In mid-2012, an old forgotten colonial-styled house standing at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Jalan Kayu was demolished due to the widening of Yio Chu Kang Road and the building of a new road that will link to the new Seletar Aerospace Hub.
Not many were aware that this was actually the former post office of Jalan Kayu. In the fifties, there was a need to build a post office to serve the increasing number of residents living at Jalan Kayu and Seletar Hills, as well as the British military personnel stationed at the nearby Seletar Airbase.
One of the best maintained and efficient post offices in Singapore, Jalan Kayu Post Office gained its prestige by winning its third straight title as the Singapore’s Best Kept Post Office in 1969. It continued to serve the community well in the seventies, when Seletar Hills began to be filled with low-rise flats, markets and rows of new private houses.
Jalan Kayu Post Office ceased its operation after the mid-eighties. The building was then served as Chatsworth Kindergarten for several years before taken over by The Hiding Place, a Christian organisation that was founded in 1978 to help inmates of drug rehabilitation centres.
In 2004, SingPost set up a branch at Jalan Kelulut, off Yio Chu Kang Road, to cater for the needs for postal services for the residents of Seletar Hills.
The Early Days
The postal service in Singapore started in the early 19th century, shortly after Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore. As the initial postal volume was small, only a small team was tasked to handle the postal service, sharing their office with the Marine Office and Import/Export department.
General Post Office
Due to the flourishing trades in the Straits Settlements by the mid-19th century, the postal service was separated from the Marine Office, becoming an independent entity to deal with the increasing mail traffic. The Post Office was later renamed as Singapore Post Office. In 1854, it had its own building, under the name of General Post Office (GPO in short), near the Town Hall along the Singapore River.
By the 1870s, the rapidly increasing mail volume prompted the General Post Office to employ a team of postmen for mail delivery. Postal boxes were also installed at different location to pick up mails by horse carriages.
The rising importance of General Post Office saw it shifted twice, in 1873 and 1885, to bigger buildings. In 1925, the buildings were demolished to make way for the construction of Fullerton Building, in which the postal service made it its permanent office.
The Chinese Sub-Post Office and the 1876 Riots
In 1876, the British colonial government decided to set up a Chinese Sub-Post Office in a bid to act as a forward agent for the China-bound letters and remittances sent by the Chinese working in Singapore. There were as many as 50,000 Chinese then, and the revenue gained from the service would be significant for the government.
However, the move by the British was opposed by the rich local towkays who had monopolised this service for years. They collaborated with the secret societies to incite protests at the sub-post office and police stations. Riots broke out when the police marched in, resulting in several casualties, but the violence was managed to be quelled within two days. Many rioters, as well as several Chinese towkays and secret society leaders, were imprisoned.
After some weeks, the Chinese community came to accept the existence of the new Sub-Post Office.
General Post Office (at Fullerton Building)
The General Post Office moved into the Fullerton Building in 1928, sharing the premises with Singapore Chamber of Commerce and several other government offices.
Nicknamed the “Grand Old Dame”, the new General Post Office at Fullerton Building was described as the most important post office in the East. It occupied two levels and equipped with a conveyor belt system to transfer the mails to the postal halls. All the mails were sent by ships during its early days.
At the end of 1971, General Post Office shifted its mail handling department to a warehouse at Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), before settling at Chai Chee Complex twelve years later. By 1998, all mail processing operations were done at the new Singapore Post Centre at Eunos Road.
The Fullerton Building was acquired by Sino Land, Far East Organisation’s sister company in Hong Kong, in 1997 and redeveloped into a prestigious hotel opened four years later.
Other Former/Old Neighbourhood Post Offices
Alexandra Post Office
Alexandra Post Office, also formerly known as Prince Philip Avenue Post Office, is housed in a low-rise block that stands between Alexandra Road and Prince Philip Avenue and has been functioning since the early sixties.
Today, Alexandra Post Office shares its premises with a pre-school.
Bukit Panjang Post Office
Located at the junction of Jalan Tech Whye and Choa Chu Kang Road, Bukit Panjang Post Office was officially opened in 1955 by then Minister of Communications and Works Francis Thomas.
The white two-storey building had since been demolished and replaced by one that houses SingPost’s ( (Singapore Post Limited) Bukit Panjang branch.
Joo Chiat Post Office
Joo Chiat Post Office was once located in a small two-storey building at the junction of Tembling Road and Joo Chiat Place, along the main road of Joo Chiat. The building used to be operated as an opium stall and a liquor shop before it was used as a post office.
