Changes of Dakota (Part 1) – Demolition of Former Broadrick and Maju Secondary Schools

Dakota Crescent, with its unique Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats and the last dove playground in Singapore, has been in the headlines for the past two years, after news of its impending demolition lured many photographers and nostalgia lovers to visit the sleepy neighbourhood. Dakota Crescent, built in 1958 and currently made up of 14 SIT blocks, is due to be torn down in 2017.

But changes have already been occurring around Dakota Crescent. In mid-200s, 15 early SIT blocks of Dakota Crescent were bulldozed, replaced by new private condominiums Dakota Residences (completed in 2010) and Waterbank at Dakota (2013). And in March 2016, the former premises of Dakota Crescent’s two neighbourhood secondary schools Broadrick and Maju are in the midst of demolition.

broadrick maju secondary schools demolition1 2016

Both Broadrick and Maju Secondary Schools were established beside each other along Dunman Road in 1968. Joseph Francis Conceicao, Katong’s then Member of Parliament (1968-1984), first officiated the opening of Broadrick Secondary School on 14 March 1969, and later Maju Secondary School on 6 June 1969.

The construction of both schools cost about $1.1 million each. By June 1969, a decade after Singapore gained full internal self-governance, the nation had established a total of 105 schools, demonstrating its strong emphasis in educating the younger generations. In the month of June 1969 alone, six new secondary schools – Maju, Mount Vernon, Sennett Road, Bukit Merah, Hwi Yoh and Chestnut Drive – were opened.

broadrick secondary school 1969

broadrick secondary school2 1969

Maju Secondary School was also one of the earliest secondary schools to be built in accordance to a new design policy implemented by the Ministry of Education (MOE). In this new policy, schools would have large classrooms, demonstration rooms, science laboratories and domestic science rooms.

Also, secondary schools that were built in post-independence Singapore, including Broadrick and Maju, typically had four main buildings around a courtyard or assembly area. This architectural design would take up lesser space and have better school security. Broadrick Secondary School, in this instance, had the Teaching Block, Science Block, Assembly Hall and Gymnasium around its courtyard.

maju secondary school 1969

maju secondary school2 1969

In 1977, the school premises of Maju Secondary School, along with Rangoon Road Primary School and National Junior College, were used as French centres, offering French as an optional third language for the local students in Singapore.

In the seventies and eighties, the MOE introduced French, Japanese and German as optional foreign languages in the school curriculum to build up a pool of local talents, proficient in different tongues, to service the commercial, industrial and diplomatic sectors. At the same period, the Economic Development Board (EDB) established the France-Singapore Institute (FSI), Japan-Singapore Institute (JSI) and German-Singapore Institute (GSI), which would later become part of the Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Engineering in 1992.

The French classes at Maju Secondary School, however, came to an end as the French centres were consolidated and centralised at one location – Monk’s Hill Primary School – in 1983.

broadrick maju secondary schools demolition2 2016

In January 1996, Broadrick Secondary School and Maju Secondary School were merged to form the new single-session Broadrick Secondary School. The new secondary school was relocated in 2006 to the former premises of Mountbatten Primary School, about 300m away at Dakota Crescent. As for its old premises, it was taken over a year later in 2007 by Northlight School, a school established by MOE to provide assistance to primary school students who find it difficult to keep up with mainstream education.

broadrick maju secondary schools demolition5 2016

In early 2015, Northlight School was relocated to Towner Road, and the former premises of Broadrick and Maju Secondary Schools were left vacated once again. Demolition of the school buildings began in early March 2016, and is expected to be completed by the mid of 2016.

broadrick maju secondary schools demolition4 2016

broadrick maju secondary schools demolition3 2016

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After the demolition, the site will likely be reserved for future residential development. The vacant Guillemard Camp, directly opposite the former schools, will also likely be replaced by new residential units in the future. Home to 1SIR, Singapore’s first military unit, the camp was set up in 1969, and lasted more than 30 years until 2003 when the operations of 1SIR were shifted to Mandai Hill Camp.

guillemard camp 2016

An overhead pedestrian bridge, built in the early eighties, links both sides of Dunman Road where the schools and camp used to be. An interesting trivia happened in 1983, when the students of Broadrick and Maju Secondary Schools would ignore the overhead bridge and dash across the busy road after school. It prompted Wee Kee Yin, then principal of Broadrick Secondary School, to implement road safety by assigning his teachers to ensure the students to use the overhead bridge. Students who crossed the road recklessly were made to stand on the school stage during assembly as punishment.

dunman road 1983

Several prominent political figures were associated with Broadrick and Maju Secondary Schools, such as Sidek Saniff, a former teacher at Maju Secondary School and Senior Minister of State for Education (1996-1997) and the Environment (1997-2001), and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, the current Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim belongs to the pioneering batches of students studying at Broadrick Secondary School in 1968.

