Toa Payoh on the Rise

15 09 2010

Rising gradually and somewhat obscurely off Lorong 1 in Toa Payoh, a somewhat lonely and forgotten little road that starts between an old school building and an empty plot of land leads to the crest of a little hill on top of which once stood one of the major public hospitals in Singapore. Part of the road – the section that leads from the former hospital down to Thomson Road, had probably been the first named after the area that was to be one of the first planned satellite towns in Singapore, Toa Payoh. It had been named Toa Payoh Road prior to 1961 and was subsequently renamed Toa Payoh Rise, to avoid confusing it with what was to become a main thoroughfare, Jalan Toa Payoh, now part of the Pan Island Expressway.

Toa Payoh Rise today.

I had first been acquainted with the area in the late 1960s, as a somewhat reluctant companion to my mother who taught at the school on Lorong 1, aptly named First Toa Payoh Primary School being the first school to be built for the new satellite town (the word back then was that the subsequent schools being planned would be named in the order of build). I would accompany my mother on Saturday mornings, when I was home as kindergarten was on only five days a week. Back then, Alternate Saturdays were school days and the other Saturdays working days, so what it meant was that school teachers would be in school for at least half a day. I suppose it was common then for teachers to bring their children along on Saturdays, as I remember having many companions – fellow children of school teachers with me in the school’s staff room.

First Toa Payoh Primary School in 1968 soon after it opened. On the left of the photograph, a 10 storey block of flats, Block 167, typical of the early Toa Payoh, can be seen - that stand on what is now an empty plot of land.

The main school building had been one that was typical of those that were built post-independence – a U-shaped four storey high building – the three sections surrounded a little quadrangle that with its two flag poles right smack in the front of the centre section, formed an assembly area. The paved area extended further back to the fence and served as a car park. Behind the main building, the school canteen with its long rows of tables and benches, doubled up as a school hall and with badminton courts marked on the floor and a stage at one end, the food stalls being at the other. The pathway to this building also led down to the expansive school field behind the school – that was down a steep slope via a long flight of stairs to a field that not only served the student population, but what had seemed a resident population of pythons and cobras that were frequently sighted in the drains that surrounded the school field. The buildings and the field are still there today, now the temporary premises of St. Nicholas Girls’ School.

The former First Toa Payoh Primary School building is today the temporary premises of St. Nicholas Girls' School.

Across the road from the school, there was a cluster of flats that have since disappeared – blocks 164, 165, 166 and 167. The blocks had stood on a raised table of land and accessible from Lorong 1 by several flights of stairs. The flats had hidden a cluster of low rise buildings further up the road, one that was well protected by a fence around it that told perhaps of its use. That was the Toa Payoh Girls’ Home, which was opened 1968 to replace the York Hill Home, and was meant to serve as a refuge for destitute girls as well as for the rehabilitation of young offenders and delinquents. The home was in operation up to 2006 when it moved to new premises and was renamed the Singapore Girls’ Home. These days, the cluster of buildings sits silently behind the fence, awaiting perhaps redevelopment in what must be a prime piece of land.

Up the slope from Lorong 1, where Blocks 164, 165, 166 and 167 had once towered over much of Toa Payoh, an empty landscape now greets the observer.

The former Toa Payoh Girls' Home, seen through the locked gate.

The cluster of buildings of the former girls' home now sits silently behind a fence and locked gate which now keeps people out rather than keeping girls in.

