The last, and a soon to be lost countryside

22 09 2016

A charming and a most delightful part of Singapore that, as with all good places on an island obsessed with over-manicured spaces, is set to vanish from our sights is the one-time grounds of the Singapore Turf Club. Vacated in 1999 when horse racing was moved to Kranji, it has remained relatively undisturbed in the its long wait to be redeveloped and is a rare spot on the island in which time seems to have stood very still.

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The last …

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… soon to be lost countryside.

Light and shadow in an area in Singapore in which light may soon be fading.

Light and shadow in a part of Singapore in which light may soon be fading.

Once a rubber estate of more than 30,000 trees, the grounds grew from an initial 98 hectares that the original turf club purchased in 1929 to the 141 hectares by the time the club’s successor vacated it, spread across what has been described as “lush and undulating terrain”. By this time, it was occupied by two racetracks, several practice tracks, up to 700 stables, pastures and paddocks, accommodation units, a hospital for horses, an apprentice jockey school, two stands, car parks with many pockets of space now rarely seen in Singapore in between. Parts of the grounds gave one a feel of a countryside one could not have imagined as belonging to Singapore. Full of a charm and character of its own, it was (and still is) a unique part of a Singapore in which redevelopment has robbed  many once distinct spaces of their identities.

 

The former grounds of the Singapore Turf Club offers a drive through a countryside we never thought we had in Singapore.

The former grounds of the Singapore Turf Club offers a drive through a countryside we never thought we had in Singapore.

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As un-Singaporean a world as one can get in Singapore.

A wooded part of the former turf club grounds.

A wooded part of the former turf club grounds.

More wooded parts.

More wooded parts.

A section of the grounds that is particularly charming is the site on which the Bukit Timah Saddle Club operates. Set across 10.5 hectares of green rolling hills decorated with white paddock fences, the area has even more of an appearance of the country in a far distant land. The saddle club, which was an offshoot of original turf club, was set up in 1951 to allow retired race horses to be re-trained and redeployed for recreational use. It has been associated with the grounds since then, operating in a beautiful setting in which one finds a nice spread of buildings, stables and paddocks in a sea of green.

The Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

The Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

A cafe at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

A cafe at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

A 12 year-old horse named Chavo, being given a run in a paddock.

A 12 year-old horse named Chavo, being given a run in a paddock.

In the vicinity of the saddle club, there is an equally charming area where one finds a cluster of low-rise buildings that hark back to a time we have almost forgotten. Built in the 1950s as quarters for the turf club’s sizeable workforce and their families, the rows of housing containing mainly three-roomed units are now camouflaged by a wonderfully luxurious sea of greenery. Some of those these units would have housed were apprentice jockeys, syces, their mandores, riding boys and workers for the huge estate workers that the turf club employed. The community numbered as many as 1000 at its height and was said to have a village-like feel. Two shops served the community with a small mosque, the Masjid Al-Awabin, and a small Hindu temple, the Sri Muthumariamman put up to cater to the community’s spiritual needs.

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Former Quarters, many of which would have been built in the 1950s.

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Former Turf Club quarters.

Not far from the area of housing and the saddle club at Turf Club Road is what has to be a strangest of sights in the otherwise green settings – a row of junk (or antique depending on how you see it) warehouses known as Junkies’ Corner that many have a fascination for. This, for all that it is worth, counts as another un-Singaporean sight, one that sadly is only a temporary one set in a world that will soon succumb to the relentless tide of redevelopment.

Junkies' Corner.

Junkies’ Corner.

Junkies' Corner.

A close up of Junkies’ Corner.

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Traffic going past Junkies’ Corner.

The signs that time is being called on the grounds are already there with the former turf club quarters surrounded by a green fence of death. Based on what has been reported, the leases on several of sites on the grounds including that of the saddle club (it has occupied its site on a short term basis since the 1999 acquisition of the turf club’s former grounds) and what has been re-branded as The Grandstand will not be extended once they run out in 2018.  A check on the URA Master Plan reveals that the prime piece of land would be given for future residential development and it seems quite likely that this will soon be added to the growing list of easy to love places in Singapore that we will very quickly have to fall out of love with.

URA Master Plan 2014 shows that the former turf club grounds will be redeveloped as residential area.

URA Master Plan 2014 shows that the former turf club grounds will be redeveloped as residential area.