Dakota Crescent has retained much of its quiet and laid-back character in the past 50 years. But rapid redevelopment will probably alter its appearance completely by the next decade.

Published: 28 March 2016

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There was Once a “Cut Stomach Open” Street off Yio Chu Kang Road

In the early 20th century, there was a dark small road, off Yio Chu Kang Road 6th milestone, that led to an old cemetery with a terrifying name – Phuah Pak Tiong (剖腹冢), which in Hokkien, means “a cemetery for those whose stomach have been cut open.”

It actually referred to the cemetery used by Tan Tock Seng Hospital before the Second World War, where the bodies, usually the poor and those who died of tuberculosis (TB), of post-mortem cases were transferred from Moulmein Road for burial. Jalan Phuah Pak Tiong was the name of that road to the cemetery.

At the junction of Jalan Phuah Pak Tiong and Yio Chu Kang Road existed several families living in attap houses. A short distance away was Kampong Chia Keng, a large Teochew village that existed until the eighties. When the population living at Jalan Phuah Pak Tiong grew over time, the residents came to resent the name. They thought it was inauspicious and sound repugnant to outsiders. In 1951, after appeals by the villagers, the Singapore Rural Board decided to rename Jalan Phuah Pak Tiong as Plantation Avenue.

plantation avenue phuah pak tiong cemetery map 1956

Plantation Avenue might sound presentable, but to many villagers, who largely spoke in the Hokkien dialect, the new English name was confusing and difficult. In the end, they still referred to Jalan Phuah Pak Tiong as their home address. Phuah Pak Tiong cemetery, meanwhile, was no longer used by Tan Tock Seng Hospital by the fifties, but continued to exist as a private Chinese burial ground.

Most kampong houses in Singapore in the fifties and sixties were attap huts. This made them vulnerable to fire hazards, and breakouts of fires and destroyed houses were common. Beside the occasional fire tragedies, crimes such as theft, robbery and gangsterism were also rampant at Plantation Avenue. In 1959, the police raided and busted a gangster hideout and its “armoury” at Plantation Avenue, confiscating a total of 16 parangs, seven spears, five motorcycle chains, 15 acid-filled bulbs and a large number of assorted iron rods.

In 1960, a four-men armed gang robbed a businessman at Chye Seng Tannery. The robbers drove off his lorry and dumped it at Plantation Avenue. 22 cases of crocodile skins, worth a hefty $110,000, were stolen from the lorry.

funeral procession of lee gee chong 1961But the biggest crime news was perhaps the kidnapping and brutal murder of 49-year-old “Biscuit King” Lee Gee Chong (1911-1960), then chairman of Thye Hong Biscuit and Confectionery Factory, in April 1960. He was abducted by three men near his home at Garlick Avenue, and was brutally murdered with severe head injuries. His body was later found wrapped in a blanket and dumped at the Phuah Pak Tiong cemetery.

By the late sixties, the community at the 6th milestone of Yio Chu Kang Road was progressing well. There were crowded wet markets at Chia Keng and Lim Tua Tow Road. Several Chinese schools, such as Chong Hwa and Sing Hua, were established. At least two community centres were built, along Plantation Avenue and Jalan Teck Kee, to serve the growing population. Plantation Avenue itself had several shops, eateries and a sago factory named Bian Seng. In 1973, Plantation Avenue officially met Singapore’s public street standard after the Public Works Department levelled and metalled it, and added proper drainage and lighting to the road.

plantation avenue village community centre 1980

The forgotten cemetery of Phuah Pak Tiong was likely to be exhumed in the late seventies, giving way to new Serangoon HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats built between 1984 and 1985. The kampongs at Plantation Avenue and Chia Keng were also demolished; private houses began to sprung up at Plantation Avenue. In 1984, a landed property at Plantation Avenue would cost some $320,000. For comparison, similar houses at the same period cost between $430,000 (Serangoon Gardens) and $650,000 (Siglap).

Today, not many people are aware that an old cemetery with a gruesome name once existed here.

plantation avenue1 2016

plantation avenue2 2016

plantation avenue3 2016

Published: 20 March 2016

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The Mystery of a Deserted Japanese Tomb at Mount Faber

The “rediscovery” of Keppel Hill Reservoir hit the newspapers’ headlines in 2014, but there was another forgotten relic at the southern slope of Mount Faber not known to many people.

japanese tomb mount faber1

japanese tomb mount faber2

Hidden in the forested slope, at almost the top of the hill, is a tombstone commemorating a Japanese who worked in Singapore during the 1940s. According to the inscriptions on the tombstone, his name was Komoto Ekasa (小本江笠), and he was a civilian naval engineer who had worked for the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Komoto Ekasa was said to be sent to Singapore in March 1942 (17th year of Shōwa period), shortly after the fall of Singapore. He was graduated from the Tokyo Imperial University (present-day University of Tokyo) and had studied ship building. Four months after arriving at Singapore, Komoto Ekasa died, at an age of 47, due to overwork.

japanese tomb mount faber6

Acknowledging his diligence and tireless efforts in working days and nights, the Imperial Japanese Navy commissioned the building of his tomb in December 1943 at the top of Mount Faber, with his tombstone facing southwards to the Keppel Harbour. A platform with steps was also constructed using red bricks supplied by the Alexandra Brickworks.

