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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