Parting Glances: old Singapore’s last place of healing

5 02 2019

Those familiar with Moulmein Road in the days of Moulmein Green would remember the old Middleton Hospital and its iconic gatehouse. The landmark entrance-way stood for over 70 years before “progress” swallowed it up in the 1980s. Progress, which came in the form of road realignment and widening as part of the construction of the Central Expressway (CTE), saw also to the demise of Moulmein Green – one of at least a couple of roundabouts that were named “Green” (the other was Finlayson Green).  

The gatehouse with the black lion crest on it and a bit of Moulmein Green in the foreground.

The gatehouse provided both the hospital and the area with an identity that went beyond being a physical presence. It was the hospital’s black lion crest, which was on prominent display on the house, that the area’s name in the Hokkien vernacular came from.

The black lion – seen at the entrance of the former CDC.

The structure’s disappearance came at about the same time that Middleton, a name that the infectious diseases hospital was known as for 75 years, was also lost. Morphing in Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Department of Communicable Diseases in 1985 and in 1992 the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) however, did not stop the former hospital from being in the news. It was a key component in the health plan drawn up in early days of the AIDS epidemic that saw a dedicated AIDS ward set up in April 1986. The CDC, which for a period of 3 years until 1995 functioned independently of Tan Tock Seng Hospital,  has also been at the forefront in the battle against several other high-profile disease outbreaks, such as the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Structures belonging to the former Middleton Hospital.

The absence of the gatehouse has also allowed a much clearer view of the centre’s expansive grounds and the quaint old structures seen on it. The sight is one that is increasing rare in Singapore and provides a glimpse of what could be thought of as an old-fashioned bit of Singapore that we should be thankful to the continued operation of the CDC for.

The old laundry.

It was an old-fashioned and a very different Singapore into which the former hospital came into being. With many in the already overcrowded municipality’s rapidly increasing urban population living in quite insanitary conditions, the urban centre was rife with highly contagious and often deadly diseases. Containing the spread of them, especially among the largely ignorant townsfolk, posed a huge challenge. 

The wards of the new Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Overworked medical staff from the hospital, which was also in Balestier Road before moving to their new site at Moulmein, provided care for the poor also attended to patients at the smallpox hospital and quarantine camp.

The former hospital’s origins can be traced back to a smallpox hospital that was established in the early 1870s at Balestier Plain (where the Singapore Singapore Indian Association and its sports fields are now located). This was expanded with a quarantine camp to isolate and confine “natives” afflicted with other infectious diseases on an adjacent site. Overworked doctors from nearby Tan Tock Seng attended also to patients at the camp.

An 1893 Map showing the Smallpox Hospital and also a Leper Asylum in Balestier Plain (National Archives of Singapore).


A 1905 Map showing the smallpox hospital and the infectious diseases ward (National Archives of Singapore).

By the turn of the last century, it became apparent that the hospital/quarantine camp “was unfit to meet the requirements of a large population liable to epidemics of smallpox and cholera and, to a less extent, of plague”. In 1905, plans were put forward by the Municipal Commission to erect an Infectious Disease Hospital at Moulmein Road. This would also provide wards for Europeans (not without objection), as well as “better class natives”. It wasn’t however until 1911 that work on a scaled-down version of the new hospital began in earnest.

Commissioned on 1 June 1913, the $270,000/- 172-bedded Infectious Diseases Hospital was described as being a “little more than the bones of what was proposed”. It was an improvement however to the “ramshackle institution in Balestier Road” that it replaced. Spread over an 11.5 hectare site, the facility featured three camps for the isolation and confinement of patients infected with cholera, plague and smallpox.

There were originally three clusters of pavilion wards – all widely spaced from each other – “camps” encircled by a fence.

The gentle rising slope that the hospital was placed on, provided for drainage. A fence, a triple-fence on three sides and an iron fence along Moulmein Road, encircled the hospital. This was as much to keep the general public out as it was to keep patients in. The gatehouse provided the hospital with a “pre-processing gateway” with lodgings for the gatekeeper / caretaker on the upper level.