There are several unknowns to this deserted tombstone at Mount Faber. First, why would the Imperial Japanese Navy commission a tombstone specially for Komoto Ekasa and not for other Japanese civilians who died in Singapore? Second, why was Komoto Ekasa not buried at the Japanese Cemetery at Yio Chu Kang Road?

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Published: 06 March 2016

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Pachitan – A Vanished Javanese Name in Singapore

Pachitan was a name that has largely forgotten and vanished in modern Singapore.

It began during the pre-war period, when a group of immigrants from the Pacitan City, East Java of Indonesia, came to Singapore. Like other groups of immigrants, they formed their communities and settled at various places such as Kampong Java, Bukit Chermin, Palembang Road, Bukit Timah Road, Amber Road and Changi Road.

The Japanese Occupation had devastated Singapore for three-and-half years. After the war, those who had survived had to regroup and reorganise their chaotic life. A group of 17 Javanese settlers had hoped to build their homes at Singapore, and they found an opportunity at a former rubber estate, used to be occupied by the Japanese army during the war, at Changi Road.

The Rise of Kampong Pachitan

The parcel of land was then owned by a local Chinese called Bak Eng, who agreed to rent to the Javanese. The land was to be divided into lots sized about 24m by 12m, and each lot was charged a monthly rental fee of $2. It was the beginning of the building of Kampong Pachitan for the 17 Javanese settlers, who began to clean up the area, build roads and other amenities.

map of kampong pachitan eunos kembangan 1961

kampong kembangan pachitan 1963

In 1948, the rural roads were completed and the Javanese wanted to name them after the gardening and carpentry tools they used daily, such as knives, parangs (machetes) and cangkuls (hoes). The names somehow did not get the nod by the authority; instead they were simply named Pachitan Satu to Pachitan Duas Belas (Pachitan One to Pachitan Twelve).

In 1950, the village head applied the official home address of Kampong Pachitan to the Land Office. About five years later, the kampong received electricity supplies. Over the years, the kampong grew in size and number of residents. Small huts became larger wooden houses, built by the efforts of the gotong royong spirit (mutual co-operation) among the residents. There were also small ponds, used for rearing fishes and growing of algae for animal feed.

surau kampong pachitan 1980s

The close-knit kampong had its small mosque with prayer room too, named Surau Kampong Pachitan, that was built in 1947 and later rebuilt in 1960. Many of the villagers had stayed at Kampong Pachitan all their life, and after their deaths, they were buried at Siglap Road’s Kubur Kassim, a Muslim cemetery for Javanese, Bugis and Baweanese.

Together with the Malay villages Kampong Eunos and Kampong Kembangan, Kampong Pachitan became part of the greater Kampong Kembangan constituency. Many Singapore politicians and leaders had paid visits to Kampong Pachitan in the sixties, such as former President of Singapore Yusof Ishak, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Ong Pang Boon, former Minister for Education.

lee kuan yew toured kampong kembangan constituency1 1963

lee kuan yew toured kampong kembangan constituency2 1963

The Javanese History in Singapore

Regarded as part of the larger Malay/Muslim community in Singapore now, the Javanese had a significant history dated back to the early 19th century, when a group of Javanese merchants and craftsmen set up a trading post at Kampong Java. By the end-19th century, more than 8,500 Javanese were residing in Singapore, either trading in spices, clothes and other goods, or working as labourers in plantations and mines.

Many Javanese also made the transit at Singapore during their Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at Saudi Arabia. This was due to the travel restrictions imposed by the Dutch colonial government when Indonesia was ruled as the Dutch East Indies.

Kampong Pachitan by the Eighties

By the early eighties, there was a total of 475 families at Kampong Pachitan, living in 225 houses. The monthly rental fee was by then $4, paid to a new landowner named Lim Soon Peng. The kampong was still growing – it grew to 250 houses and 540 families in 1985 – but it was clear that the kampong would not outlast development, where new towns and high-rise public flats were mushrooming in many parts of Singapore.

