The Colonial Charms of Wessex Estate’s Black and White Houses

Even as the rapid development of the one-north biomedical, media and other engineering industries creep towards its doorstep, a walk around Wessex Estate, off Portsdown Road, still makes one feel he has travelled back in time.

Wessex Estate’s clusters of colonial-style black and white houses were mostly built in the 1930s and 1940s. Made up of 26 blocks of walk-up apartments and 58 semi-detached houses, they are concentrated around Woking Road, Westbourne Road, Whitchurch Road, Weyhill Close and Wilton Close, all of which were named after towns and villages in England.

The name Wessex came from an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed between the 6th and 10th century before England was unified. Coincidentally or intentionally, the names of the estate and roads all started with the letter W.

By the early fifties, there were almost 240 families of British servicemen staying at Wessex Estate, where many of them worked at the nearby military installations at Alexandra and Pasir Panjang.

In the fifties, a primary school was built at Wessex Estate by the British military for the children of their servicemen. In 1955, the use of the school premises was extended as a goodwill to the children of the Malay Other Ranks (MOR). Hence, the school became known as the Pasir Panjang Army Children’s School in the morning, and Wessex Estate Malay School in the afternoon sessions.

In 1967, the British government announced the withdrawal of its troops from Singapore. By late 1971, most of the British military had left Singapore. Wessex Estate, along with other British properties at Chip Bee Gardens, Gillman Estate, Glouchester Park, Rochester Park and Medway Park, were to be handed over to the Singapore government in phases.

By early 1976, the remaining troops, largely made up of the ANZUK (Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom) servicemen, had moved out of Wessex Estate. The Singapore government assigned the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to take over the vacated apartments and houses. The properties were later made available to the public for rental.

For Wessex Estate apartments and houses, the rental fees ranged between $200 and $500. An apartment with three bedrooms cost $200 per month, and $500 for a double-storey three-bedroom semi-detached house. Their monthly rentals would rise to $300 and $550 in the second and subsequent years. In addition, the tenants were charged $30 to $40 for water consumption, and another $3 to $6 for sewage fees.

In 1980, a rental hike of between 30% and 50% saw 100 tenants of Wessex Estate submitted a protest petition to HDB. The hike was delayed but inevitable. In late 1981, another increase in rental fees irked the tenants that many of them decided to move out of the estate.

For decades, the vast lush greenery and the rumbling sound of the passing trains added to the charms of Wessex Estate. But in the early 2000s, the quiet surroundings of Wessex Estate were interrupted as the development of the science hub and business park of Buona Vista and one-north kicked off.

As the surroundings of Wessex Estate was witnessing the rapid changes, the sleepy residential estate itself was slowly coming to life as a new and upcoming artists’ enclave. Art studios and galleries were set up by artists, painters and photographers at the loft spaces converted from the units of Wessex Estate’s black and white houses, adding some cultural touches to the forgotten former colonial buildings.

Within the laid-back neighbourhood of Wessex Estate, one can find an abandoned water tank standing on a small hilltop. The tall concrete tank, equipped with a long vertical rusty ladder, has been relatively unknown to many, but several daring boys have been spotted in their risky attempts to climb to the top of the structure – a stunt that is not advisable and is probably illegal as well.

The more famous landmark of Wessex Estate is the Colbar cafe. Opened in 1953, the Colbar (Colonial Bar in short) was previously located along Jalan Hang Jebat, a short distance away from Wessex Estate, and was extremely popular among the British troops and residents.

In 2003, the restaurant had to be relocated due to the construction of a flyover that links Queensway to the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE). The building was carefully dismantled and delivered to Whitchurch Road, the new home of Colbar. The building was then reconstructed to resemble its old appearance. Serving affordable Western food and coffee, the restaurant remains popular among the locals who want to experience a taste of the old colonial times.

Further down Portsdown Avenue is Jalan Hang Jebat (previously, it was situated off Portsdown Road before Portsdown Avenue was built), where rows of colonial terraces stand. Like Wessex Estate’s black and white houses, the colonial terraces were designed with the consideration of Singapore’s hot climate. With features such as high pitched roofs, verandas and rattan blinds, the interiors of the houses are able to maintain a reasonable cool temperature even during a hot day.