The building was demolished in the seventies to replaced by a small artery road to an open-air carpark. After its demolition, the residents of Joo Chiat was served by Haig Road Post Office until 1986, when the new Joo Chiat Post Office re-opened at Joo Chiat Complex.
Katong Post Office
Katong Post Office was opened in around 1931, and largely maintained its same size of staff for more than twenty years. In the mid-fifties, the district of Tanjong Katong had seen the population grew rapidly, leading to some concerns from the public that the post office had difficulties in handling the increasing number of customers.
Standing at the junction of Tanjong Katong Road and Mountbatten Road, the two-storey colonial house of Katong Post Office (also known as Tanjong Katong Post Office) is currently the oldest neighbourhood post office in Singapore after Geylang Post Office.
After decades of operation, the post office was given a major renovation and an extension was added to the left side of the building. The building also became fully air-conditioned.
While Katong Post Office looks brand new now, its neighbouring house retained the same image for more than fifty years. It is currently being utilised as a guard house for the SingTel’s Tanjong Katong Telephone Exchange.
Like Alexandra Post Office, Katong Post Office also shares its premises with a pre-school nowadays.
Killiney Road Post Office
Killiney Road Post Office (KPO in short) is one of the few early colonial-styled post offices in Singapore that are given a new lease of life in recent years. Situated at the junction of Orchard Road and Killiney Road, it was opened in the early sixties to serve the community living at River Valley and Cairnhill.
In 2009, Killiney Road Post Office underwent a series of renovation works, with KPO Cafe Bar added to the post office. During its closure, the postal service continued in a temporary post office housed in a container.
Maxwell Road Post Office
Maxwell Road Post Office was a major tenant that occupied the ground floor of the former Custom House, located at the junction of Maxwell Road and Wallich Road.
After it was completed in 1932 at a cost of $313,000, the Custom House was used as the headquarters of the Singapore Customs. Like other buildings commissioned by the Public Works Department (PWD), it also housed several other administrative offices, in which the Film Censor’s Office was one of the tenants.
In 1989, Maxwell Road Post Office ceased its operation at the Custom House, which was re-designated for commercial use. It was renamed as the White House, and subsequently the Maxwell Chambers after its conservation in 2007.
Nee Soon Post Office
Probably the most iconic representative of colonial post offices in Singapore, Nee Soon Post Office has been standing at one end of Mandai Road for decades. In the past, Nee Soon Police Station and a small bus terminus used to exist beside the post office.
At its main door, it still possesses that distinctive orange-white posting box that bears the trademark of Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) and was used islandwide in the eighties.
Nee Soon Post Office was closed for six weeks in 1974 due to renovation. It ceased its operation in the nineties when the emergence of Yishun New Town gradually took over the administrative roles of Nee Soon and Sembawang area.
Over the years, the building was left vacant except for some storage purposes. In 2003, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) planned to convert the building into a visitor centre but the move did not materialise. It was not until almost a decade later that the former Nee Soon Post Office is given a makeover to become a vet clinic.
Newton Post Office
The former building of Newton Post Office stood near Newton Circus at Kampong Java Road. The history of Newton Post Office went back all the way to the 1920s, spanning over half a century.
In 1974, Newton Post Office was closed for a month due to renovation. It, however, shut down for good a few years later, when the new Newton Post Office and its POSB branch opened at Winstedt Drive off Bukit Timah Road in 1980.
North Canal Road Post Office
Situated at the edge of Hong Lim Park, the name of North Canal Road Post Office was derived from the road it was facing. North Canal Road itself, together with the adjacent South Canal Road, was named after the Singapore Canal that used to link the areas around South Bridge Road to the nearby Singapore River.
In 1974, North Canal Road Post Office temporarily took over the role of postal service provider in the City area when Maxwell Road Post Office was closed for renovation.
In the seventies, the government launched an upgrading program at many aging post offices, such as Kampong Glam Post Office, Sepoy Lines Post Office and Alexandra Post Office, in a bid to improve postal facilities on the island. The renovation project would last more than nine years.
After its operation ceased, the former building of North Canal Road Post Office was refurbished into the present-day Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post.
Orchard Road Post Office
The post office at Orchard Road was mentioned in the early local newspapers dated in the 1910s, which means there was postal services provided at Orchard Road when it was still a land of plantations and cemeteries.
It might have moved to its stand-alone building in the fifties, besides the Singapore Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals which was set up at Orchard Road in 1954.