To prepare the residents on the possibility of resettlement into public housing, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) organised a forum called “Adjustment to Your New Environment, from Kampong Pachitan to Housing Board Flats”. It was the first of its kind in the eighties, and its objective was to engage with the kampong dwellers about the resettlement, where a majority of the residents had initially objected. The forum also aimed to help the villagers prepare a new life in high-rise flats. In March 1985, about 340 families from Kampong Pachitan turned up at the forum.

kampong kembangan pachitan 1980s-1

kampong kembangan pachitan 1980s-2

The government, in the early eighties, also embarked on a committee project, dubbed Project Kampong Pachitan, to raise awareness to the residents living at Kampong Kembangan and Pachitan about the importance of education for their younger generation. Comprehensive plans were carried out in 1982 to set up libraries and study groups, and free copies of newspapers – the Berita Harian newspaper, The Straits Times, The Sunday Times and Singapore Monitor – were issued to the Malay students to improve their mastery of English.

By the end-eighties, about a third of the Kampong Pachitan residents had moved to nearby HDB estates at Tampines, Bedok North, Jalan Eunos and Jalan Ubi. Kampong Pachitan itself was demolished in mid-eighties, along with its network of kampong roads.

When the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) East-West Line was extended westwards to Tanah Merah in 1989, the two MRT stations in the vicinity were named as Eunos and Kembangan. The name Pachitan seemed to be forgotten.

kampong kembangan community centre 1963

Today, the site of the former Javanese kampong is occupied by both the Kembangan HDB flats and the Astoria Park condominium. For its former residents, the only familiar sight is perhaps the Siglap Canal that once cut through Kampong Pachitan. As for the name Pachitan, it has all but vanished into the history, with only the Pachitan Gamelan Orchestra, a local gamelan group, still carries the name.

The 20-member Pachitan Gamelan Orchestra was formed in 1991 and named after the Javanese village. Attached to Kampong Kembangan Community Centre, it specialises in performing traditional and contemporary pieces, as well as conducting workshops and giving performances at community events and music festivals. Its highlight was in 1995 when it performed at the Yogyakarta Gamelan Festival in Indonesia.

kembangan hdb flats1

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Published: 26 February 2016

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The Last of Singapore’s Rural Centres

The low-rise flats of the former Jalan Kayu Rural Centre are now undergoing demolition as the latest development of Sengkang New Town expands into the vicinity between Jalan Kayu and the newly built Sengkang West Road, which was opened last year and cuts through the network of the Seletar West Farmways.

demolition of former jalan kayu rural centre blocks1

Rural centres were part of an unique public housing development at Singapore’s rural regions between the seventies and eighties. There were formerly three rural centres built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) at Seletar West Farmway (known as Jalan Kayu Rural Centre), Punggol Road (Punggol Rural Centre) and Neo Tiew Road (Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre).

An early rural centre concept was carried out at Keat Hong Village in the early sixties, when it was redeveloped under the Master Plan of zoning from an agricultural sector to a settlement zone with a rural centre. Rural centres were also common in Malaysia, a term that was coined as early as the fifties, but they appeared to be more of training facilities that aimed to develop the rural areas and train the locals on agriculture such as padi planting and rubber tapping.

singapore agriculture areas 1982

map of singapore rural centres 1988

Most of Singapore’s agricultural areas, in the seventies and eighties, were concentrated at the country’s north-eastern and north-western parts. They were mostly vegetable, fruit, poultry and pig farms. The HDB-built rural centres were therefore meant to be “centralised” locations at the different agricultural areas to provide basic amenities, such as shops, markets, hawker centres, clinics and small residential units, to the populations living around the farms.

This would provide convenience to the residents and allowed them to be self-sustaining, reducing the need to travel frequently to the more urbanised parts of Singapore to buy the basic necessities. In many ways, rural centres were similar, only on a much smaller scale, to the town centres built in the early new towns at Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Clementi.

lim chu kang rural centre plan 1977

The Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre was built on a former site, an area of 1.9-hectare, of a pig farm. Bounded by Lim Chu Kang Road and Neo Tiew Road, it was completed in 1979 at a cost of $4 million, and made up of several flats, shops and a market. HDB’s initial plan was to make the rural centre a bustling centre for the communities living at rural Lim Chu Kang, particularly the villages of Ama Keng, Thong Hoe and Nan Hoe.

It would comprise of two-storey blocks that housed six shops and an eating house. Serving the residents would be a hawker centre with 36 foodstalls and a wet market with 78 stalls selling fresh produce. There would also be two four-storey blocks; one with 46 three- and four-room units, and the other with 44 three- and four-room flats and an additional nine shops. Each of the four-storey blocks would have its own play area at the ground floor.

lim chu kang rural centre neo tiew estate

The Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre, later also known as Neo Tiew Estate, lasted until the late nineties, when it was en-bloc under the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS). By 2002, most of its residents, and the Ama Keng, Thong Hoe and Nan Hoe villagers, were resettled at Jurong and Choa Chu Kang. The vacated rural centre was later used by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as their urban warfare training ground.

