Kinloss at Lady Hill Road

16 08 2017

Occupying an area of some 2,400 square metres – the size of ten HDB 4-room flats – the gem of a house at 3 Lady Hill Road is huge by any standards. Set in 1.9 hectares of land that was once part of Scottish merchant Gilbert Angus’ Lady Hill estate, the house is laid out is an untypical fashion and has over the years been put to a variety of uses.

The former Kinloss House today.

Known for much a greater part of its life as Kinloss or Kinloss House, a name that it acquired in the early 1900s, it has in more recent times been referred to as the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus. The French insurer, AXA, having occupied the premises since beautifully refurbishing and renovating it in 2009, vacated it about a month back. The house now empty, wears much of what has gone into it in the last eight years less its furnishings. What will become of it in the future is not yet known.

A meeting room put in by AXA  located in what would have been part of the boarding house’s huge refectory.

Alexander Murray

The origins of Kinloss lies with another Scotsman, the Colonial Engineer Alexander Murray, who is best known perhaps for his work on the design of Victoria Memorial Hall. Murray, a British army engineer who moved from Calcutta, had it built as his private residence in 1903. It is not known what motivated him to name the house Kinloss, but the proximity of the Scottish village to Lady Hill Castle in Elgin could perhaps be a possible explanation. Little is known of the house that Murray built in its early years except for the fact that it became the residence of the Consul of Japan to Singapore in 1909, after Murray’s retirement and return home in 1907, until sometime in the mid-1920s.

What would have been the boarding house’s library.

Much more is certain about the use of Kinloss after the war. The British Military set it up as an Officers’ Mess in the years after, before turning it into a boarding house in 1957. As a boarding house, Kinloss House took in the children of military personnel who were posted to Malaya and also other parts of the region. Singapore had then been where the British Military Education Service had set schools up. The need for a large boarding house, with a capacity of 150 children, was very much due to the increase in postings of personnel “up-country” to deal with the Malayan Emergency. Barrack-like dormitories and sporting facilities – of which evidence still exists – were added to the sprawling grounds for this purpose. This arrangement lasted until 1970 when the property was handed over to the Singapore government for its use as the University of Singapore’s newly established Faculty of Architecture.

Kinloss House during its days as a boarding house (source: http://www.geocities.ws/jkr8m/KINLOSS_house.jpg)).

Subsequent to the faculty’s move to the university’s new Kent Ridge Campus in 1976, Kinloss was transferred into the hands of the Police force to house the Police force’s Junior Officers’ Mess and Police Welfare Unit displaced by the closure in 1979 of Hill Street Police Station. Kinloss also housed several Police units such as the Arms and Explosives Branch. A Police co-operative retail store was also located on the premises. The Police moved from the premises in 2002 when a clubhouse was built at Ah Hood Road.

Participants of one of two tours I recently conducted as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property visits supported by the Singapore Land Authority.


Memories of Kinloss House (by Stephanie Keenan)

I was a boarder at Kinloss House 3 Ladyhill Road Singapore from September 1963 to May 1965.

My family lived ‘up country’ in Kuala Lumpur and the only British Forces run Grammar school was in Singapore, so those who passed their 11+ exam attended there. I remember and enjoyed the train journey from KL to Singapore and back, each end of term, and also (during & after Konfrontasi) the flights on the old Fokker Friendships.

Kinloss House was a well run boarding house with about 150 boarders and a live-in staff of about a dozen adults who were either Army Education Corps teachers or army nurses or local catering staff. The teachers and prefects exerted some strict discipline, but my lasting impression is that it was a happy place.

The former Kinloss House seen from the Nassim Road end.

Those living in Singapore attended the school as day pupils. After the new St Johns School opened in Dover Road, Sept 1964, new boarding houses were built there, and the older boarders went to board there. My fellow boarders were British, Australian, New Zealanders, Gurkhas. Also some Dutch children from Indonesia. We attended school near the Gillman Barracks in the mornings and had the long afternoons to play or take part in various sporting actitvities and then a set ‘prep’ time in the evening to do our homework.

A spiral staircase.

The other boarders lived all over Malaya – some up as far as the East coast somewhere, but mainly from Terendak near Malacca and Penang as well as Taiping and KL, although I think I was the only one from there when I started school. We all have not so fond memories of climbing a steep slope there in the morning and dashing down it in the rain at lunchtimes to catch the buses back to Kinloss. And we often sang on the bus journey back and forth! We got up to all the usual high jinks too like midnight feasts (although we were told NOT to keep food in our rooms due to ants and fruit bats), dorm raids with water and flour bombs, apple pie beds and jumping off the wardrobes onto a pile of mattresses.

The old Alexandra Grammar School became a comprehensive school and was renamed Bourne school in September 1964 when St. John’s opened. The old Alexander Grammar School at Preston Road is still there and is now the International School (ISS). St Johns is also still there and is now the UWCSEA.

