chinese Associations at the various Malayan states.

The Syonan Jinja had a grand opening on 15 February 1943, a year after the fall of Singapore. Shigeo Odate, the first mayor of Syonan, officiated the opening. Japanese military leaders made up the list of distinguished guests, while local community leaders and businessmen were compelled to attend the opening ceremony to show their loyalty and respect.

During the Japanese Occupation, there was also a Kashima Jinja, a branch of Syonan Jinja, built at Pulau Blakang Mati (present-day Sentosa). It was constructed by the POWs imprisoned on the island, and was enshrined on 8 June 1943.

In the later parts of the occupation, Syonan Jinja and Syonan Chureito became important places for public ceremonies and celebrations of Japanese traditional festivals, mostly attended by the Japanese military and civil officials. Most locals steered clear of the place, although students and young people were often forced to participate in the events as a display of their allegiance to the Japanese empire. The Syonan Times reported that the shrine had almost 240,000 visits between 1943 and 1944, although this number might be exaggerated.

The imminent defeat in 1945 saw the Japanese burnt and destroyed Syonan Jinja, out of fears that the returning British would commit sacrilege on their sacred shrine. The timber portions of the shrine complex were burnt completely, including the bridge. What left behind were the granite and concrete structures, slowly forgotten and consumed by nature over the decades. Today, besides the remnants of the structures, the remains of the bridge foundations in the waters can still be seen.

Along with the Merdeka Bridge and a colonial house at Adam Park, the ruins of Syonan Jinja was declared as a historic site by the National Heritage Board on 16 September 2002, adding a list of 65 historic sites marked since 1996.

Published 16 July 2017

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