The rural centres at Jalan Kayu and Punggol were built in the late seventies and early eighties respectively. Both consisted of seven blocks of low-rise flats. The Punggol Rural Centre started with five blocks (Block 1-5), with two more added (Block 206 and 207, consisting of 222 residential units, 12 shops and two eating places) in the mid-eighties. Upon their completion, the Jalan Kayu Rural Centre and Punggol Rural Centre remained as Kangkar (later renamed Sengkang) and Punggol’s only public housing for almost 20 years until their development as new towns in the late nineties. The first flats would be completed at Sengkang’s Rivervale in 1997.

buangkok south farmway pig farm 1983

The Punggol Rural Centre was demolished in the mid-2000s; its adjacent Buangkok South Farmway 1 was expunged a decade earlier. The only thing unchanged today is the long Punggol Road that runs from Sungei Pinang to the Punggol end. The former site where the Punggol Rural Centre once existed is now part of Sengkang’s Compassvale, whereas the former Jalan Kayu Rural Centre, after being used as foreign workers’ dormitories in the past ten years, looks to be replaced by the extension of Fernvale neighbourhood. The demolition will spell the end of an era of Singapore’s rural centres, an unique feature in the local public housing’s history.

demolition of former jalan kayu rural centre blocks2

demolition of former jalan kayu rural centre blocks3

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seletar west farmway 6

Published: 11 February 2016

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A Singapura Mystery – The Queenstown Shooting 1972

It was a sunny Sunday noon, like any other normal weekends in Singapore. Yet a tragic case happened and shocked the Singapore society; an unsolved case that still baffles many till this day, even after 43 years.

On 17 September 1972, at around 1230pm, 22-year-old Malaysian seamstress Chan Chee Chan (Zeng Lizhen, 曾麗珍) suddenly screamed and collapsed at Queen’s Circus. She had suffered a gunshot at her chest, while walking back from a shopping centre to her Tanglin Halt flat with her younger sister Chan Kim Moy (Zeng Jinmei, 曾锦梅).

The Tragedy

queenstown shooting2 1972A passing-by police patrol car immediately attended to her and called an ambulance. With blood gushing out of the wound, Chan Chee Chan was rushed to the Singapore General Hospital. The hospital staffs at first thought she was stabbed, but it was later diagnosed as a wound caused by a gunshot. She was shot slightly above her chest, and the bullet entered her heart after deflected by a bone. Chan Chee Chan was pronounced dead at the hospital after 11 hours of unconsciousness.

The bullet extracted from Chan Chee Chan’s wound was of .22 calibre. The police, initially suspected that it was fired from a flat within Tanglin Halt, proposed two theories; a sharpshooter or sniper, with a score to settle, aimed and shot her from a flat. Or it could be a case of an accidental discharge of a rifle, perhaps, from someone while he was cleaning his weapon.

map of queen's circus 1972

The shooting was later classified as a murder case by the police, and a big hunt was launched to nab the mysterious Queenstown gunman. Witnesses, whether they had seen the shooting or heard the gunshot, were appealed to come forward. Hundreds of residents living at Tanglin Halt were interviewed. Other investigations were also carried out, including the checking of firearms’ licenses.

Unlike today, private firearm licenses were abundant from the fifties to seventies. By the early seventies, there were still more than 5,000 firearm owners in Singapore, although the majority was owned by the various gun clubs’ members. Almost of half of the firearms accounted for were shotguns, followed by 1000-plus rifles. Revolvers, pistols and air rifles made up the remaining. At Queenstown, there were several registered gun owners living at Queenstown. By Monday 19 September 1972, seven guns were seized and ballistic tests were conducted, but the results proved to be negative. More islandwide raids were then conducted by the police.

More Theories

queenstown shooting4 1972The shooting case dominated the newspapers’ headlines for days.

Who was the murderer? What was his motive? Or was it an accident?

An unnamed firearm expert came forward to propose a new theory. He believed that the weapon used was a .22 pistol or revolver instead of a .22 rifle, and the bullet was shot at a close range, possibly from a passing car at Queen’s Circus. He cited two reasons. First, if a .22 rifle was used, a telescopic lens would be required as the nearest block of flats was more than 150 yards (approximately 137m) away. According to the expert, he did not know anyone in Singapore who possessed a telescopic lens.

Secondly, a .22 game-hunter’s bullet would have penetrated the victim’s chest and left a gaping hole in her back. A target practice bullet, although it would not have penetrated the body, would have to be fired very accurately. It was very unlikely that the gunman could make his kill with only a single precise shot. Hence, the firearm expert deduced that the gunman was hired to kill the victim, and had followed and shot her at Queen’s Circus.

Another speculation was that it might be a case of wrong identity, in which the target was actually Chan Chee Chan’s sister Chan Kim Moy, and the assassin was her rejected suitor or a hired killer.

Unsolved Case

queenstown shooting3 1972Chan Chee Chan was from Kluang, Malaysia, and had nine siblings and a longtime boyfriend. She had been in Singapore since 1970, working as a seamstress at East Coast and living at a relative’s home at Tanglin Halt with her two sisters Kim Moy and Loy Koon. Upon hearing the tragic news, Chan Chee Chan’s mother, elder sister and brother rushed to Singapore. The mother, devastated by the loss of her daughter, claimed the body from the mortuary on Tuesday morning to bring back to Kluang for burial.

