The hospital at Mount Erskine and what may now be Singapore’s oldest lift

27 05 2018

Rather nondescript in appearance, the building at 5 Kadayanallur Street conceals a wealth of little secrets. Last used as the corporate offices of a department store in Singapore, there are few who know of the building’s chequered past and of its use as a hospital before and during the Japanese Occupation. Another interesting piece of history that the building holds is an old lift. Installed in 1929, the Smith, Major and Stevens beauty – complete with wooden panels and sets of collapsible gates – may be the oldest lift now in existence in Singapore.

The rather nondescript looking building at Kadayanallur Street – last used as CK Tang’s Coporate Offices.

The building, which has been described as Singapore’s first modernist building, was completed in 1923 as the St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital (for Women and Children). Designed by Swan and Maclaren’s Harry Robinson, the odd shape of its plan can be attributed to the site that was found to accommodate what would have been a small but very important institution. The first dedicated facility that the St. Andrew’s Mission set up – it had previously run several dispensaries, including one at Upper Cross Street with a small in-patient section – it was established to provide impoverished residents with illnesses living in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of Chinatown with access to care and relief from suffering.

The inside of the building – the floor where the hospital’s staff quarters were located.

The installation of a lift – retrofitted in 1929 – was considered then to be a step forward in the treatment of children afflicted with a rare, debilitating and extremely painful tuberculosis of the bones and joints. The disease was first recorded in 1923 – the year of the hospital’s opening and in 1926, six children were hospitalised for it. The only opportunity that could be afforded for these patients to gain access to sunlight and fresh air, essential to treatment, was the roof of the building. This – due to movement of the affected limbs of the children being “painful and injurious” – would not have been possible without a lift.

The 1929 vintage Smith, Major and Stevens lift, which I believe may be the oldest now in Singapore, is still – if not for the shut-off of electrical supply – in working condition.

The hospital building was evacuated in December 1941 following an air raid and was never to be used by the mission again. The Japanese ran a civilian hospital for women and children, the Shimin Byoin, in it from April 1942. After the war, the building was used as a medical store. The Mission was only able to reopen the women and children’s hospital in January 1949 after it was able to acquire and refit the former Globe Building at Tanjong Pagar Road (some may remember the SATA Clinic there). More recently, the Kadayanallur Street building (incidentally Kadayanallur Street was only named in 1952 – after the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League) was also used as the Maxwell Road Outpatient Dispensary (from 1964 to 1998).

The roof deck that featured in the treatment of children with tuberculosis of the bones and joints.

A rare opportunity may be provided by the Singapore Land Authority to visit the building and also see the lift, through the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of guided State Property Visits, possibly sometime in July. The visit will also give participants an opportunity to discover much more on the building and the area and also of the building’s history. Do look out for further information on the visit and how and when to register on this site and also at The Long and Winding Road on Facebook.

More photographs : on Flickr.

See also: Story of a lift nearing 90 (Sunday Times, 27 May 2018)

Further information about Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:





11 responses

27 05 2018

I’ve just read today’s Straits Times and am intrigued by this series! I’m sad that I hadn’t known about this earlier… and them tours!

Would love to go for the 2nd June tour but didn’t manage to book it in time. I’ll definitely want to visit the next round, and hopefully get to see the lift!

Thank you!

28 05 2018
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

I would be doing one a month until December this time around – the visit to the hospital should take place in July. Do look out for the registration details for that – places tend to get snapped up in a flash.

27 05 2018
Paul Ridgway

What a wonderful find.
There is film of a similar lift on YouTube here:

My experience of such is that you had to make sure that you shut the lattice gates perfectly otherwise she would not go and you would then infuriate those calling from other floors. One or two still to be found in old office buildings in London.

Smith Major Stevens dated from 1760 in London manufacturing hoists. became the Express Lift Co of Northampton in 1930 then morphed into Otis…

28 05 2018
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Thanks for sharing that Paul! Much appreciated!

27 05 2018
Dawn Farnham

Jerome, this is the hospital which is described in great detail in He Wen Lit’s Syonan Interlude. He and his wife worked there during the Occupation and the building and its activities are wonderfully described and a treasure for any historian of that time. Thanks for the photos.
Dawn Farnham

28 05 2018
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Thanks Dawn. This is indeed the hospital, the Shimin Byoin, which the late Dr Ho / He described.

28 05 2018

what a gorgeous lift! understand it’s in working condition, but can people still use it or has it been cordoned off for heritage preservation?

28 05 2018
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

The lift was certified for use until March this year and will this will need to be reapplied for any future use. There is currently also no electricity supply to the building. The building is cordoned off as it is not tenanted at present. A visit to it is being organised possibly next month – keep a look out for that!

13 06 2018
Althea Ch

Why is it called the Hospital at Mount Erskine? Isn’t mount erskine in penang?

13 06 2018
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

We had a Mount Erskine too, much of which was levelled the end of the 1800s for the first Telok Ayer reclamation. What remained went, when the MND Building was being built at the end of the 1960s. Erskine Road is named after the hill.

Plan of Singapore, 1846 (National Archives of Singapore)

15 05 2021
Roy Boey

I was borned & grown up in Club Street, which is situated next to Ann Siang Hill which roll down to Erskine road. This hospital original site was a Malay Kampong, it was later converted into an outpatience hospital. In the early 60s my mum frequently brought me here for asthma treatment. Eskine Hill used to be a kampong occupied mainly by Chinese & further down at junction of Kadayanallur road & Maxwell road there was GasTank run PUB, & next to this was a Tamil Pri School.

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