Kinloss House

In the main house there were female dormitories and in the grounds, which sloped down in a series of terraces towards a stream, were a series of long barrack type huts which were also dormitories for the boys and older girls, the staff quarters, ‘sick bay’ and store rooms. These huts were demolished in about the 1990s. The remains of the tennis and basketball courts can still be found, now the territory of a monitor lizard and kingfishers.

The main staircase.

The interior of the house has been re-modelled in at least one of its tenancies. When I visited last year even the staircase was in a slightly different configuration. I remember as you entered the main house there was the Junior common room on your left, the refectory hall on your right, a smaller hall ahead of you (where I learned to ballroom dance) with adjoining housemaster’s and matron’s offices. The kitchens and local staff quarters were behind the refectory area and out of bounds to us students.

What would have been the Junior Common Room.

Upstairs, at the top of the stairs was a large open area bounded by a small ‘library’ which was where we did ‘prep’, watched the occasional film, and had weekly dances. Off this were two dormitories further staff quarters, and a small store room where memorably one of the biology teachers once enlightened us with the ‘facts of life’.

The staircase seen from what would have been the library.

Beyond the ‘prep’ area and above the refectory and kitchens were more dormitories clustered around an internal courtyard, which was used for parking. The whole perimeter area was encircled by a high barbed wire fence.

The internal courtyard.

The Kinloss House song (adapted from and sung to the tune ‘Oh Island in the Sun’ ) begins “Oh Kinloss in the sun, given to me by McLevie’s hand. All my days I will sing of hate of that big big house with the barbed wire gate”. Most ex Kinlossites, however, seem to look back on their time there as very happy. We worked hard, played hard, and benefitted from firm and mostly fair discipline.

Another view of the staircase and what would have been the library.

My understanding (via Mr David Anthony, housemaster during my time there) was that the house had been owned by a Mr Tan pre World War II, who had a number of cinemas in Singapore. It was taken over by the Japanese, and then again by the RAF after WWII.

The British High Commission was next door to Kinloss House when I was there. The Commissioner had a daughter Jill Moore who was the same age as me who was apparently lonely and so girls of my age, including me, were invited there for tea from time to time. I went the day after the Rolling Stones had visited and signed my name under theirs in the visitor’s book! When I went for tea Jill’s parents were absent and she was waited on by a tall Sikh servant in imposing turban.


The visit to 3 Lady Hill Road, the second in the ‘Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets’ series of State Property Visits, was made possible with the support by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). A total of about 60 participants were able to visit the property over two 45-minute tours. Another tour in the series that has been completed was to the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station. Future tours include ones to Old Kallang Airport on 26 Aug 2017 (for which no more spaces are available),  a yet to be disclosed location on 9 Sep 2017, and Old Admiralty House on 23 Sep 2017. Links will be posted for registration on a Friday two weeks prior to the respective event – do look out for announcements as to when the links will be posted on this site as well as on Facebook.


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit Old Kallang Airport

11 08 2017

Update
11 August 2017 9.15 am

Registration for the event has closed as of 0906 hours, 11 August 2017, as all slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to a surprise location being scheduled for 9 September 2017 at 10 am to 12 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


Old Kallang Airport needs no introduction. Decommissioned since 1955, what remains of Singapore’s very first civil airport has for what seems the longest of time looked out of place right next to Singapore’s very first highway. There is little in what’s left of it that tells us of the part it played in several historical moments including the arrival of a suitably impressed Amelia Earhart in the weeks after it was opened – just weeks before her mysterious disappearance, and also the dawn of the jet age in the few years before it closed. There is a chance to find out a little more of the part the airport – touted as the most modern aerodrome at its opening in June 1937, the part it played in Singapore’s aviation history, and discover some of the lovely spaces that lie within its buildings on 26 August 2017 as part of the third in the series of “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets” State Property Visits supported by the Singapore Land Authority.

The details of the visit are as follows:

Date : 26 August 2017
Time : 4 pm to 6 pm
Address: 9 Stadium Link Singapore 397750 (Access via Kallang Airport Way)

(Participants should be of age 18 and above)

Registration will close on 19 August at 11:59 pm, or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.


Further information / previous visits in the series:


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit Kinloss House

28 07 2017

Update
28 July 2017 6.10 pm

Registration for the event has closed as of 1810 hours, 28 July 2017, as all slots for the two tours have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to Old Kallang Airport scheduled for 26 August 2017 at 4 to 6 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


The former Kinloss House, more recently repurposed as the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus, sits in an exclusive and sprawling 1.9 hectare site at the Lady Hill Road. Thought to have originally been built as a private residence of the then Colonial Engineer Alexander Murray in the early 1900s, the property has undergone several transformations. Over the years, it has seen use as a residence for the Japanese Consul, a British Army officers’ mess, a boarding house for children of Far East based British military personnel, the University of Singapore’s Faculty of Architecture and a Police junior officers’ mess. Beautifully restored when it was turned into the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus, a training centre for the AXA Group, in 2009, the property now sits vacant.