Beyond the home, lies the crest of the small hill which Toa Payoh Rise rises up to – a clearing there these days with quite a fair bit of construction activity going on for a Circle Line MRT station, erasing any evidence of its past as the site of one of Singapore’s public hospitals – the Toa Payoh Hospital, and before it was renamed on 1 April 1975, the Thomson General Hospital or Thomson Road Hospital. The hospital had been set up in 1959, opening in May of that year, as a hospital for the chronic sick and included a nursing school as part of its complex. Set in a quiet and somewhat secluded area, the only means of access to it in the early days was via Toa Payoh Rise from Thomson Road. It had been a hospital that I visited on many occasions … my maternal grandmother in her later years had frequent stays there and I myself had been a patient, having been warded whilst I was in Secondary 2 with an illness that deprived me of 8 months of playing football. I had on two occasions visited the A&E Department as well, once when I had a nasty spill taking a corner on a racing bicycle in 1980 that had half my tee-shirt covered in blood and required several stitches to be put in my head … and another time when I had an extremely high fever after returning home from an overseas trip in 1991. The hospital closed its doors in 1997 and moved, lock, stock and barrel to Simei as the New Changi Hospital which is now known as the Changi General Hospital (CGH). More information on the history of Toa Payoh Hospital can be found at CGH’s website.

The former Thomson Road Hospital and its nursing school in its early days.

Another view of the former Toa Payoh Hospital (source:

The top of Toa Payoh Rise, once a quiet spot - ideal for the former Toa Payoh / Thomson General Hospital which had once stood there.

Where a main public hospital once stood, an empty plot of land now stands. The construction activity going on for the Circle Line MRT station will erase all traces of what might still be left as a reminder.

The view from the grounds of the former hospital towards the fence of the former girls' home and beyond to Toa Payoh.

At the crest of the hill where the road that led to the hospital is, there is another building that still serves its intended function – the School for the Visually Handicapped, and a little beyond that, the Association for the Visually Handicapped. Beyond the crest and the area where the hospital had stood, the road rolls downward towards its junction with Thomson Road. That had been a nice shady and wooded area – one through which I enjoyed my frequent walks through – not just for the peace and calm it provided me, but as a “short-cut” when I was older, to Thomson Road where I could hop on the many buses which could take me down Thomson Road and to the city. That would take me past a cluster of flats beyond the line of trees which are still there today, marked by a sign on the road. Further down at the junction, there used to be a Mobil Service Station – one that stood as a landmark for many years – which has quite recently disappeared. Much has changed in the area around the junction over the years and it is hard to imagine now what it might have been like … something I guess might soon be said as well about Toa Payoh Rise.

A road sign at the crest of the hill seeks silence for the School for the Visually Handicapped and also previously for the hospital that had stood nearby.

What had once been a quiet wooded area now sees much construction activity which involves the construction of an MRT station and the widening of the road that will completely disfigure what had once been an escape from the concrete jungle.

A sign off Toa Payoh Rise pointing towards the cluster of low-rise flats that are still there today.

The junction of Toa Payoh Rise and Thomson Road ... looking to where the Mobil Service Station had once stood.




22 responses

16 09 2010
Tweets that mention Toa Payoh on the Rise « The Long and Winding Road --

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SG Urban Explorers, Jerome Lim. Jerome Lim said: Toa Payoh on the Rise: […]

16 09 2010

Thanks for highlighting the plight of Toa Payoh Rise and stirring up some memories.

I used to look forward to stay with my eldest sister at blk 148 (still around today) during the holidays in the early seventies. Though only 1 room and 1 hall, it was refreshing from our kampong house at Lorong Halus, Tampines.

I like to stand on the 9th floor corridor gazing below at the cars zipping by Lorong I and the Philips Factory.

I can also see in the distance a school buliding on top of a knoll surrounded by trees and a large patch of green fields.

Later in the 80s, I came to know it was Thomson Secondary School as I had a pen pal who studied there.

Then in the early nineties, I had a serious bout of pneumonia and was warded at the Toa Payoh Hospital for 2 weeks, rekindling my past knowledge of this place.

Today, I like to drive past this road on Saturdays after picking my daughter at the Hokkien Huay Kuan, en route to my home at serangoon, albeit a longer way, just to feel for the past.

It is just so sad that our childhood memories had to be “razed” in the name of progress..