The forensic report submitted in 1973 concluded the case as unsolved. Since then, it has been more than four decades. The case remains open today, and the murderer, if there was ever one, is still at large all these years. Hopefully, the victim’s family could move on in life with their departed rested in peace.

Published: 16 January 2016

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The Cambridge Estate – An “English” Estate in Singapore

Located in the central part of Singapore, and largely bounded by Bukit Timah Road, Serangoon Road, Thomson Road and Moulmein Road, the Cambridge Estate, of Farrer Park district, is an old housing district where its inner roads are mostly named after English counties, cities and towns.

English-named Roads

As many as 22 minor roads at the Cambridge Estate carry the “English” names:

  • Bristol – English city
  • Cambridge – English city and county town
  • Carlisle – English city and county town
  • Derbyshire – English non-metropolitan county
  • Dorset – English non-metropolitan county
  • Durham – English city and county town
  • Essex – English non-metropolitan county
  • Gloucester – English city and county town
  • Halifax – English town
  • Hampshire – English shire county
  • Hertford – English county town
  • Kent – English non-metropolitan county
  • Lincoln – English city and county town
  • Norfolk – English non-metropolitan county
  • Northumberland – English non-metropolitan county
  • Oxford – English city and county town
  • Rutland- English county
  • Shrewsbury – English county town
  • Suffolk – English non-metropolitan county
  • Surrey – English non-metropolitan county
  • Truro – English city and county town
  • Worcester – English city and county town

There were also the Cumberland Lane and Westmoreland Road, named after historic counties in England, but they were expunged in the seventies. Interestingly, the network of “English” roads at the Cambridge Estate is situated near to the “Burmese” roads at Moulmein and Balestier, such as Akyab, Bassein, Bhamo, Irrawaddy, Mandalay, Martaban, Mergui, Minbu, Pegu, Prome, Rangoon and Shan, all of which were named after cities, towns, states and rivers in old Burma.

Another place in Singapore where a network of roads within a residential estate is similarly named after places in Britain is the Serangoon Gardens, a former enclave for British military and their families until the early seventies. At the Serangoon Gardens, more than 30 roads were named after English, Scottish and Welsh cities, towns and villages.

Singapore Improvement Trust Estates

dutch corner houses dorset road 1973

The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was tasked with the development of residential units at the vicinity in the 1930s and 1940s. One of its most memorable residential projects was the “Dutch-corner” houses located at Dorset Road and Cumberland Lane. The seventeen Dutch-style cottage-like houses added an unique European flavour, but they eventually had to make way for new development by the mid-seventies.

In the early fifties, the British government planned to develop a new SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) public housing estate at Kampong Java. Seven new blocks of double-storey flats, made up of 10 three- and 10 two-bedroomed units, were built at Kent Road, in addition to the existing staff SIT flats at Gloucester Road. Between 1953 and 1955, new SIT flats popped up at Norfolk Road and Durham Road; their respective housing estates became known as Norfolk Estate and Durham Estate.

norfolk durham estates 1955

sit flats at norfolk road 1958

Other little neighbourhoods included Owen Estate and Tasek Utara Estate. By the late fifties, there were almost 8,000 families living at the estates of Norfolk, Durham, Owen and Tasek Utara. The estates’ names largely vanished in the late eighties, with the vicinity became generally known as Cambridge Estate. To the local Chinese, this vicinity was better known as Pek Kio, which literally means “white bridge”.

The residential vicinity, however, had existed since the early 20th century, with Truro Road and Carlisle Road metalled and drained in a Municipal project in 1929 that cost $15,500 and $12,300 respectively. Gloucester Road, on the other hand, remained as a muddy and potholes-filled road until it was given a tarred surface in 1962. As street lighting was insufficient, the roads were dark at night.

The darkness provided a cover for illegal activities and affected the residential estate as it was infested by secret societies, particularly in the sixties. A gang named “329” had, for several years, dominated Cambridge and Truro Roads, and posed a serious threat to the residents living there. In 1964, six “329” members, while having a “gangland conference” in a hut at Cambridge Road, were caught by the detectives. They were subsequently detained under the Criminal Law Ordinance, but the influence of the secret societies was under control only in the seventies.

truro road cambridge estate

In the early seventies, Durham Estate was sarcastically known as the problem estate, even by their own residents. The tiny housing estate of 20 SIT blocks was constantly bothered by gangsterism, robberies, floods as well as dirty and poorly maintained corridors. To make things worse, the three-storey flats appeared to be tilting and sinking.