As part of Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets, two 45-minute tours will be run in the afternoon of 12 August 2017. The first tour will be conducted at 4 pm and the second at 5 pm. There is a maximum capacity of 30 participants per tour and registration will be required at:

Registration for Tour 1 (4pm): https://goo.gl/forms/WrKxjB9isGtXKiV22

Registration for Tour 2 (5pm): https://goo.gl/forms/TTEKlGDzFl8Jl9hb2

Registration will close on 5 August at 11:59 pm, or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.

The beautifully restored property was repurposed as the AXA University Asia Pacific Campus in 2009 (source: online at HYLA Architects).

Further information:





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit a former power station

14 07 2017

Registration for the event has closed as of 1800 hours, 14 July 2017, as all slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to a gem of a former boarding house scheduled for 12 August 2017 at 4 to 6 pm. More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


There are some gems of spaces and structures that belong to the State. Locked away behind locked gates and with “No Trespassing” signs prominently displayed, they are hidden away from most of us. That is of course for a very good reason, but what it also means is that many will never get to appreciate the beauty found in these spaces and structures. Thanks to the support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the agency under the Ministry of Law that manages State Property, an arrangement has been made to have some of these otherwise secretive sites opened up for a supervised group visit.

The first property that will feature in this series of State Property visits, will be the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station on 29 July 2017. The former station building, which is still in excellent condition, features a red-bricked face typical of utilitarian architecture of the era it was built in. It has two spacious halls, supported by frames of steel, are well lit by natural light coming in through the building’s generous openings. Now cleared of its boilers and turbines, it is a joy for a photographer. More about the building and the former station’s history can be found at: Beautiful in its abandonment: the red-brick power station at Pasir Panjang.

Pre-registration will be required for the visit, which is scheduled for 10 am to 12 noon, as there are limited spaces. The visit will also be limited to those of ages 18 and above due to safety considerations.

To register, please visit https://goo.gl/forms/fVfkDckml3CKznBi2.

Registration will close on 22 July 11:59 pm or when the limit for participants has been reached. Do also keep a lookout for visits being organised to other State Property in the weeks and months ahead.





Ten 100 year old places in Singapore and the little stories they hide

9 07 2017

Surprising as it may seem, places that go back more than a hundred years are not uncommon in the midst of urban Singapore’s gleaming modernity. Not unexpectedly, many of these places hide a story or two, stories that relate to their history, and also ones that speak of Singapore’s linkages with the wider world. Here is a pick of ten such places with rather interesting tales to tell:


(1) The pagoda supported by eight “dimwits” 

Telok Ayer Street, a landing point for early immigrants in days when the sea washed up to it, is littered with the reminders of the forgotten days of adventure. The street is dotted with religious structures aplenty. Now reconstructions of the simple prayer houses put up by those whom came from distant lands so as to permit thanks to be offered to their gods for the safe passage, they offer insights into the origins of some of modern Singapore’s early settlers.

A cluster of Chinese structures from the mid 19th century, with two well ornamented pagodas, is found in the middle section of the street. The structures, which display the distinctive Minnan style of architecture, tell us of two waves of Hokkien settlers not just to Singapore but also to the region.

One of the pagodas is the Chung-Wen pagoda. Built initially for the worship of the god of literature, and used later as a school, it displays a little noticed but a rather interesting ornamental feature that was introduced to Minnan architecture during the Tang dynasty that takes the form of craved wooden figures of men with distinctively non-Chinese facial features dressed in colourful robes. The carved figures, appended in a corbel like fashion to the junctions of the beams and columns supporting the topmost tier of the pagoda, appear to be propping the structure up. The pieces, of which eight are found on the pagoda, are referred to in a rather disparaging manner as “dim-witted foreigners” in the vernacular. They have no structural function and are apparently a fairly commonly used decorative element in Minnan architecture. Rather than being an attempt to belittle, they are thought instead to have been a commemoration of the efforts of non-native workmen during the Tang period.

More on the Chung-Wen pagoda at : What’s propping a mid 1800s pagoda up on Telok Ayer Street


(2) A mosque with a leaning church steeple

Now fronted by a recently planted grove of gelam or Eucalyptus trees of a type from which Kampong Gelam (or Glam) got its name, is a mosque with an untypical minaret built into its boundary wall, the Hajjah Fatimah Mosque.

While the minaret’s claim to fame may be its tilt of 6 degrees –  for which it is known as the “Leaning Tower of Singapore”, what seems more noticeable is the minaret’s resemblance to a church’s steeple. Strange as it may sound, it may actually have been the steeple of the original St. Andrew’s Church (now the Cathedral) that served as an inspiration. The church  got its steeple in 1842, just a few years before the mosque was built.

Now stabilised, the tilt of the minaret has been attributed to the settlement of the less compact structure of the hand-made bricks employed in its construction. The mosque finds itself in an odd position as a shophouse-lined road, Java Road, once ran along its walls.

More photographs of the mosque and its unique minaret can be found at this link.


(3) A temple with furniture “made in Ngau Che Shui” 

Close-up of characters carved on the table. The Chinese characters ‘牛車水’ indicate that there were furniture craftsmen present in Singapore at a time when a lot of such commissioned work would have been carried out in China.

