Where you could once have your car fixed in a church: Memories of Waterloo Street

13 01 2010

I have memories aplenty of Waterloo Street from my days spent as a school boy on Bras Basah Road. At the south end between Stamford and Bras Basah Roads, which was the perhaps the most happening part of the street for us school boys, were, of course, the “sarabat stalls” that most people of my generation would remember. It was in this row of food and drink stalls where arguably, the best Indian Rojak in Singapore could be found. It was also the place to go for my favourite plate of Mee Rebus and where I could get my craving for an ice cold refreshment satisfied at the end of a hot day as I made my way to the bus stop from which I caught the Blue Arrow semi-express bus home. There was also the CYMA compound in which there was a basketball court where we would sometimes play our version of street football, without a goalkeeper, in which we made use of the posts supporting the basketball hoop as goal posts (which we referred to as “small goal posts”), and where a dog named Mani did a fair share of barking at us. This street in this area has since disappeared, converted into pedestrian walkway beside a building belonging to the Singapore Management University (SMU) which stands in place of the former CYMA building and compound.

The end of the road: The intersection of Waterloo Street with Bras Basah Road is now a T-junction. It used to be a four way junction which would have lead to the branch between Bras Basah and Stamford Roads where the "Sarabat" Stalls were located.

The Singapore Management University (SMU) stands where the CYMA building once stood

The area where the "Sarabat" Stalls were located and the bus stop from which I took the bus home from is now a pedestrian walkway beside a building of the SMU

It was on the next section of Waterloo Street where I had a close encounter with the undercarriage of a car – at the junction with Bras Basah Road, where on one rainy day when I was in Secondary 2, a decision to make a dash across from the five-foot way of the shop houses where the Plaza by the Park building is today, almost resulted me being run over by a car. This stretch from Bras Basah Road towards Middle Road was perhaps the quietest part of the street, occupied by a synagogue and several dilapidated pre-war bungalows on the east side of the street.

The junction of Waterloo Street and Bras Basah Road looking very different from when I had a close encounter with an undercarriage of a car

Plaza By The Park stands at the junction of Waterloo Street and Bras Basah Road in place of the row of bookshops and sporting goods shops

The synagogue, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue, built in 1878, is apparently the oldest Synagogue in South East Asia, a fact which escaped me back then, and stands close to the junction with Bras Basah Road. We referred to it as the “Synagogue on Waterloo Street”. Opposite the synagogue just behind the former SJI which is now the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) stands a Catholic place of worship: the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which was referred to as the “Chinese Church” – it was considered to be the seat of the Chinese Catholic community in Singapore. The back end of the church faces Waterloo Street. Special masses were often held on feast days in the church for the Catholic population of SJI, when the school chapel would not have been big enough to accommodate everyone.

Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Waterloo Street: constructed in 1878, is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Southeast Asia.

An alternative view of the Maghain Aboth Synagogue

An angel watches over the observer at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul opposite the Maghain Aboth Synagogue: The church was known as the Chinese Church as it was the unofficial seat of the Chinese Catholic community in Singapore.

The stretch on the synagogue side of the street was where the dilapidated looking pre-war bungalows with overgrown gardens and houses could be found. The bungalows had once been the lavish homes of Jewish families who settled in the area – which have since been restored and are now used as Centres for the Arts, forming part of the Waterloo Street Arts Belt.

A pre-war bungalow along the stretch of Waterloo Street between Bras Basah Road (42 Waterloo Street) and Middle Road which has found a new lease of life as the Action Theatre.

Another pre-war bungalow along the stretch of Waterloo Street between Bras Basah Road and Middle Road (48 Waterloo Street) which is now used as the Singapore Calligraphy Centre.

A pre-war shophouse among a cluster of three shophouses along the stretch of Waterloo Street between Bras Basah Road and Middle Road (54 Waterloo Street) now houses the YMS Arts Centre.

Further up the east side of the street, at the end of the stretch at the junction with Middle Road, a rather fascinating sight would greet us: a light-coloured building in the shaped of a church, with its walls covered in streaks of oil from the business that was being carried out in the building. The building had indeed once had been put to more dignified use: as the Middle Road Church. Somewhere along the way, however, it had been converted into a car workshop, complete with a yard scattered with fenders and exhaust pipes! The building has since been restored and has found a new lease of life as a bright orange painted Arts Centre called Sculpture Square.

Information plate on the history of Sculpture Square

The upper (north) end of Waterloo Street from Middle Road towards Rochor Road is the area I least visited during my school days. I suppose this would have be probably been the liveliest part of the street, where the hundreds, perhaps thousands of devotees would throng on a visit to the Kwan Im Temple (Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple) to seek blessings from the Goddess of Mercy. Beside the Kwan Im Temple, stands a Hindu temple – the Sri Krishnan Temple, where many devotees from the Kwan Im Temple would light joss sticks at, stands. The only time I could remember visiting the area was when I had to do my shopping for school books: I remember there being a bookshop just across from what was the Stamford Girls School (what is the Stamford Arts Centre today), where the Fortune Centre is today, where school books could be bought at prices lower than that of the established bookshops along Bras Basah Road.

The junction of Waterloo Street and Middle Road: There used to be a row of shophouses on the left where Fortune Centre is which housed a bookshop where I sometimes got my school books at a bargain

Stamford Arts Centre: The building housed the Stamford Girls Primary School in my school days and was built originally as a Japanese School in the 1900s.