Between 1968 and 1973, numerous large cracks began to appear on the flats’ ceilings and walls. As a result, many units were deemed unsafe. The problem became so serious that families living in Block 43 were ordered by the authorities to shift while Block 48 was demolished. All of the 30-plus-year-old SIT flats at Durham Estate were later torn down and replaced by a cluster of new HDB flats. The neighbourhood was later renamed Kampong Java Estate and Dorset Court. Today, it is called Dorset View.

flooded areas in singapore 1978

flooding junction of norfolk road thomson road 1978

Durham Road used to be a busy road, mainly used by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to access Durham Estate. It was, however, flood prone and full of potholes in the fifties.

In fact, the whole vicinity bounded by Owen Road, Dorset Road and Norfolk Road was extremely flood prone, and was constantly devastated by floods especially in the sixties and seventies. An old flood level gauge can still be seen along Cambridge Road today, reminding one of the difficulties the residents faced during the flooding. It was a dreaded scene of overflowing muddy waters, sometimes as high as knee levels, submerged corridors, waterlogged furniture and helpless residents waiting for the rains to stop.

cambridge road flood level gauge

Durham Road, by the mid-eighties, was cut short and became a minor road that accessed Kampong Java Estate. The Norfolk Estate, on the other hand, was flattened in the eighties when the Central Expressway (CTE) was built. Its 17 blocks of SIT flats were demolished in batches between 1982 and 1989, while a large section of the road itself was widened to become part of the expressway. Today, Norfolk Road is a 600m-long minor road that runs parallel with CTE at the Kampong Java Flyover.

norfolk owen durham estates early 1980s

norfolk road sit flats1 1982

Life at the sleepy SIT estates of Norfolk, Owen, Durham and Tasek Utara was changed forever when the completed CTE cut through and divided them in 1985. The residents found it difficult to cross the six-lane expressway, and former neighbours of Norfolk and Tasek Utara estates could no longer visit each others regularly.

The residents also lamented that the closure of two road junctions, at Norfolk and Owen Roads, and at Norfolk and Rangoon Roads, caused them great inconvenience as they had to make detours or long trips to visit the markets or clinics on the other side of the CTE. Hawkers, shopkeepers and stallholders in the vicinity were also unhappy due to the declining number of regular customers from Balestier, Whampoa, Toa Payoh, Thomson and Ang Mo Kio.

central expressway pek kio norfolk owen durham estates 1985

Places of Worship

Cambridge Estate has been a place where many different religious practices co-exist together in the same vicinity. One of the smallest mosques in Singapore can be found here. Masjid Tasek Utara, a humble kampong mosque that can accommodate 120 people, has its history traced back to 1907 and is located at the junction of Carlisle Road and Bristol Road.

There are two Chinese temples at Cambridge Estate; the Ling Chi Xing Gong Temple (灵慈行宫) and the Qing De Gong Temple (清德宫). The Ling Chi Xing Temple was built at Truro Road in 1962 and its devotees mostly worship the Goddess of the Ninth Heaven and Ma Zhu, the Goddess of the Sea. The Qing De Gong Temple used to worship the Jade Emperor, the supreme Taoist god, but the temple has been left unattended for many years.

cambridge estate truro road abandoned qing de gong temple1

cambridge estate truro road abandoned qing de gong temple2

cambridge estate truro road abandoned qing de gong temple3

The Singapore Baptist Church was registered with the government in 1960 and first conducted its worship services at a residential house at Cambridge Road. As its church members grew in number, it required a building of its own. Hence, it purchased a plot of land nearby in 1967 and moved into the new church two years later. The Singapore Baptist Church became the first bilingual church in Singapore in 1973 when it conducted its worship services in Mandarin and English simultaneously.

the singapore baptist church

Another significant church, the Parish of Christ Church, is located at Dorset Road. Established just before the Japanese Occupation, the Christ Church is a Tamil church whose foundation stone was laid on 18 October 1940, the St. Luke’s Day. During the war, the church suffered considerable damages by the bombing raids but was able to rebuild within three months.

parish of christ church dorset road 2000

The Little Sisters of the Poor Home, a Catholic institution, was established in 1935 at Derbyshire Road. The Little Sisters was a congregation of religious sisters who devoted themselves in providing accommodation, food, clothing and medical services to the elderly, assuring that the old folks would be well taken care of in their golden years. It later shifted to its new location at Thomson Road, with its old premises taken over by Kheng Cheng School. Little Sisters of the Poor Home was renamed as Saint Theresa’s Home in 2003.

little sisters of the poor home thomson road 1972

Primary Schools

A number of primary schools had existed at the Cambridge Estate; one of them was Kheng Cheng School (擎青学校), whose name literally means “to uplift the youth” in Teochew and had a long significant history. It was founded by Madam Lim Peng Tuan, the mother of Tan Chong Tee, a well-known heroic resistance fighter with the Force 136 in Malaya during the Second World War. Lim Peng Tuan had first started a private school at her own home, providing education to about 20 students.