The “pre-processing gateway” – with caretaker’s lodgings above.

Going past the gatehouse one would have seen the doctors and nurses quarters on the right, with those for other staff on the left. An administrative building was positioned right up the road. Three six-bedded wards were placed some distance away to its left with another three on its right. These were for observation and discharge.

What probably were the nurses quarters.

The camps, each enclosed by a fence, were found further up the road past the administrative building. The plague camp was arranged on the left, the cholera camp on the right, and the smallpox camp at the back at the top of the slope. The camps featured a ward for “natives”  with extensions to accommodate “better class natives”.  “Europeans” were housed separately.

The administrative building.

The old-fashioned concept of infection control through separation and ample (natural) ventilation that resulted in the layout of the hospital and in the design of its wards is very much in evidence in the CDC’s pavilion-style wards, even if they may have been modified. Air-conditioning, for both comfort and infection control, is one modern day addition. Building materials and fittings containing asbestos must also have been replaced. These would have been found in the Eternit ceiling panels that were fitted for insulation, damp and vermin control, and fire resistance.

Features for natural light and ventilation are found on the older ward buildings.

With the CDC moving to its new home last December where it has taken on a new identity as the National Centre for Infectious Diseases or NCID, time is being called on the former hospital. The site is marked for residential development under the URA Master Plan and it would probably not be long before all evidence of the hospital and its buildings is erased. 

In the Master Plan.

Another former ward building.

Many of the former CDC’s buildings do actually go back to its days as the Infectious Diseases Hospital of 1913, including the administrative building, a stand-alone mortuary building, and the laundry in its southeastern corner. The laundry, which was expanded postwar with the addition of a new building, was designed such that dhobis would not have had to handle the items to be laundered until they were properly disinfected and cleaned. There are also some of the original wards – Singapore’s last pavilion wards to remain in use and former quarters.  

The mortuary.


Possibly one of the original observation or discharge wards.

With the old hospital having passed into history, it also is important not to forget those associated with its past. Prof. Ernest Steven Monteiro is one who comes to mind whose pioneering in preventive medicine Singapore must be thankful for. Dr. Monteiro is credited with initiating what turned out to be a very successful mass vaccination campaign against polio in the the late 1950s.

The front of the mortuary.

Dr. Monteiro connection with the hospital was during the Japanese Occupation. As the Japanese appointed director of the then Densen Byoin, which was teeming with sick people with infectious diseases such as typhoid and ailments brought about through malnutrition, the young director faced many challenges. One especially serious one was the shortage of anti-diphtheria serum, which he overcame through improvisation. His son, Dr. Edmund Monteiro, was to make significant contributions to Middleton Hospital and the CDC during his service there from 1965 to 1993. The younger Dr. Monteiro’s  oversaw the hospital’s transition to the CDC and co-ordinated the CDC’s response to  the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

Ward 76, which was converted for use as a HIV/AIDS ward.

We should also remember the forgotten Dr. William Robert Colvin Middleton, after whom the hospital was named in 1920 upon his retirement. This was to recognise the many contributions he made as one of Singapore’s longest serving Municipal Health Officers to improving lives and the role he played in the setting the hospital at Moulmein Road up. A  short bio on Dr. Middleton can be found at the end of this post.

A visible part of the CDC today – former quarters.


The newer extension to the laundry.


Emergency wards set up for SARS.


An isolation room in the emergency wards.


A look inside one of the former wards.

A much more modern addition, a negative pressure ward.


(The forgotten) Dr. W. R. C. Middleton, Municipal Health Officer, 1894 to 1920

A painting of Dr. Middleton, one of three portraits painted by Anatole Shister for display in the Chief Committee Room of the new Municipal Building (later City Hall) in 1929 (National Collection as listed on roots.sg).

The son of a Church of Scotland Minister and a military chaplain in India, Dr. William Robert Colvin Middleton was born in Bombay in 1863. Having obtained his medical qualifications in 1888, he served as a resident physician in the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary before heading to Singapore in 1890 to work for Dr. Charles Llewellyn Howard Tripp in the Maynard and Co. Dispensary.

