The Former St Matthew’s Church and its Kindergarten at Neil Road

former st matthews church at neil road1

Passersby at the Tanjong Pagar vicinity would have noticed an abandoned church at the junction of Neil Road and Everton Road. It was formerly used as the premises of St Matthew’s Church, and had a long history back to the 19th century. The original church building was first established as a place of worship for the British sailors who arrived at Singapore in the 1890s. Prison wardens from the nearby Outram Prison also used the church for their prayers. The premises, however, fell into disrepair by the 1920s, and was left vacant for years.

former st matthews church at neil road2

In September 1929, the Anglican Diocese of Singapore took over the vacated building as a place of worship for its Cantonese Congregation, which were inaugurated in September 1902 and had to share with the Hokkien, Foochow, Malay and Tamil-speaking congregations at St Peter’s Church at Stamford Road. The new church was named St Matthew’s Church, and was fondly known as Sing Mah Tai in Cantonese. During the Japanese Occupation, the church continued to operate, although much of its activities were halted.

While the Anglican Diocese of Singapore was established in 1909, the Anglican establishment in Singapore started much earlier. It officially began in 1826 with the appointment of Reverend Robert Burns as the Resident Chaplain. A decade later, the first Anglican Church was built. The building was, however, closed in 1852 after it was struck twice by lightnings. After its demolition, another church was constructed at the original site. The new church, named St Andrew’s Cathedral, was funded by Scottish merchants, designed by Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald MacPherson (1817-1869) and built by Indian convict labourers.

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road1

After the war, St Matthew’s Church carried out plans to repair its aging building and at the same time, expand its premises, including the construction of a vicarage. A kindergarten was also built in the early fifties for the young children living in the nearby Chinatown. The new kindergarten was designed in simple Art Deco-style; it had a sloping roof laid with terracotta Marseilles tiles and timber windows with louvers. Named St Matthew’s Church Kindergarten, it was well-equipped with a Memorial Hall, classrooms and offices. By the sixties and seventies, it would become one of the largest and most famous kindergartens in Singapore, having nourished many generations of young children.

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road2

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road3

In the late fifties, St Matthew’s also embarked on a re-building plan of its main church building. Designed with a distinctive Modern style, the new double-storey building consisted of a prayer hall on top of a large function room. It also possessed a unique vertically protruding roof that looked like a ship’s prow, and a tall concrete bell tower that was erected beside the main chapel. In 1963, the new church building was completed and dedicated by Rt. Rev C.K. Sausbury, the former Bishop of Singapore.

In 1996, the land where the church was standing on was gazetted for compulsory acquisition by the government. It was planned to be used for the construction of a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station of the Northeast (NE) Line. Affected by the redevelopment plans, St Matthew’s Church Kindergarten was shut down, and St Matthew’s Church began looking for alternate sites to be relocated. The church secured a plot of land at Tiong Bahru’s Eng Hoon Street in 2000, and moved to its new premises five years later.

st matthews church neil road 1963

The old premises of St Matthew’s Church at Neil Road was then returned to the authority. The new MRT station, however, was not built at its site; the Outram MRT Station of the NE Line, located 150m away, was opened in 2003. The church was left abandoned and faced the possibility of demolition. Fortunately, it was gazetted as a conserved building on 6 June 2014, after almost a decade of abandonment.

With the conservation status, it will continue to be an important landmark at Neil Road, together with the neighbouring former building of Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School (operated at Neil Road between 1912 and 1983), which is conserved in October 2000 and has been integrated with the Police Cantonment Complex.

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road4

Published: 11 July 2015

This entry was posted in Historic, Religious and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Former St Matthew’s Church and its Kindergarten at Neil Road

  1. Dennis Gordon says:

    The most interesting thing about this church are the church records. If anyone can gain access to the records, it would be very interesting. I hope this church will not be demolished like the Catholic French church at Marymount Convent. Like the defunct Bidadari Christian cemetery, to lose the St. Matthew Church and the French Catholic Church is as good as losing a very big part of a Christian History in Singapore of our ancestors. Who or how can se saved a part of our history? Its so sad to see us losing our history day by day.

  2. Alicia Feng says:

    that was my kindergarten! fond memories…

  3. T says:

    My sister and I studied here from 1997 to 1998. Anybody else studied during those times?

  4. Lucy Tan says:

    I didn’t but I spent Primary One and part of Primary Two next-door at the Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School way back in 1959 :-).