In 1984, the government acquired the lands around Orchard Road for development plans. Both Orchard Road Post Office and SPCA had to be relocated. SPCA was moved to Mount Vernon Road, while a new post office was set up at the former Tangs Superstore.
Paya Lebar Post Office
Located at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Upper Serangoon Road, or fondly known as ow gang ngor kok jio (“Hougang Fifth Milestone” in Hokkien), the former Paya Lebar Post Office existed between the 1930s and the early nineties.
In 1959, Paya Lebar Post Office won the honour of being the best-maintained post office in Singapore. The second and third prized went to Jalan Kayu Post Office and Geylang Post Office respectively. The annual nationwide competition focused on the tidiness and efficiency of each post office.
Postal services gradually gained importance after the self-governance of Singapore in 1955. By 1960, there were as many as 32 post offices operating in different parts of the island.
In 1992, with the closure of its old building, Paya Lebar moved to a temporary office at Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre.
Sepoy Lines Post Office
The colonial-styled building of Sepoy Lines Post Office used to stand at the junction of Neil Road and New Bridge Road from the fifties to eighties, opposite of the Singapore General Hospital.
Nicknamed si bai po by the Hokkiens, it refers to the area around Cantonment Road which was previously known as Sepoy plain. Sepoy refers to the Indian soldiers employed by the European colonial powers from the 17th to early 20th century. They were one of the first Indians to arrive at Singapore, when one troop landed on the island in 1819 with Sir Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar.
In June 1970, Sepoy Lines Post Office was thrown into spotlight on the national news when a robber, armed with a revolver, attempted to rob the POSB (Post Office Savings Bank) branch inside the building. He got away with $1,732 successfully.
Today, only part of its boundary walls and a row of steps remain among patches of grass.
Serangoon Garden Post Office
Serangoon Garden Post Office is housed in a single-storey building beside the famous Chomp Chomp Hawker Centre. Almost as old as the estate itself, it was officially opened in May 1959 by M.P.D. Nair, then Minister of Communications and Works.
Taman Warna Post Office
The former post office of Taman Warna, which means Garden of Colour in Malay, was located at the junction of Holland Avenue and Taman Warna.
In 1977, Taman Warna Post Office was shut down to be replaced by the new Ghim Moh Estate Post Office about one kilometre away. A branch of Post Office Savings Bank was set up at the former site of Taman Warna Post Office.
Tanglin Post Office
Opened at the start of the 20th century, Tanglin Post Office was once one of the oldest post offices in Singapore. The two-storey colonial house, previously a landmark at the junction of Tanglin Road and Nassim Hill, was demolished in 2008. Between 1968 and 1974, the building also housed the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Social Council.
Today, a lifestyle concept store called Friven & Co. shares a new building in the original site of Tanglin Post Office with Singapore Post’s Tanglin branch.
As the country progressed, many old post offices were torn down and replaced by new branches of SingPost.
The likes of old Bukit Timah Post Office (opened in 1953), Circuit Road Post Office (opened in 1972), Crawford Post Office (opened in the early seventies), Farrer Road Post Office (opened in 1963), Kallang Basin Post Office (opened in 1974), Kampong Glam Post Office (closed in 1981) and Owen Road Post Office (opened in late sixties) had all vanished in the history.
Post Office Saving Bank
Known as the People’s Bank, the relationship lasted for almost a century before POSB became a statutory board in 1975, under the charge of the Ministry of Finance. It was later acquired by the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) in 1998.
The Postal Services Department itself became an autonomous entity after Singapore’s independence in 1965. It was merged with Telecoms (Telecommunication Authority of Singapore) in 1982, before becoming the current SingPost a decade later.
Often understaffed, the early post offices were handled by a postmaster, a clerk and several postmen. Mails were handled by hand before 1983, and postmen had to brave through mud tracks and dogs to reach those isolated kampong and other rural areas. The delivery of letters and parcels usually took days to reach their destinations.
Daily mail volumes have jumped from a few hundreds in the sixties to more than 2.7 million today.
According to SingPost, the earliest local postmark was recorded in 1829, and the first mail steamer to arrive at Singapore was Lady Mary Wood in 1845, which did deliveries for China and the Straits Settlements. The paddle-wheel ship took a record of 41 days to arrive from London to Singapore. However, postage stamps were not used for mails until 1855.
The oldest post office still in operation today is Geylang Post Office, opened since 1930, while the most isolated posting box is located on Pulau Ubin. In the past, there were also postal branches at Pulau Bukom and Pulau Semakau.
Published: 10 July 2012