Stamford Arts Centre

An example of religious harmony in Singapore: The Sri Krishnan Temple (or Sri Krishna Temple) on Waterloo Street which was built in 1870 - many Chinese devotees visiting the Kwan Im temple next door also light joss sticks at the Sir Krishnan Temple.

The Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple on Waterloo Street attracts many devotees seeking blessings from the Goddess of Mercy, especially on feast days.




13 responses

18 02 2010
Schools, churches and a candlelight procession: Memories of Queen Street « The Long and Winding Road

[…] the Catholic High School, part of which was also housed across the street in the compound of the “Chinese Church”, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul. Further along the west side there was this tall narrow building which housed Stamford College, a […]

21 02 2010
Beautiful buildings and a tale of buried treasure under a bridge: Memories of Stamford Road « The Long and Winding Road

[…] the canal side, there was of course the SJI school field between Queen Street and what was Waterloo Street. The basketball court was located at this end of the field and there was a story that circulated […]

9 04 2010
The changing face of Middle Road « The Long and Winding Road

[…] with Victoria Street being “2nd Street”, Queen Street “3rd Street”, Waterloo Street “Fourth Street”, Bencoolen Street “Fifth Street”, Prinsep Street […]

26 05 2010
Have we knocked the Pedestrian Crossing Rules down? « The Long and Winding Road

[…] the blue uniformed officers standing with a clipboard at the four crossing points at the junction of Bras Basah Road and Waterloo Street, where I myself had a close shave crossing the road, on almost a daily basis. During the initial […]

21 06 2010
Lily Leong

I enjoy reading your blog and your memories of Waterloo Street. I was studying in Waterloo Girls School from 1965 to 1970. I regretted not having a picture of my old primary school and when I saw you have this picture of the Stamford Girl’s School which is next to my old school, its brings back so much memories of my childhood. I wonder whether in your collection, do you happen to have a picture of Waterloo Girls School?

22 06 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi Lily, thanks for your comments and feedback :). Unfortunately I do not have a picture of Waterloo Girls’ School … but if I come across one – will certainly remember to send it to you!

22 06 2010
Lily Leong

Thanks, Jerome!

9 08 2010
Back to school in many ways … « The Long and Winding Road

[…] walk first took us down Waterloo Street, past the mansions and buildings of old, looking grander than they would have when we were in […]

15 08 2010
A world apart: a leisurely stroll through some of the streets of Little India « The Long and Winding Road

[…] started. The original building was incidentally the Middle Road Church building that is now part of Sculpture Square. It was where we had earlier in our walk, stumbled upon Ngim Kum Thong’s very intriguing art […]

11 11 2010
George Thia

Hi Jerome,

You are a gem. I am so glad that my classmate Anthony brought your blog to our attention. We are the Class of 1965 (O Levels), the year that the Republic of Singapore was born.

You could publish more than one book with your contributions.

God bless.

12 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi George glad that you found your way to my ramblings … thanks for the feedback – its very much appreciated … great that we are all connected through the wonderful alma mater that we had … 😀

7 07 2011
Francis Ang

Hi Jerome,

Wow! reading through your blog really brings me back down memory lane. I was actually looking for something to do with the Teochew clan association but stumbled on to your blog and instead of looking for what I wanted, I’m stuck reading through. I spent a good part of two years in the Bras Basah area when I was doing my private studies in Stamford College. My best memory was playing soccer in the SJI field with my classmates when we ponteng class and after that adjourning to the mamak stalls across the street. My favorite mee goreng/mee rebus stall is no longer around as the stall holder has apparently passed on many donkey years ago. Sadly, his secret recipe for the mee rebus gravy was not pass down 😦 I really relish a good plate of mee goreng and mee rebus at one go!!! The descendants Indian rojak stall are still carrying on his legacy in the West Coast Hawker Centre but sadly not the mee goreng/mee rebus stall. Do you happen to have a picture of the row of sarabat stalls along Waterloo Street? I would love to have one for memory sake!

Of course I can still vividly remember the row of sports shops along Bras Basah, which I frequently patronised with my classmates looking for Adidas football boots.

From your postings, I supposed we share the same Catholic faith. I still attend Sts Peter & Paul and Sacred Heart now and then, sometimes the Cathedral and St Joseph as well. Incidentally, I met and married my wife in St Joseph’s Church.

I loved that picture you had of the old rail station at Tank Road. The current parish priest, Fr Paul Tay has preserved the frontage of the two shophouses next to the church and built a 7-storey community building. The church has been beautifully restored and now airconditioned. There is also a beautifully designed columbarium at the rear of the church where once cars used to drive round the church to the reach parish house on the Oxley Rise side.

Whenever I drive around this area designated as the Civic Centre, flashes of the past always come to my mind and I would always relate a little history to my grown up kids. I really hope you have a picture of the mamak stalls. 🙂

13 07 2011
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Hi Francis, thanks for dropping by, for your feedback and comments and also for sharing all that! 🙂 Glad to know you have good memories of that Bras Basah area that we all loved. The only picture of the row of sarabat stalls I could find so far is this one: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=31955506&l=b3a2a37041&id=1491125619. May I ask if you were originally from Malaysia? Why I ask is that you refer to the stalls as “mamak” stalls – something that is very Malaysian.

Yes we do share the same faith, St. Joseph’s was very much where I attended mass in my earliest years as well as being where my grandmother would drag me to every Good Friday for maybe eight of the first twelve years of my life. We frequented Sacred Heart for a few years as well … that was just after Yaohan opened and my parents would head there after sunset mass every Saturday. Haven’t been back there since my cousin married in the church some ten years back …


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