In 1927, Kheng Cheng School was officially named and registered with the government. It also had its own building, leasing a bungalow near Shrewbury Road as its new campus. In 1931, Kheng Cheng School was relocated to Moulmein Road, but was forced to stop its classes for two years due to financial difficulties. Due to high enrollment rate, Kheng Cheng School was relocated again to Derbyshire Road in 1938, taking over the premises of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home, and was converted into a public school.

kheng cheng school derbyshire road 1969

During the Second World War, the campus of Kheng Cheng School was partially damaged, and it had to suspend its classes until the end of the war. In 1963, former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew paid a visit to the school. Kheng Cheng School stayed within the Norfolk Estate until 1974, when it finally settled at Toa Payoh Lorong 3.

Cambridge School was opened in March 1963, near the junction of Cambridge and Carlisle Roads, with Yong Nyuk Lin, the former Minister for Education, and G. Kandasamy, the Parliamentary Secretary to Ministry of Culture, invited as the guests of honours. The school cost $370,000 in construction, and had 24 classrooms catered for as many as 2,000 students in both morning and afternoon sessions. Cambridge School was the 20th school opened by the Singapore state government in the early sixties.

carlisle road cambridge school 1982

As Cambridge School was opened during the merger years between Singapore and Malaysia, the lyrics of its school song were composed in Malay, which began with:

sekolah Cambridge sekolah sami, tempat yang mana kami sanjungi
(“our school Cambridge School, the place where we hold dear”)

In 1998, Cambridge Primary School was shut down. Its premises, together with that of the neighbouring Norfolk Primary School (opened between mid-1960s and 1984), was later converted into a foreign student dormitory called the Carlisle Hostel. The buildings of the former Cambridge and Norfolk Schools are still standing today, although they have been vacated for years.

carlisle road former cambridge school1

carlisle road former cambridge school12

carlisle road former norfolk school

The other schools that made their presences at Cambridge Estate but have since closed down or relocated to elsewhere were the Dorset School, Owen School, St. Michael’s School and Rangoon Road School.

Dorset School was started at the junction of Dorset Road and Durham Road in the mid-fifties and had existed there until the mid-seventies, when it was relocated to a new site between Thomson Road and Gentle Road. It, however, only lasted a few years before its new premises was taken over by Catholic High School. The old campus of Dorset School at Dorset Road was demolished after its relocation, and in its place, two new blocks of HDB flats known as Dorset Court were built in 1976.

dorset school1 early 1970s

dorset school2 early 1970s

dorset school3 early 1970s

Owen School was also started in the mid-fifties and lasted until 1988. In May 1986, Owen Primary School hit the headlines when two of its students, 12-year-old Keh Chin Ann and Toh Hong Huat, went missing. The boys were never found, and the case remains unsolved till this day. After its closure, the school compound was vacated for years before its conversion into Cambridge International Hostel. The premises was eventually demolished in 2015.

cambridge international hostel former owen primary school

Other Public Amenities

The Cambridge Road Market was formerly located at Tasek Utara Estate, along Cambridge Road. It was built in the fifties to serve the growing community, but had become disorderly when illegal hawkers made their pitches all over the place. In 1958, the Singapore City Council decided to expand the market and provide permanent stalls for the selected hawkers.

The Cambridge Road Market was demolished in the early eighties. It was not until the late eighties before a new market, the Pek Kio Hawker Centre and Market, was completed at the junction of Cambridge Road and Owen Road. It has remained popular since, and is often referred as the Cambridge Road Market by the older residents.

The Pek Kio Community Centre was opened in 1954 by J.T. Rea, the President of Singapore City Council, as an effort to enhance communal harmony and develop the residents’ civil pride and consciousness. The humble community centre was housed in a shophouse at Cambridge Road for a decade, before it was relocated to a new single-storey building in 1964, just beside the Cambridge Road Market.

pek kio community centre 1984

In 1984, the community centre received its new building, built at the site of the demolished Cambridge Road Market. Costing about $600,000, the new single-storey Pek Kio Community Centre was designed with roof and steel pillars that mirrored the design of the old Cambridge Road Market. It was also equipped with multi-purpose hall, library and rooms for kindergarten and cooking classes.

Today, Pek Kio Community Centre is located beside Farrer Park Primary School at Gloucester Road, where the former Farrer Park Stadium was.

Despite the fact that the SIT flats, schools and most old terrace houses have vanished, and the present-day Cambridge Estate is largely filled with new modern private residences, one can still spot glimpses of vintage buildings in the vicinity that have somehow escaped the fate of redevelopment and served as this old estate’s reminiscent history.

cambridge estate hertford road old house

cambridge estate truro road kampong house

keng lee road old terrace house

cambridge estate truro road old building

cambridge estate truro road shophouses

Cambridge Estate Truro Road Shophouses2

Published: 10 January 2016

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