17 09 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for your comments hoosiers :). Would have imagined that living in a kampong – you would have felt a little cooped up in a flat. I know I did … and I always looked forward to staying at places where I could be free from the confines of the four walls! The school building you mentioned brings some fond memories back for me too! That was where the rag tag football team my neighbours formed of which I was part of would play at Thomson Sec’s large field on weekends … and every time I was there, I would think to myself of how difficult it must be for the pupils of the school to walk up the long road uphill to the school building from the main road. It was on those grounds I put on my first football jersey, one that resembled the Scottish team’s jersey used in the 1974 World Cup, bought from the sports shops along Bras Basah Road. I really like the location of the hospital – it was in what I thought was an ideal environment to recuperate … not sure if you felt the same. I often do what you do … drive past areas in which I had fond memories of … just to re-live the good old days … and yes, its is certainly sad that many of the places in which we identify with our experiences in life are gone or going … there is certainly very little left of the Singapore that I can feel at home with …

27 09 2010

I took that wooded short-cut to Toa Payoh Hospital from Thomson Road many years ago. My father was hospitalised there and my mom and I used to take that route to visit him. For a young girl, that path was quite scary.

I also remember that place for the Marymount girls. Marymount was one of the schools my mom thought of putting me in. Seems that Marymount no longer has a secondary division???

28 09 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for sharing … loved walking along the shady wooded short-cut to Thomson Road … and I still do … guess the route can be quite scary – I imagine it would be by night. Marymount is still there – and yes I think you are right – they don’t have a secondary section. I remember that the very distinctive uniform always caught my attention … and also the roadway up to the school before Marymount Road was built – where Marymount Road runs up from the junction with Thomson today. Also remember that there was a water level market at the corner of Thomson Road near Lornie Road – as it was one of the flood prone areas …. 🙂

7 10 2010
30 10 2010

ahh. reminds me of my primary sch days!
used to stay at blk 164

totally missed the playground there lol esp the merry go round haha!
and the coffee house at blk 165. the old ahma cooks nice western food but so sad it’s not there alr D=

and i remembered there was a flight of stairs, apparently near the playground, leading to a path covered with trees. The dark, old hospital can be seen.

Speaking of the old hospital.. it was kinda spooky with all the broken windows, shattered glass and wooden planks over it plus graffiti lol! If u pass by around evening time, it looks like a haunted house.

1 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for dropping by minako. The playgrounds were the best places, weren’t they? 😀

31 03 2013

Minako I also lived in Block 164. I was also the first batch of Primary 1 students in First Toa Payoh Primary School when it started in 1968. It is rather bittersweet to visit my old neighbourhood that no longer exists, especially since I now live abroad. Thanks Jerome for this. You`re doing a fine job preserving a slice of my past albeit on the Web. I got a deep cut once when I bashed against one of the concrete playground horses, the gas needed stitches at Toa Payoh Hospital!

21 02 2011

i was once a former resident of TOA PAYOH GIRL’S HOME…….back in the good old days every residents was very united….the staffs are so close to us that they make us felt like home…..all of us,the residents share the same fate…some of us were there to the extend of three years…and some were lesser… matter what it is worth while to be there…it teaches us to be independent apart of bein naughty….discipline takes it all….now when i think about the time i spent there rehab……i wish i could turn back time…and glance again at the time and spend it wisely…miss all the staff…and again…i would like to say thank you to all the staff that has been nurturing me in year 1999 to 2002…..thank you…..

22 02 2011
The wondering wanderer

Wow – really? It nice to hear from someone who has been there! Thanks for your comments and sharing on your experience there! 🙂

16 10 2011

I’ve been jogging thru this road towards Macritchie quite often frequently. I didn’t realise there was once stood a TPY hospital, a girls’ home, former first toa payoh primary school and also a few old blocks.. Now, since the completion of Caldecott MRT station, they’ve demolished former girls’ home, added 2 bus stops, changed the course of the road, widened and converted into a 2 way lane. This place will be filled by honking of cars during peak hours, people coming out from MRT…. no longer as quiet.

3 12 2011

tho this post is kinda like a year old, this evening i’m just haunted by my old home where i stayed with my folks at blk166.

i studied in FTTPP and FTSS and stayed at blk166 from 1970 – 1984. nice memories that i keep going back til they tore the place down.