More views of the area:

(aslo at this link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10210755341268240.1073742271.1491125619&type=1&l=77fc0ee8cf)

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A Pacific Swallow.

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Update 23 September 2016:

It has been brought to my attention that there may be an small extension of the tenancy period, at least for The Grandstand, granted beyond the expiry of its lease in February 2018. The possible extension of 2 years and 10 months, reflected on the SLA website, will go up to the end of 2020, and its seems then that redevelopment of the area may take place only after that.


 

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12 responses

22 09 2016
Sylvie Le Duff

Very depressing . I used to like to go and see the plans at the URA . Now I don’ t go anymore !
But who is going to live in all these condos and HDB ? There are constructions everywhere on the island . A friend of mine was very upset as she came Back in Singapore after a few weeks away and when she came back the patch of forest in front of her condo was destroyed . Not a tree left !!

22 09 2016
Tracy Richard

What a travesty. I have wonderful memories of the Saddle Club and many former Turf Club employees and their families.

Bukit Timah Saddle Club lost much access for recreational riding when the Pan Island Expressway was constructed in 1971 immediately adjacent to the straight track used for race training by both amateur and professional jockeys. It used to be possible to ride from the Saddle Club to the Polo Club through a bit of jungle, new housing estates and a cemetery whose name I cannot recall.

Believe the paddock in one of the photos was called Purgatory. Next to it was a small gated circular ring called Hell used for beginners classes so that ponies would not escape. A third paddock, used for dressage competition and filled with sand, was on the hillock at the opposite end of the training track. It was called Heaven. To access these spaces one mounted ponies or horses in front of the clubhouse (now restaurant) and proceeded toward PIE, turning right to reach Heaven, left to reach Purgatory (used for jumping competition) and Hell or straight to reach the training track or to cross it and reach jungle then the housing estates. There was also a separate area past Purgatory and the end of the training track called The Jungle which had assorted jumps, water obstacles and tracks that was used for Cross Country and the Christmas “fox” hunt.

22 09 2016
heidited

Soooo sad and I have dreaded this. As my boys played football at Turf City for years, during the weekly trainings I would jog all over the area, past all the things in your photos. I loved the remoteness and country-ness of the area, it was perfect or manicured, and that made it such a treasure. So sorry to hear this news 😦

22 09 2016
Sporty McSporterson

Not one mention of what has actually happened on the actually Race track. Probably the biggest grass roots sports park in Singapore, and not a dollar spent on it by the government. But because the Singaporean Governemnt couldn’t care less about sport they have no interest in reassessing. Where would those ‘oh so highly’ cherished Olympics medals have come from if it weren’t for grassroots venues such as these!!! Just dispocable behaviour from the government to claim the glory and not even return the favour or understanding of how beneficial sport is.

23 09 2016
Figi

please don’t worry, I have been assured by a reliable source that the beauty at turf city will remain past the 2018 end of lease….,
Beautiful images and interesting information but it may cause unnecessary worry for tenants and their customers.

23 09 2016
Anak Jati

Funny how most or all of the comments here came from either expats or “new citizens”. Feeling sad to see all new development replacing “their” greenery. Singapore government build new homes especially for these people and leaving real locals without hidden escapes.

23 09 2016
Del

This….used to be my playground. For 11 years. My father worked as a syce at one of the stables. He used to take me to the stable during school holidays. I would cycle or help him around. I still remember the words he said to me…’you ain’t gonna scoop horse shit like me when you grow up!’ :))))) Nevertheless….so many fond memories.

24 09 2016
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

It must have been a very interesting childhood Del. Thanks for sharing that … I enjoyed the part about scooping horse shit … 🙂 When did you move out?

19 10 2016
Del

Hi Jerome…i moved out in 1987. Yup very interesting indeed. Missed my childhood days growing up there. We wld just pick up our bicycle and rode off to ‘Paradise’ hahahaha….which is now the green fairway driving range 😦

23 09 2016
WADDUHA

Full of memories there. I was born and lived there for 21 yrs. My late dad was a syce. We lived in one of the quarters. My family was one of the last few who moved out of the quarters in Dec 1998. Gonna miss this place so so much. 😦

24 09 2016
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Wow, thanks for sharing that Wadduha :). It must have been a wonderful experience growing up there!

30 01 2017
Sue

My village. The best childhood ever!

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