The Mun San Fook Tuck Chee temple has its roots in the Cantonese and Hakka coolie community who settled around the banks of the Kallang River in the mid-1800s. Many in the community found work in the brick kilns near the village of Sar Kong (or Sand Ridge) and helped established the temple in the 1860s. The term “Mun San” found in the temple’s name, is thought to be a corruption of the Malay word bangsal or shed or workshop and points to the area’s industrial origins.

The temple, which moved to its current premises in the early 1900s, is also a rare example of Cantonese style religious architecture in Singapore. What is perhaps more interestingly, is its furniture. A table used in the temple has the words “牛車水” carved into it, as a mark of its origin. “牛車水”, or ngau-che-shui as it would have been pronounced in Cantonese, translates literally to “Ox-Cart Water” and means “Bullock Water Cart”. This of course is a local reference to what we know today as Chinatown. The table is rather unusual in the sense that such items were then more commonly imported from China and what it does show is that wood craftsmen were then already present in Singapore’s Chinatown.

More on the temple at : On Borrowed Time: Mun San Fook Tuck Chee


(4) The graveyard of the would be successors of the Riau-Lingga Empire

Keramat Bukit Kasita on the slopes of Bukit Purmei, surrounded by block of HDB flats, is quite a curious sight. The old cemetery, with walls that give it an appearance of a fortified compound, has graves dressed both in the yellow of Malay royalty and green of holy men. Although it is quite unlikely, there are those who believe that the graveyard dates back to the 16th century. Even less likely is the claim that one of the graves purportedly belongs to “Sultan Iskandar Shah”.

What seems evident however, is that the oldest tomb goes back to 1721, which is well before Raffles and the British arrived. The cemetery is also known to be the burial place of Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Shah II, who was the very last sultan of Riau-Lingga, the Dutch influenced remnant of the once great Johor-Riau-Lingga empire. Uncooperative, Abdul Rahman II was driven out by the Dutch in 1911 and died a pauper in Singapore in 1930. Several of his descendants are also buried in the cemetery.

More at : A vestige of 16th Century Singapura?

The Riau-Lingga sultanate was formed in the wake of the death of Sultan Mahmud Shah III – the last ruler of the once great Johor-Riau-Lingga Sultanate. Supported by the Dutch, the half-brother of the would be Sultan Hussein Shah of Singapore – Abdul Rahman (I) was installed as its sultan; a move that would be cemented by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. The sultanate would see five sultans reign before it was dissolved by the Dutch in 1911.


(5) The house of the rising sun

Emily Hill, a villa that dates back to the end of the 19th century, has had quite an eventful past. It has seen its ownership passed from the hands of the Sultan of Siak, first to a dentist and then to the Department of Social Welfare and its occupants include Managing Directors of a trading firm, dentists, the Consul-General of Japan and former prostitutes. In more recent times, the National Arts Council has taken over and it has been used as an arts school as well as a venue for the arts.

With the clutter that has been added to the area in the last 30 to 40 years, it is hard now to imagine that the house actually occupied a prominent position overlooking Middle Road. The road was the heart of a sizeable Japanese community in the early part of the 20th century, and was known as Chuo Dori (or Central Street) to the Japanese. Because of its position, it was chosen by an increasingly militant Japan to serve as a focal point for the community here as the office of its Consul-General in 1939. As the Japanese Consulate, it flew the flag of the rising sun from a position that was almost as lofty as Government House, perched atop nearby Mount Caroline. This continued until 1941 when the Japanese were expelled from Singapore.

Another aspect of the house that few seem to know about, was the misfortune that befell several of its early occupants in the form of a spate of premature deaths in the 1890s. One unfortunate victim was on of the Katz Brothers’s MDs who took up residence there, the 45 year old Mr Heinrich Bock. His death, from a fall off a balcony on 31 May 1896, occurred in rather mysterious circumstances and was ruled by the coroner to be due to “suicide whilst temporarily insane”.

More on Emily Hill at : A Last Reminder of an Old-Fashioned Corner of Singapore

Middle Road when it would have been referred to as Chuo Dori in the 1930s. Osborne House, the Japanese Consulate from 1939 to 1941 can be seen atop Mount Emily, beyond at the northwest end of the street.


(6) The Portuguese Bishop’s Palace

Built in 1912, the 3-storey rectory of St. Joseph’s Church, wears the appearance described as Portuguese Baroque. Intended to provide a parish hall and well as accommodation for the church’s clergymen, the house also has a room on its second floor and a small chapel on the third, reserved for the Roman Catholic Bishop of Macau. The church’s origins was in the Portuguese Mission. Rather uniquely in Singapore, it was a parish first of the diocese of Goa and later of Macau – both of which were Portuguese colonies. As such, the Bishop of Macau, visited regularly as the head of the diocese and this made it a palace of sorts for the Macanese Primate until the church’s links with Macau ceased in 1999 with the former colony’s transfer to China (the anticipation of Macau’s transfer to China saw St. Joseph’s Church transferred to the Archdiocese of Singapore in 1981, although the Bishop of Macau continued to appoint its priests until 1999).

