Lost places: the police station at Singapore’s “little garden suburb”

26 06 2022

The area around the fifth milestone of Aukang / Serangoon was once described as a “little garden suburb”. That was back in the 1930s, around the time when the area gained a degree of prominence as a rural centre with the opening of RAF Seletar just three miles up Yio Chu Kang Road. The period was indeed a busy period in terms of the development of the area with the construction of several of the area’s landmarks. This included the building of a new police station, which replaced an older station, a Municipal market at Lim Tua Tow Road which could be thought of as being the predecessor of the 1950s built market that many in my generation would know, and the older Paya Lebar Methodist Church (and the girls school).

Paya Lebar Police Station, 1958
(Charles Ralph Saunders, posted by Stewart Saunders on On a Little Street in Singapore)

The police station traced its history back to the 1870s, having been set up along what was essentially on of the first cross-island roads that led to Serangoon Harbour (Kangkar). The station building that most will remember was a replacement that was built around 1929; its construction comings as part of a decade-long modernisation effort that was initiated by Inspector General Harold Fairburn to bring greater professionalism the Straits Settlements Police Force. That station was also one built as a police division headquarters or HQ (Paya Lebar Division was initially named “G” Division before becoming “F” Division), and thus bore the characteristics of many of the some of the larger out-of-town stations of the era and also several buildings within the Old Police Academy. As with the main stations coming up back then, Paya Lebar’s was provided with low-rise barrack blocks to house the rank and file. Over the yeats, a nursery and orchard were added, along with a fish pond and an aviary. Prior to the station’s decommissioning, the practice of housing police officers and their families was stopped and the barracks were converted for use as police offices.

The fifth mile area in 1967. The police station can be seen top centre on the left and the older Paya Lebar Methodist Church top centre on the right of Upper Serangoon Road (photo: National Archives of Singapore)

What was interesting about the “F” Division was that it was the second largest in Singapore, covering an area of some 139 square kilometres. This extended to a part of Singapore that included two airports (Paya Lebar International Airport and Seletar Air Base), the area of the former Naval Base where the UNHCR maintained a refugee camp, and the notorious Tai Seng, Ang Mo Kio and Chong Pang areas, which were hotbed of secret society activity and the officers at the station certainly had their hands full.

The area before the Forest Woods development came up, dominated by the Upper Serangoon Viaduct (the former barracks can be seen on the left)

The division also served a population of almost 450,000 by the time the station was decommissioned in August 1987 following its move to Ang Mo Kio. This coincided with the completion of a new division HQ station and Paya Lebar Division morphing into the current Ang Mo Kio Police Division. Rapid urbanisation and redevelopment, including the development of the huge Ang Mo Kio New Town, and the need for modern infrastructure, made the move necessary. The former station’s buildings were then used by the 3rd Division SCDF from 1988 until a new Divisional HQ and fire station was completed in 2005 at Yishun Industrial Park A.

The widening of Upper Serangoon Road in way of its junction with Upper Paya Lebar and Boundary Roads to accommodate a flyover, saw to the demolition of the former station. The other reminders of the station, in the form of its former accommodation blocks, used in the interim as educational premises, were only demolished in late 2016 following the sale of the plot in late 2015 through a tender exercise for private residential development. The site, which was bought for some SGD321 million is now where Forest Woods, a condominium complex, now stands.

Harold Fairburn

Modernising the Straits Settlements Police Force (SSPF)

The effort to modernise the police force was an initiative of Harold Fairburn, Inspector General of the Straits Settlements Police Force (SSPF) from 1925 to 1935. It came during a period of time when the SSPF faced great challenges in dealing with a wave of criminal activity. Singapore, then also known as “Sin-galore”, had the reputation of being the “Chicago of the East”. An improvement in policing methods, in recruitment of personnel, and in the methods of training was sorely needed. A massive building programme was also initiated to improve facilities, and living conditions of police personnel and their families and out of this programme, came the Police Training Depot (old Police Academy), stations such as the “Police Skyscraper” or Hill Street Police Station, Maxwell Road Police Station and Beach Road Police Station, were built. Stations also featured barrack accommodation. Accommodation facilities for also provided for the Sikh contingent at Pearls Hill.




2 responses

26 06 2022

Dear Jerome Lim,

I’ve been following you since 2008 and I was wondering if you have an association? Or are part of NGO? Within a consortium of 3 research labs we are on street market, we are looking for an Associate Partner to join our research proposal for an European grant. Would you be interested in joining ourreserach project?

Best regards,

[cid:388ffc62-2642-4f58-9c0c-552c30805abe] Louisette Rasoloniaina PhD student in Architecture Doctoral teaching mission in Architectural Project and Seminar. Coordinator of the vesperals and matins doctoral SD&EP seminar (ENSAPVS) Co-coordinator of ICT doctoral seminar (Université Paris Cité) Publication:

Levy, Jean-Claude, Mayet, Pierre and Rasoloniaina, Louisette (2021). Economie Circulaire : « L’intelligence des limites » système terre, système urbain, écosystèmes. Editions Presses des Ponts. * Rasoloniaina, Louisette(2021). “Phantasmagoria” Inclusive Museum, Editions Common Ground. * Ceccarini P., Rasoloniaina F. L., 2021. Le teorie della catastrofe e delle affordances.Ripensare l’epistemologia e la prassi architettonica e urbana [The catastrophe & affordances theories.To rethink architectural and urban epistemology & praxis], In : Metamorfosi Volume 09, Lettera Ventidue, p122-129. * Cuppini, Niccolo, Rasoloniaina, Louisette (2021). “Trans-Urban and Global Systems: two perspectives emerging beyond the Scalar Thought”, In: The global city: the urban condition as a pervasive phenomenon, chapter C4., p. 248. * Rasoloniaina, Louisette (2021). “Swahili Echo-systemy : a pattern for the symbiotic megaregion”, In: The global city: the urban condition as a pervasive phenomenon, chapter C4., p. 276. * Levy, Jean-Claude, Rasoloniaina, Louisette (2020). Economie “circulaire” des routes de la soie, déroute des empires. Editions Presses des Ponts, pp 224.

26 06 2022
Constantine Ng

Thank you for this post. Paya Lebar police station holds memories for me as my old school St Gabriel’s School was a short walk away. I also live just opposite the Nex mall. We live out our life’s memories in familiar surroundings.

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