Dr. Middleton applied for the position of Municipal Health Officer in late 1893 when its became vacant due to the resignation of Dr. Charles Eardley Dumbleton. Dr. Middleton was given the appointment of Acting Health Officer in January 1894 with a view to the full post, on the condition that he obtain a Diploma in Public Health; the Municipal Commission had then determined that should be a prerequisite for the position. Dr. Middleton left for Aberdeen at the end of March that year,  returning with the required Diploma in October, all at his own expense!

Dr. Middleton held the appointment of Municipal Health Office upon his return until his retirement late in 1920, except for a spell back home in during the Great War in 1916. He survived the torpedo attack on the ill-fated RMS Arabia, which sunk in the Mediterranean in November 1916, on his passage back to Singapore from this.

Besides the numerous contributions he made improving the state of sanitation in Singapore, as well as in other aspects of public health including in maternal care, Dr. Middleton also served as the Deputy President of the Municipal Commission in 1904. He held the rank of Major in the Singapore Volunteer Corps and was credited with setting a medical aid post up on the P & O wharf during Singapore Mutiny for the transfer of casualties to the military hospital on Pulau Blakang Mati.

He passed away at the age of 58, on 8 December 1921, in Bexhill in Sussex. He was survived by his wife, the former Mrs. Ethel Hunt, whom he married at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in April 1909.

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Normal service resumes at Novena

30 09 2017

The long awaited reopening of Novena Church, after a three-year closure for the its impressive new church building, was greeted by a crowd of several thousands worshippers at its first mass celebrated at 6.30 pm yesterday. A queue to enter the church had formed some three hours before the church was due to open its at 4.30 pm and by 4.45 pm, the 1,500 seat capacity church was already filled.

A glimpse at the insides of the new church.

The celebration of the first mass at the church comes just over three years since the last mass was celebrated in the old church on 28 September 2014. The old church was closed from October of that year with masses held at SJI Junior and Novena services held at the Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh in the interim. The popular Novena services, which have long coloured Saturdays along the stretch of Thomson Road at which the church is located, resumes today with and its first Sunday masses will be held tomorrow.


Mass and Novena Service Times


Photographs from the first mass

A first glimpse of the new next to the old.

Stairway to heaven.

The 1500 seat capacity new church building was filled in a matter of minutes.

And within 15 minutes of opening, the old section of the church was also filled.

A section of the crowd.

Stained glass windows.

The new church’s first mass, dedicated to the Archangels, begins at 6.30 pm.

The first sermon.

The choir.

The crowd waiting to get in to see the new church.





Novena Church to open on 29 September 2017

16 09 2017

Photos from the first mass: https://thelongnwindingroad.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/normal-service-resumes-at-novena/


Based on an announcement on the Novena Church Facebook page last night, the new Novena Church – after a little delay, will open on 29 July 2017 – when its first mass will be celebrated. The first novena devotion will be held on Saturday, 30 September at 8am and the first Sunday mass will be celebrated on 1 October, 8am.

More on Novena Church / previous posts on Novena Church:





Say goodbye to Caldecott Broadcast Centre

28 04 2017

A rare (and final) opportunity to visit the Caldecott Broadcast Centre (CBC) presents itself during this year’s edition of the Singapore Heritage Festival. The centre, home to radio and television for as long as we can remember and out-of-bounds to most for the longest time and which was recently closed for good, will have its gate opened during the weekends of 28 April to 1 May and 5 to 7 May for SHF Takes Over.

Set for an old street used in the making of the Chinese TV drama The Lead – the last production CBC was used for, which will make its debut on 22 May.

While it may not be all of Caldecott that will present itself for exploration, there will be a chance to explore soem of the oldest spaces, and ones in which in more recent times, local productions were made. The event will also see a host of activities such as performances and exhibitions, such as TV50, which offers a glimpse into the history of television broadcasting in Singapore since it was launched in 1963. There even is a mock-up of a community centre television viewing area, a living room and a kopi-tiam that many of my era and before will find nostalgic.