More on Parochial House, as the rectory building is now known, at: A look into the Portuguese Church’s beautiful Parochial House


(7) A final hiding place among the old gravestones 

The Aljunied al-Islamiah Cemetery, is one of two old Muslim cemeteries from the 19th century that straddle “Grave Road” or Jalan Kubor in Kampong Gelam. It’s links go back to the prominent Yemeni-Arab Aljunied family with its patriarch, Syed Omar Ali having been buried on the grounds, which he bought and donated to the community as a burial ground, in 1852. The cemetery is also associated with an incident in December 1972 during which two gunmen at the top of Singapore’s most wanted list, who were brothers, took their own lives after being cornered by the police. This came at a time when gun crime was not uncommon in Singapore and when several gunmen were on the loose. The two brothers involved in this case, Abdul and Mustapha Wahab, were especially daring and trigger-happy and the incident brought to a one-and-a-half month reign of terror to a close.

More on this incident can be found in a previous post: When gunmen roamed the streets of Singapore: a showdown at Jalan Kubor.


(8) A grave that holds the remains of 10,000 fallen soldiers

With graves that date back to 1889, the Japanese Cemetery in Chuan Hoe Avenue counts as one of the oldest un-exhumed non-Muslim burial sites in Singapore. Established by Japanese rubber plantation owners who were also brothel keepers to allow hundreds of karayuki-san (women who came over from impoverished parts of Japan to work in the vice trade in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s), the cemetery has not just the simple headstones marking where these unfortunate women are buried but also the graves of several interesting characters. A charnel containing part of the remains of Singapore’s first Japanese resident, Yamamoto Otokichi or John M. Ottoson, is one. Otokichi had quite an eventful life. He survived a 14 month long ordeal in a drifting wreck of a ship to become the first translator of the bible into Japanese and settled eventually in Singapore.

The cemetery is also linked somehow to Singapore’s darkest of days. Besides being where Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Southern Command of the Japanese Imperial Army during the war, was first buried; the cemetery is also where a grave containing the ashes of 10,000 Japanese soldiers who fell during the war in the Pacific is found. The ashes were moved to the site after the Japanese ritually destroyed a war memorial erected at the top of Bukit Batok at which the ashes were originally placed, the Syonan Chureito, in the days leading up to their surrender.

More on the cemetery at : Voices from a forgotten past.


(9) A church building occupied by Sin

Now occupied by Objectifs, visual arts centre, the oldest building now on Middle Road has distinctively church-like features. Built in the 1870s, it originally housed a Christian Institute before turning into a church, the “Malay Church”, from 1885 to 1929. It has for the longest of time however not been used as a church, housing a restaurant during the war before being used from the 1950s to the 1980s as – of all things – a motor vehicle workshop by the name of Sin Sin!
More on the building: A church once occupied by Sin,


(10) A bridge that was a tomb for over 20 years

Anderson Bridge, completed in 1910 so that Cavenagh Bridge could be replaced, seems to have had quite a gruesome past. Known as the “Bridge of Death” in the 1950s for the spate of deaths from accidents involving motorcyclists, it was also one of several locations at which the heads of beheaded criminals were put on display in the early days of the Japanese Occupation to instill fear in the general population.

The bridge also became a tomb for over two decades from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, without anyone knowing. The skeleton of a man, Mr Ong Choon Lim, was discovered  by a worker carrying out maintenance in February 1987.  Ong, who would have been in his 50s when he died, had last been seen alive by members of his family in 1960. The skeleton was found with two rings, a watch, $9 in currency notes issued prior to 1967, an identity card issued in 1948 and a certificate issued in July 1961. Ong was thought to have died sometime in between 1962 and 1967, which meant that his remains would have lain undiscovered for over 20 years.

The bridge is one of five bridges over the Singapore River that were given conservation status in 2009. More on its conservation: Singapore River Bridges


 





Beautiful in its abandonment: the red-brick power station at Pasir Panjang

20 06 2017

There is a certain charm about the utilitarian, red-brick faced ‘A’ power station at Pasir Panjang. Comparable in appearance to the much-loved and now lost National Library at Stamford Road, the former station stands in relative obscurity in a neglected corner of Singapore.

Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station. Commissioned in 1953, it was Singapore’s second power station. Decommisisoned in the early 1980s, it lost its two iconic 235 foot high chimneys in the 1990s.

‘A’ station, completed in 1952-53, acquired the designation ‘A’ when a second or ‘B’ station was added just adjacent to it in 1965. Built at a time when such red-brick faced constructions seemed the fashion, it is evocative of an age at which the foundations for Singapore’s huge transformation were being laid. The elegance that ‘A’ station wears, one that seems to be missing in the form of its nearby and more modern counterpart, belies the fact that the station had been built in desperate circumstances. At the point of its opening, Singapore’s second station, constructed almost three decades after the first, was badly needed due to an acute shortage in electricity supply. St. James, Singapore’s first power station, which had been built with an initial capacity of 2 MW in 1926., was producing a maximum of 37 MW by 1948 (see also Electricity in Singapore). However, by 1950, maximum demand stood at 43.5 MW, and with the supply clearly insufficient, load shedding was introduced. This affected one-third of the electrical consumers in the municipality turned city each night.

