Tales of Kampongs at Old Upper Thomson Road

In the sixties and seventies, the long meandering Old Upper Thomson Road was well-known as a racing circuit for the popular Singapore Grand Prix. A lesser known fact is that it was also home to some long forgotten villages, some of which had been there since the 1910s.

map-of-hainan-village-at-old-upper-thomson-road-1975The village was situated at Jalan Belang, off Old Upper Thomson Road. The short road began as a track and was later upgraded to an asphalt road. By the early nineties, Jalan Belang was expunged after the village was demolished. Remnants of the road could still be observed today.

The name Belang means stripes in Malay, which refers to the wild tigers that once roamed on this island. There were reports of a man killed by a tiger at Thomson Road in 1890, while the last wild tiger went extinct in Singapore when it was shot at Choa Chu Kang Village in 1930.

Jalan Belang was also linked to Lorong Pelita (pelita means light in Malay), another minor road off Old Upper Thomson Road 9 milestone, where they shared a common exit to the main Upper Thomson Road. Like Jalan Belang, Lorong Pelita also became defunct by the early nineties.

Upper Thomson Road, originally known as the New Upper Thomson Road, was constructed in the mid-fifties. After its completion, it served as the major route between Nee Soon and the downtown area.

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In the 19th century, there were large plots of gambier plantations at Upper Thomson, owned by famous Teochew businessman Seah Eu Chin (1805-1883). Between the 1920s and 1940s, the dense Upper Thomson forest became part of a rubber plantation, according to the pre-war Survey Production Centre (Southeast Asia), but it was abandoned during the Second World War. By the fifties, the vicinity had been largely reclaimed by nature, although some parts of it were used for sundry cultivation.

When the Hainanese village settled at Jalan Belang, the vegetation was cleared for residential houses, rambutan plantations, small factories, warehouses and several fish ponds that were used for breeding turquoise discus and other freshwater fish.

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In 1971, a group of Public Utilities Board (PUB) workers, while clearing the vegetation to lay a water pipe inside the forest at Old Upper Thomson Road 8 milestone, discovered nine century-old graves. The blurred Chinese inscriptions on the tombstones showed that they were put up in the middle of the 19th century, and were owned by the Ong, Tan, Lee and Soh families. This suggested that several Chinese villages might have already been established at Upper Thomson since the 19th century.

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There were around 500 residents from 80 families living at Lorong Pelita in the mid-seventies. The kampong, largely made up of pig and poultry farmers, had existed at the old Upper Thomson vicinity since the early 20th century. The village huts were scattered along Lorong Pelita and, for many years, it was extremely inconvenient for the residents to make their way to the main Upper Thomson Road. On the other hand, postmen and the PUB meter readers also found it difficult to locate the villagers’ houses.

In 1976, the Lorong Pelita village was in the news when its residents stopped a bulldozer from demolishing a laterite track that linked the village to Upper Thomson Road. The land where the track ran through had been purchased by a private owner, but the villagers needed the track to access to the main road.

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Today, the remnants of the Hainan village at Jalan Belang could still be found. They are mostly the ruins of concrete walls and structures, and have been hidden and consumed by nature for several decades. But the abandoned structures may see the light soon, as they will be part of a new nature trail. The 50-hectare Thomson Nature Park will be developed in 2017 and is expected to be completed by next year.

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Published: 08 January 2017

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