There is also a chance to also recall some memorable local television productions and their characters in Studio 6,  lip-sync your heart out, listen to stories of our islands, watch a load of re-runs and join special guided tours – led by the stars themselves. For the latter, Mediacorp artistes and industry staff will lead Walking Caldecott and tell stories associated with various locations around the CBC. There is also The Lead Special Guided Tour, in which the likes of Rebecca Lim, Shaun Chen and Xiang Yun, will take participants “behind-the-scenes” with stories related to the filming of the local drama, The Lead, which is making its debut on 22 May 2017.

Relive memories of local television programmes with Studio 6.

Registration for the guided tours will be conducted on-site outside the TV50 Exhibition, 30 minutes before the start of the tour. The hour-long Walking Caldecott tours run on 28 April, 5 May and 6 May at 6.30pm, on 29 and 30 April at 4.30 and 6.30 pm and on 1 and 7 May at 10.30 am, while half-hour-long The Lead Special Guided Tour will be held on 6 May at 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm. Spaces are limited and will be given on a first-come-first-served basis.

More information on the tours and the event can be found at http://heritagefestival.sg/programmes/all-caldecott-hill-programmes. Information on the Singapore Heritage Festival 2017 is available at http://heritagefestival.sg/. Entrance to CBC will be vai the Old Main Gate along Olive Road and as parking is unavailable, visitors are advised to catch the shuttle buses from Bishan and Caldecott MRT Stations or MacRitchie Reservoir Carpark. More information on these arrangements can be found at http://heritagefestival.sg/about/getting-to-caldecott-broadcast-centre.


More information and photographs:

Festival Schedule

Festival Map.

There’s lots of makan too at the Festival Village.

The festival village.

A wall to leave memories on post-its.





New Novena Church to be dedicated on 1 Aug 2017

18 04 2017

Update on 16 September 2017:
Novena Church to open on 29 September 2017


Update on 10 June 2017:


In a tweet yesterday, the Church of St. Alphonsus – popularly known as Novena Church – announced that it will be holding a dedication mass for the new church being built on 1 August 2017 – the feast day of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorist order that runs the church. The church has been closed since October 2014 to allow the new building to be erected on a site next to the old church previously occupied by St. Clement’s Pastoral Centre, the bell tower and the Redemptorist Residence. The familiar and well-loved old church, which was gazetted for conservation in 2011, now stands dwarfed by the much larger new church that is being built at a cost of $55 million. The new church will be air-conditioned and have a capacity of 1,500 – twice that of the old church. Parking will now be in the basement, which will have a capacity of 120 cars. More information on the new church building can be found at http://www.novenachurch.com/redevelopment.html.

The new church coming up next to the conserved old church building.

Previous posts on Novena Church:


Yesterday’s tweet announcing the 1 August dedication of the new church and new mass and Novena devotion times:


How the church will look when completed (Novena Church Facebook Page):


How the inside of the new church will look like (Novena Church Facebook Page):






A forgotten corner of Thomson Road

6 10 2016

Tucked away in an obscure corner of Thomson Road and Thomson Lane is the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home, sitting on a site whose significance has long been forgotten. Operating in a cluster of single-storey blocks of a style reminiscent of schools of the 1950s, the layout of the home points to it having once been one of many built in the 1950s as part of an ambitious school building effort that we have all but forgotten about. The former school’s name, Lee Kuo Chuan, also links to the late philanthropist and rubber magnate Mr.Lee Kong Chian, being the name of his father.

The former school and its soon to be lost yard.

The former school and its soon to be lost yard.

The school construction programme was part of a ten-year education plan, known also as the “Neilson Plan” – attributed to Mr. John Barrie Neilson, a Director of Education with the aim of providing free universal primary education to all in Singapore within ten years. The plan was supplemented by a five-year plan to accelerate the effort to meet the pressing need to provide places in schools for the growing population of children. The latter plan was put in place by the the Mr. Neilson’s successor, Mr. A. W. Frisby. The implementation of the first plan saw the Teachers’ Training College, the predecessor to the National Institute of Education, established in 1950.