  5. Maki Sato says:

    This was my kindergarten.

    My name is Maki Sato.

    I was born in apr 1979.

    I still remember the church,the classroom at the far end of the church, the piano room, the playground.

  6. Clem Ho says:

    This was my kindergarten. When we used to live at 35A Club Street, a tricycle uncle used to bring me there and back daily. We used to have a little plank so that we have two levels of seating for four of us. I have always remembered the pattering of the rain on the plastic sheeting. I still have a photo of me with my birthday cake taken on the veranda of the kindergarten.

  7. Alex Ng says:

    This was my kindergarten too! I was born on Jul 1978. So i would have attended the kindergarten 1983 ~ 1984. I can still vividly remember the premises as if it was yesterday, especially the metal swing at the playground near the school entrance, the type where there are two dual metal benches facing each other. I also remember that i had my very first crush on a girl, who was also playing on the metal swing. The classrooms were located on left side of the church premises from the main entrance.

    Currently only grass fields remain of the kindergarten classroom structures which were demolished.

    Whenever i pass by the area, i will always take a glance at the place wistfully remembering the past.

    Also, where The Pinnacle now stands there was a HDB flat facing Cantonment Road with grass fields in front of the block and with shops and a Chinese restaurant at the bottom of the flats.

    I used to stay at my grandparents shophouse along Telok Ayer Street which were demolished in the mid 90s(?) with PWC Building now currently taking its place.

    It is really true that when you grow older, you become more nostalgic of the past….

  8. Tan Soo Yong says:

    I was a student there too in 1970-71. I remember we had a rabbit hutch outside our classroom and I used to bring carrots for them. Everyone spoke Cantonese and for a Teochew boy, it was tough initially for me but I soon learned to speak Cantonese as well as the other students.

    • Robin Chan says:

      I attended St Matthews Kindergarten mid 1950s. Was born and live at KRETA Ayer Chinatown then.
      Still kept a B & W photo of me in the unique uniform.

    • Nicholas L says:

      I studied only one year K2 in 1969. Can remember feeding of rabbits. I still stop for a while when ever I pass by to look at the building visualising my first education in sg. I wish the main door can be opened once more before it become a restricted area..

  9. Wang Tsing Shih says:

    My great grandfather in 1902, was the catalyst that started the Cantonese Congregation in which in 1929 took over tho site for St Matthew Church. I am currently looking at more information of him at that time in founding the Cantonese congregation

  10. Hi, all.
    I am Rev Koh HS, Vicar of St Matthew’s Church.
    Glad to read that you have fond memories of the church and kindergarten.
    The church is now located at 1K Eng Hoon Street.
    Feel to visit us!

  11. Historical St Matthew’s church, kindergarten to be restored as part of police complex

    9 March 2021
    The Straits Times

    Two decades after they were acquired for an MRT project, a century-old Anglican church and adjoining kindergarten will be restored and incorporated into a police complex in Neil Road.

    St Matthew’s Church, which dates back to the 1890s, and St Matthew’s Kindergarten, which was built in 1950, will be part of the Police Cantonment Complex extension which is due to be completed in 2024.

  12. Ethan Peter Lim says:

    That was my kindergarten too…born in 1973, attended it from 1978 to 1979, a proud Matthewian and alumnus of this institution. After going through a tremendously amazing time at St. Matthew’s, I went to St. Anthony’s Boys’ School and attended a well-rounded education in Anglo -Chinese School subsequently. This school brings back so many sweet and memorable moments which I can still recall.

    Still remember those times when my trishaw uncle picked my granny and me up and dropped me off at school. And pick me up again when it was time to go home, sometimes I would even invite my classmate to hop on to catch a lift home because we were living in the same estate. We were homies….LOL! I was brought up in Tiong Bahru Estate, had three properties there from birth, and still living within very close proximity in the Havelock View Estate. This building and the location are full of stories and nostalgia that are quite difficult to part with. I am sincerely glad that the Anglican Church is located in Tiong Poh Road where I grew up. LOL….OMG! God is WONDERFUL! Live on St. Matthew’s Church!

  13. current redevelopment status as of July 2021..

  14. Eric Yeo says:

    At this present site where construction is on, I am very keen to know whether a church will be officiated by the ANGLICAN SYNOD, PLEASE.

    ERIC YEO 96786931● 96522031 83212277

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