That old rusty red coloured building along Sembawang Road

3 04 2010

There was a rusty red coloured building that once greeted the traveller along Sembawang Road. This would have been just after where the road started at the junction with Mandai Road. The building seemed to leap out at you on the right side of the road travelling north, just after you passed the old Post Office up Mandai Road on the left, breaking the monotony of what seemed an endless journey to the village of Chong Pang and towards Sembawang end, as was often the case on the many car rides to the Mata Jetty and the coastal villages near end of Sembawang Road, sitting in the back seat of the car. There were the other occasions when the journey was made by bus, which made it even longer, as was it would have been sitting even with the bus load of boisterous boys who were my classmates, on the road to (as it appeared to us) the inclined field at Sembawang School close to Chye Kay Village, to cheer the school football team playing for the North Zone schools championship, and perhaps later, on the bus journeys on service number 169 to Sembawang Shipyard.

The rusty red coloured building rising over the area, as seen in the mid 1980s, before it was demolished (Source: National Archives of Singapore).

The rusty red building was one that rose imposingly over the area, seemingly keeping the village around it hidden in its shadows, which dominated the area with its physical presence, and gave an immediately recognisable face to the village that had been given its name by the original owner of the building, the illustrious Lim Nee Soon. Nee Soon had in 1912, built the Thong Aik Rubber Factory that the building was a part of along what was then Seletar Road, to process the latex that was drawn from the rubber trees found in the plantations to the north of the area. Together with the many plantations that had come up around the area, which grew crops such as pepper, gambier and pineapple, along with the rubber trees, the factory provided opportunities drawing many immigrants to the area which had been referred to, in Teochew (many of the immigrants were Teochew speaking), as Kangkar, “Kangkar” being a geographical term used to describe an area by a river, the area being by the Seletar River. The factory was subsequently renamed as the Nee Soon and Sons Rubber Works in the 1920s, and in 1928, was taken over by “Rubber King” Lee Kong Chian and renamed Lee Rubber. In 1959, the factory was leased to Kota Trading Co. Sdn. Bhd. a subsidiary of Lee Rubber.

An old postcard of Lim Nee Soon's rubber factory and the surrounding area.

The rubber factory was leased by Kota Trading Co. Sdn. Bhd. a subsidiary of Lee Rubber in 1959.

I am not really sure when the factory disappeared – I remember seeing that it was still there on my way to the shipyard around 1983 and 1984 when Yishun New Town was being populated with people being resettled from the villages around. I guess it must have disappeared sometime after, perhaps in the later part of the 1980s. There is an empty feeling I get passing through the area today … along with the factory, the villages and the businesses around have mostly vanished, leaving the area almost like a ghost town.

Another view of the rusty red building (Source: National Archives of Singapore).

The buildings belonging to the rubber factory before being demolished (Source: National Archives of Singapore).

Another building belonging to the rubber factory before being demolished (Source: National Archives of Singapore).

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21 responses

7 04 2010
Lim yin pieu

Thanks for the memories. My granddad used to own the Paris Restaurant at 98 Sembawang Rd at the junction with transit road. I can still remember the area from the mosque, kam mah hng to nee soon road.

8 04 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for your comments Yin Pieu! Wow, the Paris Bar and Restaurant… was a popular watering hole for the foreign servicemen wasn’t it? Would be good if you can share some of your memories of the area :).

14 10 2010
lee hwee twan

I was born in sebawang 91c, 10ms, My grandpa work for Lee company,
My parent live there when small. My mom grow up sam pa siam village.
The old red rubber factory just infront of my house.

Until 1980, My family shift to central part.
My father and my aunts liked to play inside these factory in their childhood times.

21 05 2010
Lim Yin Pieu

Yes it is packed with ANZ soldiers at night…
I don’t have photos with me, may have to search from my grandmother or uncles. Will share/describe if I have time.

21 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Sure Yin Pieu. Thanks! :)

4 08 2010
Erik

wow ! this picture certainly brought back memories. When I did my BMT in Nee Soon Camp in 1984, the Red Factory was still there.

4 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Glad that it did Erik! :) So you are one of the “lucky” ones who did BMT at SBMT … most of us back then were sent to Tekong which seemed like a garrison island back then ….

15 10 2010
lee hwee twan

The Nee Soon Camp just opposite my village.
There was a small petrol station just beside the path lead to my village.
In this village, there only seven one level bunglows.

15 08 2010
Erik

I took these two “illegal”pictures of the camp when I was there. I was rather fortunate to be able to enjoy the last days of the old camp in it’s “original” form. Cameras were not allowed then. Really wish I took more pictures of the place, especially the super retro swimming pool, and the cylindrical Nissen Huts where we had our cook house.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bminton/3105570618/in/set-72157608771976211/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bminton/3104799635/in/set-72157608771976211/

15 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Wow! Thanks for sharing Erik! :D

14 10 2010
lee hwee twan

I was born in 91c sebawang road,growing up there before my family move to central part. My grandpa’s name is Lee Leong kheng, he was the worker in Lee kong chian’s company.
These red rubber factory just facing infront my house.
I still remember this scences.
Thanks.

15 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

That’s great Hwee Twan! Tahnks for visiting! :) You might have known Yin Pieu?

15 10 2010
lee hwee twan

Maybe our grandparents and parents know. The world is so small.
My cousin was married to my mom’s mother old neighbour.

28 10 2012
Lim Yin Pieu

Hi Hwee Twan, what kind of shop/services is 91c? I only remember the shops.. I recall between 98 and the petrol station further down towards Nee Soon road, there’s a road leading to the factory. is 91c north or south of that side road? I recall there was a indian barber shop, bread shop… that’s about all that I recall now. 8)

14 03 2011
Clare

I am a chinese girl.I have a dream to build a house in the countryside.May god bless us.

14 03 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi Clare, thanks for dropping by – I do hope your dreams will come true! God bless! :)

12 11 2011
Soh Gim Chia

I used to study in Nee Soon English School from 1975-1980. My Ah Ma used ot stay near the temple just near the entrance to Nee Soon Road. I have fond memories of the village and everything that you show me. If i am not worng, the red house dissappear when the Springside Estate was building up.. that was properly in the late 80s-90s?

28 10 2012
Lim Yin Pieu

My maternal grandparents lived along the Nee Soon Road on the same side as the temple, between the bicycle shop and the tailor.

20 12 2013
Lai Heng

Temple as in Xian Hong Keng 仙凤宫?From where I stay, I’ll need to go past the temple to a Hainanese (or was he Hakka?) barber on the same side of Nee Soon Rd.

20 12 2013
Lai Heng

Is Nee Soon English School same as Nee Soon Primary School? That’s where I studied frm 1973 – 1978 :)

20 12 2013
Lai Heng

The one thing about this factory was its siren, you know the kind of sound when there is an air raid as in those old war movies? It rang out exactly at 7am every day of my childhood! I believe it was used as a signal for the workers, or a reminder to return from the rubber gathering chores. I lived between 8 & 9 m/s, quite a distance away but the siren can still be heard loud and clear. My village was opposite the Seletar rifle range/Old Upper Thomason Rd, a small road called Lorong Sunyi, which starts along Upper Thomason Road & ends at Lorong Handalan. This Lorong Handalan then links up with Nee Soon Road. The other end of Lorong Handalan links up with Upper Thomson Road again further south, near the current NTUC Fairprice HQ.

Fond memories indeed, of the sights and sound of the area. Not forgetting the annual Grand Prix at Old Upper Thomson Rd! :)

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