The red brick power station and its two 235 feet high chimneys in the early days of the station (online at https://roots.sg/).

‘A’ power station was opened by Governor Sir John Nicoll on 3 July 1953 to great promise. Two of the intended six 25 MW turbo-alternators had been commissioned by then. More were to be added and by 1958, it had reached it intended output of 150 MW – a number that was thought at the planning stage to be sufficient to meet power supply requirements for 20 years. In that time, 260 substations were also built, some 230 kilometres of 22kV distribution cables laid (there also was an upgrade from a 6.6 kV transmission system to a 22 kV one) and 34,700 consumers added. Bulk supply could also provided to Johor Bahru. Power supplied by the station also helped launch Singapore’s big industrial push in the 1960s. With demand already reaching 105.7 MW in at the point of the commissioning of the sixth alternator, an additional 25 kW was added to Pasir Panjang ‘A’ station’s capacity in 1962. With demand increasing,  the construction of a new station, the ‘B’ station, commenced soon after  in 1963.

The former Pasir Panjang ‘B’ Power Station, which was opened in October 1965.

‘B’ station opened with an initial capacity of 120 MW in October 1965, half of its planned capacity of 240 MW. Even this would not be enough to fuel the rapid growth in demand and a new 240 MW power station in Jurong Industrial Estate had to be planned for as the ‘B’ station was taking shape. The commissioning of ‘B’ Station also allowed electrical power supplied to the island of Pulau Bukom from November 1965. Power on the island, where Shell commissioned Singapore’s first refinery in the early 1960s, had to be drawn from the island’s own generating plant prior to this. The opening of the ‘B’ station also saw the transmission system upgraded to 66kV with the existing 22 kV system relegated to a sub-transmission system (the current high voltage transmission network, introduced in 1976, distributes electricity at 230 kV).

Inside the Turbine Hall of the ‘A’ power station (online at National Archives of Singapore Online).

The death knell for the stations was sounded in the late 1970s with more advanced, higher capacity, and cleaner (one common complaint was of soot falling from the sky in the area) power stations such as Senoko and Pulau Seraya being built. ‘A’ station was decommissioned in mid-1980 and ‘B’ in the late 1990s. The stations’ buildings were re-purposed following their decommissioning and are still standing today sans their iconic chimneys. While ‘A’ station is now left vacant, ‘B’ station’s main building is currently in use as the Pasir Panjang District Office of SP PowerGrid Ltd. It is not known what the future holds for the two sets of buildings as the only thing that the URA Master Plan tells us, is that the stations sit on a “reserve site”.

Related:


Note: My visit to the former Pasir Panjang Power Station was made with the kind permission of the Singapore Land Authority.


The abandoned Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station

The cleared out Turbine Hall.

Tall steel columns of the Turbine Hall – part of the metal skeleton of the building.

Reflections on the Turbine Hall.

The building has a generous amount of windows to allow natural light in.

Space under the platform of the Turbine Hall.

Reflections of the skylight in the Turbine Hall.

A steel beam, marked with its origin.

Electricity was distributed at 6. 6 kV before Pasir Panjang was built, when high-voltage transmission was done at 22 kV. The Pasir Panjang generators produced electricity at distribution voltage, and this be fed directly into the transmission network.

Transmission was switched to a higher voltage of 66 kV when the ‘B’ station was completed in 1965 and the 22 kV transmission network was used as a sub-distribution system.

Colour coded fire hydrant.

Stairway to the platform level.

The Boiler Hall.

Steel columns on the platform level.

Another view of the platform level.

Bracing on the steel framework.

Storage tanks for the power station’s oil fired boilers.

A weighbridge.

A last look at the Turbine Hall.


Some ‘B’ station facilities

‘B’ station’s pump house – the cooling plant, originally supplied by Mather and Platt Ltd, could supply 50,000 gallons of water a minute.

Inside the pump house.

Inside the pump house.

The added capacity of the ‘B’ power station permitted the supply of power to Pulau Bukom in Nov 1965. The commissioning to the ‘B’ power station also saw a shift to a 66 kV high voltage distribution network with the 22 kV network relegated to a sub-transmission system.

A room inside the chlorine handling facility.

Inside the chlorine handling facility.


Electricity in Singapore

The use of electricity for the purposes of lighting in Singapore goes back to 1897 when the Tanjong Pagar Dock company introduced electric lighting to its machine shops. It would be some years before the Municipality would adopt electric street lighting, which was introduced to Raffles Place, North Bridge Road and Boat Quay in 1906. This move coincided with the installation of a generator by the Singapore Tramways Company (later Singapore Traction Company) at MacKenzie Road for the purposes of powering its electric trams. Excess electricity distributed via a 460 V D.C. three-wire network, was sold in bulk to the Municipality, who in turn also sold electricity to some 42 consumers. This grew to 110 consumers in the first year and expanded rapidly thereafter.