Jalan Hang Jebat’s colonial terraces were built by the British in the 1930s. They were used as the accommodation for the British junior ranking officers, whereas the senior officers stayed at Wessex Estate’s semi-detached houses.

Elsewhere in Singapore, clusters of colonial residential houses formerly built by the British can be found at Sembawang, Seletar, Rochester, Dempsey and Changi. Today, the black and white houses of Wessex Estate are currently managed by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), and available for lease to one-north’s working population and residents.

An afternoon stroll at the charming Wessex Estate:

Published: 18 July 2019

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19 Responses to The Colonial Charms of Wessex Estate’s Black and White Houses

  1. nathan says:


    Always love your articles, bring back so much memories.
    I myself is staying in a black and white house but i don’t know much history of it. but i think its circa 1930s as the design are very modernist, which make them very rare as i don’t see them elsewhere.
    I was hoping maybe your team can write about it. the location is opposite of Old katong shopping mall off Haig road. the vicinity lanes are Jalan Tembusu, Jalan binjai, Jalan Gajus, Jalan Beringin.

  2. Drew says:

    I lived for years on the Estate, and though I am now overseas, still get back to Singapore and reacquaint at the Colbar. I was one of that ‘Group of Boys’ who used to frequently climb the water tower, and if truth be known, there were a few girls on the estate who used to climb it as well. On one occasion we had a standoff for over an hour, the Police at the bottom of the ladder asking us to come down, us at the top urging them to come up. Memories.

  3. Wong Kit Peng says:

    I just visited this estate. Still as charming. Do you know the exact location of the primary school?

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  5. David Nicholls says:

    I lived in Flanders Court, one of the flats from 67-69. Many fond childhood memories of this wonderful island. I returned last year and it was very much the same as I remembered from fifty years previously.

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  7. Apparently the former premises of Sandes Soldiers Home (later became the old Temasek Club) is undergoing demolition now…

    History of Sandes Soldiers Home at Wessex Estate:

    • David Nichols says:

      Sandes was our favourite swimming pool. I can remember the triple diving boards.

    • Martyn Price says:

      Thank you for ‘History of Sandes Soldiers Home at Wessex Estate’. It was also a favorite after school hang out for the children of UK Servicemen stationed in Singapore and living in the adjacent Wessex Estate houses. Swimming pool, table tennis and ice cold 7up’s, It was great.
      Martyn Price, 3 Whitchurch Road, Wessex Estate 1968-1971.

  8. Bernard Readwin says:

    I was 5 years old when my parents lived on the Wessex Estate, Woking Rd, in 1952+. We lived in Kabul Court which was Block 18 but no longer on the maps from Rodolphe De Koninck. This block burned down shortly after we left Singapore in 1958. It was a fantastic youthful experience for a five year old, fighting through the snake infested elephant grass all the way down to railway track which we used to walk to the NAAFI or to pick up my dad from Alexandra Barracks.

  9. Martyn Price says:

    I should have added ANZAK families. I met and made friends with lots of great people from around the world as well as the very culturally and ethnically mixed people of Singapore. A truly life forming experience

  10. Gillian VAN BEEST says:

    I lived at 5 Wilton Close c. 1965-1966 and also went to the primary school at Pasir Panjang. I recall we had no telephone, nearest was on a tree on Portsdown Road? Also fond memories of Sandes swimming pool

  11. Antonia says:

    Hi folks,

    I found in local junk shop postcards that were addressed to Mark Hornby, who lived on Woking street in the early 90s. All these postcards show he was a super-interesting and extraordinary person. I have a crazy idea to find him.
    Is it any chance smb here knew this guy?

    • Bernard Readwin says:

      I actually lived there in Kabul Court from 1952 t0 1954 as a 4 and 5 year old. I believe that this block burnt down in about 1955 or 1956. My last wisst there was in 2018 to show my daughter Singapore and where my parents lived.

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