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All three acres of the land, on which the school was built – part of a former quarry, was donated by Mr. Lee Kong Chian as its name does suggest. Mr. Lee, who first came across from China with his father, a tailor, in the early 1900s, made generous generous donations to education and to the poor – an effort that is being continued by the Lee Foundation, which he founded. Among the projects Mr. Lee funded was the construction of the original National Library at Stamford Road for which he laid the foundation stone in August 1957. Mr. Lee donated a sum of $375,000 to that effort on the condition that the library charged no membership fees.

Lee Kuo Chuan School in the 1960s (posted by Chong Meng on the Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School Facebook Group).

Lee Kuo Chuan School in the 1950s (posted by Chong Meng on the Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School Facebook Group).

Interestingly the school seems to have lent its name to Kuo Chuan Constituency, one of three new parliamentary constituency carved out of Toa Payoh Constituency for the 1972 General Election. The constituency, whose first elected MP was Mr. P. Selvadurai, and last Mr. Wong Kan Seng, was absorbed into Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency in 1988.

A classroom in the 1950s (posted by Chong Meng on the Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School Facebook Group).

A classroom in the 1950s (posted by Chong Meng on the Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School Facebook Group).

The school became Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School when it merged with Thomson Primary School in 1985 and moved it new premises at Ah Hood Road. As Lee Kuo Chuan Primary, it operated until the end of 1997 when it was shut down.

A view over the area in the early 1970s when Toa Payoh New Town was taking shape. The school can be seen in the lower left of the photo with Times Building then occupying the other part of the former quarry site.

A view over the area in the early 1970s when Toa Payoh New Town was taking shape. The school can be seen in the lower left of the photo with Times Building then occupying the other part of the former quarry site.

The home, started by a former nurse Madam Lee Ah Mooi in 1963 at her home in Chong Pang Village, does itself have a little story. It was set up to provide care for former Samsui women and Amahs, many of whom were sworn to singlehood, in their old age. It occupied several sites before moving into its current premises in 1986. It has also been in the news as a possible victim of the North-South Expressway project. Based on updates provided on its Facebook Page, it does seem that the home will be able to remain in place until 2020, although its kitchen and laundry spaces and its front yard would be affected.

More on the school, the old age home and the impact of the North-South Expressway project on it can be found at the following links:





An enlightened reflection

13 09 2016

A sight not to be missed in the Balestier Road area, is that of the large white marble Buddha and its reflection off the polished marble floor the Burmese Buddhist Temple at Tai Gin Road.

Thought to be the largest such Buddha image outside of Myanmar, the 11 feet tall statue dates back to the early twentieth century and was made of a ten ton block of marble obtained from Sagyin Hill near Mandalay – said to be where the best quality Burmese marble is found. The Buddha, which weighed eight tons completed, arrived in Singapore on 10 December 1921 and was placed temporarily at a house at the third milestone of Serangoon Road before being moved into its intended home – the Burmese Buddhist temple at Kinta Road, in 1925.

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The Buddha on the move again on 2 May 1988 when the new temple at Tai Gin Road was being built. A 12 April 1988 article in the Straits Times gives us some idea on the complexity of that move, which required a huge iron cage to be made for it to be lifted.

The temple at Tai Gin Road, laid out in a traditional Burmese style, features a tiered roof that is decorated with woodcarvings made from 19 tonnes of Burmese teak. A golden pagoda typical of Myanmar can also be seen topping the temple. The temple was consecrated in 1991 and serves a community that long has links to Singapore.  More information on the Buddha and the temple can be found at the temple’s website.


More photographs of the temple:

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A pair of lanterns depicting the watermelon playground at Tampines.

The golden pagoda of the temple glowing in the night – as seen from the Wan Qing Yuan.

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