The generating station at Singapore Tramways Company’s MacKenzie Road depot.

This arrangement went on for some 20 years, with supply also provided by the Singapore Harbour Board from 1924, until the coal fired St. James Power Station was built in 1926. The construction of the station were on the recommendations of a commission appointed by the Municipal Commission. The site at the promontory at St. James was selected due to its location by the coast as well as its proximity to the railway line, which ran to Pasir Panjang. This allowed the coal required to fire the station’s boilers to be delivered either by sea or by rail.





The knight whose works enriched a “cultural desert”

16 06 2017

I have long been fascinated by Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, the Italian sculptor who spent a better part of his life in Southeast Asia. Over a period spanning 35 years, his mastery in pre-cast decorative mouldings and finishes provided many of Singapore’s buildings with a finishing touch. All in all he would spend 42 years away from his native Italy, leaving his mark not just in Singapore, but also in Siam, Malaya and Brunei.

Collyer Quay at the end of the 1920s, a world that Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli had a hand in decorating.

Of the numerous structures Cavaliere Nolli lent a hand to in Singapore, it is on the old Supreme Court that we see his impressive works. Built in 1939, the old Supreme Court features the largest concentration of Cavaliere Nolli’s efforts now found in the city-state. His decorative and finishing touches cover the grand old dame’s exterior with the exception of the friezes on the porch and a now missing coat of arms. It is however the massive sculptural pieces that adorn its pediment that is most eye-catching. Weighing a total of 13 tons, and measuring 2.7 metres high at the apex and 11 metres wide, the sculptural depiction of the Allegory of Justice in very classical form is the grandest of works that Cavaliere Nolli has here to his name. It is not just the sheer scale of the work that will impress, but also the display of artistic mastery found in the sculptures.

Much of the exterior decorative work on the old Supreme Court (now the Supreme Court Wing of the National Gallery) can be attributed to Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli.

Cavaliere Nolli considered his efforts on the old Supreme Court to be his “proudest achievement”. They would have provided him with at least some measure of having achieved an ambition he had hoped to achieve by coming across to Asia in 1913 – to make a name as a famous sculptor. Once here, he found Singapore especially to be a “cultural desert” and most of what he did would be in a capacity as a stonework contractor.

A map showing the reach of Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli’s work in Southeast Asia (Exhibtion panel from “The Italian Connection”).

As a stonework contractor, Cavaliere Nolli worked tirelessly. He excelled in plasterwork – a skill he picked up working on the finishing on the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Bangkok – and also in casting artificial stone. There was particularly in high demand for the latter driven by the use of new building techniques such as the use of reinforced concrete. He produced artificial stone finishing tiles to clad these new edifices. These granolithic tiles, made from cement with aggregate mixed in, gave the new buildings the appearance of having been built out of solid granite without the expense involved. The lightweight tiles were made very economically through the use of moulds. This allowed both repeatability and consistency necessary for mass production.

The Billiard Room of the Singapore Club – showing the exquisite plasterwork of Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli on its barrel vaulted ceiling. The room is now the Straits Room in the Fullerton Hotel (The Fullerton Heritage).

The technique could also extended to produce stone-like ornamental pieces and other decorative elements such as crests and coats of arms. It was for such work, commissioned for the completion of the (second) Ocean Building, that drew Cavaliere Nolli from Bangkok in 1921. Cavaliere Nolli was also employed to provide similar finishes for the Union Building and the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers, two more additions made to Collyer Quay in the 1920s.

A close-up of the smooth granolithic finish on the exterior of the old Supreme Court.

Nolli was heavily involved in the decorations of many more of the decade’s new buildings such as the David Elias Building, Connell House and the Netherlands Trading Society Building. Castings of crests, coats of arms and semi-sculptural work were also popular and that same decade, the Edward VII College of Medcine, Elgin Bridge, Crawford Bridge, and the Fullerton Building were beneficiaries of this work. Much, much more was to follow. Granolithic finishes produced by Nolli found their way to numerous new erections, one of which was the old Supreme Court.

One of the works of Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli on the (Edward VII) College of Medicine Building – an eagle with spread wings (a symbol of protection).

Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli’s skills in casting, also extended to the production of artificial stone columns and their capitals. The Ionic capitals he produced for the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers was one of the first he worked on. Also out of Cavaliere Nolli’s Scotts Road workshop were the huge columns and intricate Corinthian capitals that we see on the old Supreme Court.

Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli at the top of the old Supreme Court with a close up of the columns and the intricate Corinthian capitals that were cast by him (Lina Brunner Collection, National Archives of Singapore).

