It is a quiet neighbourhood tucked away in a small district bounded by the Bukit Timah Road, Cavenagh Road and Clemenceau Avenue. Over here, one can find several blocks of Singapore Trust Improvement (SIT) apartments, built by the colonial government in the mid-fifties for the civil servants.
In terms of designs, the black and white apartments are unlike any SIT flats found elsewhere in Singapore. Spacious with high ceilings, wide balconies and tall rectangular windows, the apartments, made up of a total of 120 residential units, were previously owned by the Public Utilities Board (PUB). Today, they are managed by the state and are rented out to individuals or families on 2-year renewable leases.
The origin of the name Monk’s Hill has several variations. According to Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics, it was supposedly named after the residence of a resident named Carnie, who had lived there in the 1860s. Another possible version is that Monk’s Hill, as its name suggests, was formerly a small hill, and on it stood a Chinese monastery.
In the late 1920s, the SIT carried out the excavation of the hill, offering the contractor 10 cents per cubic yard of earth excavated. Almost 100,000 cubic yard (approximately 76,455 cubic metre) of earth was shipped to fill the Balestier Road area. By the early 1930s, Monk’s Hill was leveled with a canal constructed through it.
At the nearby Monk’s Hill Terrace, there is also a single file of double-storey terrace houses built as government quarters in the fifties. Two rows were originally built, but one of them was later demolished. Each house was designed with casement windows, its own porch and doorway, and a balcony on the second floor that was fitted with canvas to shelter against the hot sun and tropical rains. During the fifties and sixties, it was common to see mobile food vendors selling fried noodles or ice-creams on pushcarts and tricycles on the narrow road of Monk’s Hill Terrace.
Monk’s Hill Terrace was officially named in 1926 by the Municipal Commissioners.
Schools at Monk’s Hill/Winstedt
Many schools once called Monk’s Hill and Winstedt home. Between the 1930s and 2000s, there were the Winstedt Road School, Tanglin Tinggi Malay School, Monk’s Hill Malay School, Monk’s Hill Primary School, Newton Boys’ School and Monk’s Hill Secondary School. A short distance away, across the main Clemenceau Avenue, there were also the Anthony Road Girls’ School, Scotts Road Malay Girls’ School and Cairnhill School.
None of these old schools lasted till this day; the only school in the vicinity today is the Anglo-Chinese Junior School.
Now a bar serving alcoholic drinks and all-day breakfasts, 10 Winstedt Road used to be the former school compound of Monk’s Hill Secondary School.
Along with Siglap and Serangoon Secondary Schools, Monk’s Hill was one of the earliest schools in Singapore to offer Malay-medium secondary classes, before the establishment of Sang Nila Utama Secondary School, the country’s first Malay-medium secondary school, in 1961.
Monk’s Hill Secondary School itself was set up in 1958, becoming an integrated school three years later and offering both Malay- and English-stream classes. It was converted into a main English-medium school in 1976, where it had 2,200 students and 90 teaching staff, led by its popular principal Jacob Yoong.
The Monk’s Hill Secondary School of the sixties and seventies was active in sports, especially in the inter-school rugby tournaments, where they challenged the likes of Raffles Institution, St Joseph’s Institution and Beatty Secondary School. Besides rugby, the secondary school students of Monk’s Hill also regularly participated in cricket, track and field, swimming and cross country races.
In 1993, Monk’s Hill Secondary School was relocated to a new school compound at the junction of Monk’s Hill Road and Winstedt Road, a short distance away from its old premises. The old buildings were then used to house the students from Outram Secondary School between 1994 and 1996 when their new school was undergoing construction at York Hill.
Monk’s Hill Secondary School was eventually closed in 2006 due to the dwindling number of students. It had only 300 students enrolled in its last year of existence compared to 800 in 2001. After its closure, it was merged with Balestier Hill Secondary School at Novena. Its premises was, in 2009, taken over by the Anglo-Chinese Junior School (ACS), which was their third home after their earlier ones at Baker Road and Peck Hay Road.
Across the narrow Winstedt Road is 9 Winstedt Road, the former address of Monk’s Hill Primary School, which operated between the forties and eighties. Monk’s Hill Primary School was temporarily used to house the students of Hua Yi Secondary School in 1957, when the latter’s new school building was built at Margaret Drive.
In 1978, the MOE introduced a third language scheme to allow talented secondary school and junior college students to take up either German, French or the Japanese language. By the end of the seventies, five school premises in Singapore were used to conduct foreign language lessons. They were the Rangoon Road Primary School, Maju Secondary School, Joo Avenue Primary School, Mountbatten Government Chinese Primary School and Monk’s Hill Secondary School.
A new convenient “centralised” place was required to consolidate all the classes at one location. The former Tanglin Tinggi Malay School was initially considered, after it was closed in 1978. In 1983, a school block of Monk’s Hill Primary School, located at the junction of Winstedt Road and Monk’s Hill Terrace, was chosen by the MOE as the new language centre after its lease to the Vocational and Industrial Training Board expired.
After the closure of the language centre, the premises was left vacated for several years, before it was used, between 1996 and 2000, as a temporary school site for the Madrasah Aljunied al-Islamiah, Singapore’s second oldest Islamic institution of learning, and Madrasah al-Irsyad. Today, the former premises of Monk’s Hill Primary School is occupied by the Lasalle College of the Arts.
Monk’s Hill Primary School’s notable alumni includes Winston Choo, Singapore’s first Chief of Defence Force (CDF), Abdullah Tarmugi, former Minister in-charge of Muslim Affairs between 1993 and 2002, Shih Choon Fong, former President of the University of Singapore (NUS) and Pathmanaban Selvadurai, Member of Parliament (MP) from 1967 to 1984. Abdul Jamil bin Haji Ahmad, a Malaysian lieutenant general who was in charge of the national security of Peninsula Malaysia in the seventies, was also from Monk’s Hill Primary School.
Monk’s Hill Primary School’s immediate neighour was the Newton Boys’ School. It was established in 1956 but closed in 1978 due to a drop in enrolment. In its final year, it had only 560 primary one to primary five students. The Ministry of Education (MOE) decided that it was uneconomical to continue the operations of the school and had it placed under the administration of Monk’s Hill Primary School. Its school building was later used to conduct commercial classes by the Adult Education Board.
The earlier schools within the Monk’s Hill and Winstedt vicinity were the Tanglin Tinggi Malay School, Winstedt Road School and Monk’s Hill Malay School. Located beside one another along Winstedt Road, they were established before the Second World War and had survived the Japanese Occupation. During the occupation, Tanglin Tinggi Malay School was used to conduct Japanese classes, where students were taught Japanese alphabets, songs and exercises. It was converted back to its Malay mainstream and English lessons after the war.
Monk’s Hill Malay School, possibly the predecessor of Monk’s Hill Secondary School, was also started before the war. It was used by the Land Transport department during the Japanese Occupation and also temporarily by Raffles Institution in 1946 due to the damages of its original school premises.
Newton Food Centre
Newton Food Centre is perhaps the most famous landmark in the vicinity, located just beside the Newton Circus and at the corner of the Monk’s Hill estate. Opened in 1971, the hawker centre was later used to house the street hawkers from the popular Orchard Road Carpark Hawker Centre, when the latter was forced to shut down in 1978.
Newton Food Centre was actively promoted by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) as a tourist attraction for tasting different kinds of local delights. It, however, also attracted the wrong headlines with cases of overcharging, touting and poor hygiene. The hawker centre was also a hot spot for fights between youths and motorcyclist gangs in the early eighties.
Published: 22 May 2016
Updated: 19 December 2021