18 01 2012

I recently moved into Toa Payoh Rise Blk D. The first time when I came here to view the apartment, I was surprised this kind of “old” houses are still around. I was keen to know about the history of this area, which leads me to this forum. What’s more, I was born in Toa Payoh Hospital. It’s really quiet in this area and it can get spooky at night. But during the day, it is serene and I can even hear the birds singing in the forest behind my house.

2 10 2013
Ming Xuan

I’m really glad to have stumbled upon your blog as it brought back a lot of wonderful memories. My family used to stay at Toa Payoh Rise in the unit Blk D6. Both my parents worked in Toa Payoh Hospital; my siblings and I studied at Thomson Primary School. We lived there for around 15 years before we moved to Yishun.

30 08 2014

i once lived at toa payoh rise blk D.. 900 dollars montly

23 02 2015

I recently walked thru tpy rise to Macritchie reservoir and stumbled upon tpy rise apartments. I was wondering why the government did not tear down those old apartments since they have already teared down virtually everything on the side of former tpy hospital. and that’s how i stumbled upon your blog.

I have always wondered where is thomson road general hospital as it is shown in my birth cert and i thought it’s thomson medical at thomson road now ! How wrong i was. I was there on a few occasions due to some accident. I believe many residents of tpy had been there before too.

thanks for the post.

19 04 2015

I am so thrilled to have found this blog – I used to live in the old house called Matron’s Quarters at the very top of TP Rise from 1972 to 1976 – my dad was a doctor at the hospital. I went to Marymount and had to walk by myself down TP Rise to Thomson Road and then back up the hill again to the school. I loved the walk – it was a walk through the jungle back then – but was scary enough, very hot and very tiring for a small girl with those little suitcases we had a schoolbags in those days. I used to walk down the hill into Toa Payoh most afternoons, even though I was forbidden, and I would explore by myself. I tried to revisit in 1991 with my son but it had all changed beyond recognition. I’d love to see some more photos if you have them – ours all got lost in too many house moves. Time comes full circle – I am now in Kota Kinabalu about to introduce my class of 6 year olds to Phua San San’s memoir of Toa Payoh in the 70s – Handsome Hock and Champion Poh.
Thanks again

22 04 2015

Thank you so much for your posts. Today, my kid’s school in Toa Payoh has invited parents to join in a Toa Payoh Heritage Trail (SG 50 project) and it mentions the ex-hospital. I am always puzzle on the Thomson General Hospital (as stated in my BC), the Toa Payoh Rise low flats Blk A to D and Caldecott MRT Station. Hmm….this event really prompt me to do some research on my roots…since I am a Toa Payoh resident all my years. I am surprise the hospital I was born in was actually relate to Changi General Hospital!

31 10 2016

I left Singapore for the US since 1984. Since then I had returned twice, once in 1995 and then 1998. I was amazed at how Singapore had changed. It’s beyond my recognition. I felt like a total stranger in a country where I was born and raised.

Recently I’m planning to move back to Singapore. As such, I’m doing a google search for housing rental and employment opportunity for my relocation. I was thinking for applying for a job at the Toa Payoh Hospital where I had my appendectomy performed in mid-1970s. I remember having lower quadrant abdominal pain and my doctor referred me to go straight to the Toa Payoh hospital. I took the bus 161 from Sembawang to Thompson Rd and then tediously walked up the quiet and scenic incline to reach the hospital at the top of the hill. I was immediately operated on that evening. I stayed there for 4 days and paid only $12.00.

I’m surprised and saddened that this hospital is no longer there. And the change in Singapore leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately for a small island city and growing population, the change to such degree is inevitable.

19 09 2017
Happy man

Drove pass yesterday. Sudden sadness, it’s like part of my growing up memory with my late Brother taken away

28 04 2018

Toa Payoh Rise Apartments nearby had been cleared and the blocks closed to entry. The path in front is still accessible (for a short while). The land will undergo redevelopment soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.