Cavaliere Nolli was bestowed with the Order of the Crown of Italy – a form of knighthood that carried with it the title Cavaliere – in 1925. While his life here may have appeared to have gone on rather smoothly, it was not without incident or setback. A motoring accident, early one Sunday morning in October 1934 at Meyer Road, left him seriously injured. Both of the sculptor’s arms were fractured and he required surgery on the right arm. A citizen of one of the Axis states, Cavaliere Nolli was also interned in Australia during the Second World War from 1941 to 1945. On his return to Singapore in 1946, he found his Scotts Road studio and workshop in a rather poor state. All that he had left in it was also missing, including a collection of over 300 art books and his set of tools.

One of the first postwar works Cavaliere Nolli produced was this precast crest for Hongkong and Shanghai Bank on MacDonald House in Orchard Road.

Cavaliere Nolli overcame that setback and received several commissions before his retirement in 1956. Among his last works in Singapore were a pair of sculptured stone lions for the Bank of China and a coloured sculptured plaque for Van Kleef Aquarium. The last large scale project he worked on before his retirement was the decorative stonework for the magnificent Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei. He returned to his native Italy following his retirement and passed away in December 1963 at the age of 75. He left a daughter, the then Hong Kong based Mrs Lina Brunner, behind.

One of Cavaliere Nolli’s last works in Singapore was a pair of lions for the Bank of China. Left: Cavaliere Nolli with one of the lions in his studio (Lina Brunner Collection, National Archives of Singapore). Right: The pair of lions seen today.

To discover more on Cavaliere Nolli’s life and work and his reach outside of Singapore, do visit The Italian Connection, which I had a hand in curating for The Fullerton Hotel. Held at the East Garden Foyer of The Fullerton Hotel, the exhibition has been put up as part of the Fullerton Building’s 89th Anniversary this June. Besides providing a glance at Cavaliere Nolli’s life, the exhibition also looks at the Italian community and  its connections with modern Singapore that go back to the early 19th century. There is also that connection that the Fullerton Building has, through Cavaliere Nolli at its very beginnings and today through the illustrious General Manager of The Fullerton Heritage, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale.

One of Cavaliere Nolli’s more obscure works – reliefs of angels made for the chapel of St. Anthony’s Convent in 1952.


More on the exhibition and the works Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli can also be found at:


The old Supreme Court’s Allegory of Justice

Cavaliere Nolli’s Allegory of Justice in the tympanum of the old Supreme Court.

The old Supreme Court’s sculptures, which took Cavaliere Nolli more than a year to complete, are as interesting as they are impressive. Its centrepiece is Lady Justice, which alone weighs 4 tons. Quite noticeably missing is the blindfold, an attribute thought to be central to the depictions of Justice representing impartiality.

There has been many suggestions as to why this may be so, but Justice’s depiction in this manner is actually quite consistent with many classical representations through history, which Cavaliere Nolli would have drawn inspiration from. A beautifully executed example of this is Luca Giordano’s 1680s Allegory of Justice. The blindfold, the use of which was apparently popularised in the 16th century, is also missing from several well-known depictions of Lady Justice, such as in the Old Bailey.

Two other attributes of Lady Justice, a pair of scales and a sword turned downwards, are in plain sight. The scales, weighing evidence, are positioned well above the sword delivering punishment; the symbolism of this being that evidence and court takes precedence above punishment in the administration of justice.

As with many classical representations, deceit, discord and strife is counterbalanced by the order and security that the administration of the law achieves. Deceit, represented by the the two-headed snake, is seen biting a man far to Justice’s right. Legislators and the bent figure of a supplicant, begging for mercy, are also depicted and represent the administration of justice. The fruits of order and security – abundance and prosperity – can be seen in the bull and a farmer leading a rich harvest of wheat on Justice’s left.


The old Supreme Court friezes and works incorrectly attributed to Nolli

The old Supreme Court friezes, which some have attributed to Cavaliere Nolli, are the work of Alec Wagstaff. They were based on designs made by George Thomas Squires as part of a competition. The son of the illustrious Hong Kong based British sculptor W W Wagstaff, Alec was killed in action during the Second World War. Squires, who lived at the Crescent Flats in Meyer Road, as it turns out was the father of Isabel Mary Ferrie – the wife of James Westwater Ferrie. Ferrie was a well-known figure in the field of architecture as well as being an artist known for his watercolours of local seascapes. Many were painted at his house by the sea in Sembawang, His architectural firm, James Ferrie & Partners, is now run by a son Alasdair. 

A number of other prominent sculptural works have also been incorrectly attributed to Cavaliere Nolli. These include the triumphal figures on the façade of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, as well as the two lions of the Merdeka Bridge monument now hidden away in SAFTI Military Institute. Both sets of works were in fact contracted to Signor Raoul Bigazzi, a Florence based sculptor and businessman. Signor Bigazzi ran a successful marble supply and sculptural business and took on quite a fair bit of work in Asia. The railway station’s sculptures were crafted by his firm’s artistic director Professor Angelo Vannetti. The Merdeka Bridge lions were sculptured in the Philippines based on a design made by Mr L W Carpenter of the Public Works Department.

The friezes seen on the porch of the old Supreme Court are the works of Alec Wagstaff, the son of Hong Kong based sculptor W W Wagstaff.









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