Finding a lost Singapore in the images of Paul Piollet

19 11 2018

Such is the pace at which change takes place that little exists of the Singapore those of my generation grew up with. It was one whose city streets and rural spaces, filled with life and colour, were places to discover. Lost to progress, that Singapore can never be revisited again – except perhaps through images that we are fortunate to see of them.

In Conversation with Paul Piollet.

I, for one, am especially grateful to the good folks behind these images. Several collections have been publicly available through their generous donations or in some cases, through donations made by family members. These images provide us, and our generations with a visual record that in many cases would not otherwise exist of places and more importantly a way of life from a time when few had the means to capture them.

The opportunity to hear from the donors of two of these visual collections came our way this November. The first, Dr Clifford Saunders, donated an extensive and very well documented collection of over 1,400 photographs to the National Heritage Board. The images were taken by his father, Ralph Charles Saunders in the late 1950s, when he was stationed here at RAF Seletar – with his family, which included a young Dr Saunders.

Just in the middle of the last week, we were graced by the visit of another donor, Mr Paul Piollet, with whom we were able to hold a “conversation” with at the Urban Redevelopment Authority as part of the Architectural Heritage Season. The unassuming Mr Piollet, now in his 80s, has certainly had a past. His career in oil took him across the world, and he found himself in Balikpapan in Kalimantan in 1970 as a result of that. It was there that he developed a fascination for Indonesia and its maritime heritage. He would also find himself in Singapore, where he immersed himself in much that went on around and on its lively streets.

Mr Piollet’s photos of a Singapore in transition are especially intriguing. We find in them a record of life and a way of life of a Singapore in transition. We can see what fascinated Mr Piollet from the many images of wayangs, the life that went on backstage, elaborate Chinese funerals and of life on Singapore’s living streets, which were not only full of life but also filled with children (an observation was made during the “conversation” of how children are now missing from our city streets). Images of street food vendors, which Mr Piollet regularly frequented (he rattled off a few Hokkien names of local fare he enjoyed), also features in his collection.

While the focus of the “conversation” may have been on his images of Singapore (more than 180 can be found in the National Archives of Singapore), I was fortunate to be able to hear about his efforts to document the Indonesian maritime world through a brief conversation we had just before the event started.  Of particular interest to him were the wooden sail boats and the people who crewed them. Much of the craft and skill in rigging and sailing these beautiful hand-crafted boats, once a backbone of trade across parts of the widely spread archipelago, have quite sadly been lost to motorisation.

Pages out of one of Mr Piollet’s books, “Équipages et voiliers de Madura”, documenting Indonesia’s lost maritime heritage.

Thankfully, there are at least thousands of photos taken by Mr Piollet, as well as several books that he authored. Along with photographs and sketches that Mr Piollet made, there are also registry records that he copied by hand. Mr Piollet’s books, of ways of life that have since been lost, can be found at the French Bookshop at 55 Tiong Bahru Road.

“Équipages et voiliers de Madura” or “The crews and boats of Madura”, which Mr Piollet very kindly gave me a copy of.


A selection of photographs from the Paul Piollet Collection

One of Mr Piollet’s photos from 1975. A lost corner of Singapore that was familiar to my parents and me – where Rangoon Road met Norfolk Road and Moulmein Green – see : Moulmein Road Journeys (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

I thought this looks similar to the hairdresser that my mother used to visit at Rangoon Road with me in tow. From its name, this wasn’t it and only closer examination, looks like it was located in the row of shophouses close to the Balestier Road end of Tessensohn Road (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

What looks like part of the row of shophouses close to the Balestier Road end of Tessensohn Road (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

Life as it was, when streets were not complete without the sight of children playing (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

Days of street wayangs. I thought this might have been a street in the Ellenborough Market area but it seems more likely to have been Chin Nam Street (parallel to Hock Lam Street) with a view towards Fort Canning Hill  (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

Pau steamers – wgich caught the eye of Mr. Piollet (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

A scene now hard to imagine on Sungei Rochor (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).


 

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Discovering Keys’ Dutch-gabled houses

17 08 2018

Next in the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of guided State Property visits brings us to two delightful houses (one of which will be opened) designed by Major P. H. Keys.

Major Keys would be best known as the architect of the Fullerton Building, which turned 100 in June of this year.

The visit, which is supported by the Singapore Land Authority, will take place on Saturday 1 September 2018. Two sessions will be held from 10 – 10.45 am and from 11 – 11.45 am.


Registration (kindly register for only one session) :  

Participants need to be of ages 18 and above. Do also note that unique registrations are required and duplicate registrations shall be counted as a single registration.

[Registration has closed as of 17 Aug at 12.09 pm as all slots have been taken up]

Click here to register for Session 1 (10 to 10.45 am)

Click here to register for Session 2 (11 to 11.45 am)


More on the houses:


More on Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:


 





Discovering 10 Hyderabad Road

20 07 2018

Update (20 Jul 2018, 12.30 pm)

Registration has closed as all 40 slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series – registration will open on a Friday two weeks before the visit date.  More information at Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets is back.


The third visit in the 2018 “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets” series of State Property Visits, which the Singapore Land Authority is supporting, is to No. 10 Hyderabad Road. The property, which is now wonderfully repurposed as the Singapore campus of the S P Jain School of Global Management (who are also hosting and supporting the visit), features a set of buildings that may seem vaguely familiar to some. The buildings, the oldest on the campus, feature tropicalised classical façades and can be found replicated across several former British military camps across Singapore dating back to the 1930s. Built as officers’ messes as part of the wave of military barracks upgrading and construction works of the era, this one at Hyderabad Road was put up for the same purpose by the officers of Gillman Barracks.

The British military pull-out in 1971 saw the building handed over to the Singapore government. The Dental Health Education Unit moved in in 1973 and then the Institute of Dental Health (IDH) – when the Dental Education Unit was incorporated into it in 1975. It was during this time that the campus’ six-storey learning centre and hostel was put up for use as a central facility for the training of dental therapists, nurses, dental assistants and technicians. Outpatient dental health clinics were also set up in the building.

The buildings of the former officers’ mess is now used by S P Jain as an administration building as well as as “hotel” for visiting faculty and features 20 very comfortable rooms as well as a beautifully decorated lounge and banquet hall.  There are also staff rooms, discussion rooms, a music room, a chill-out lounge and a library in the buildings – which participants can hope to see.



Details of the visit and registration link:

Location : 10 Hyderabad Road, Singapore 119579
Date : 4 August 2018
Time : 10 to 11.45 am
Registration : https://goo.gl/forms/goZZravHJk4hDrnx1

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More on 10 Hyderabad Road:

More on Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:






Discovering 5 Kadayanallur Street

22 06 2018

Next on the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property Visits, being organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), is to No. 5 Kadayanallur Street on 7 July 2018. The visit is limited to 40 participants of ages 18 and above. Registration (limited to 40 participants of ages 18 and above) may be made by filling the form at this link (fully subscribed as of 1707 hrs 22 Jun 2018).

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More information:





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:


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets is back

18 05 2018

Information on the series can be found at this link.

Do note that there are no further tours to Old Changi Hospital planned.

The idea behind these tours is to permit members of the public to gain access to the otherwise restricted sites to allow history and also alter misconceptions many may have about the sites such as Old Changi Hospital.

Contrary to popular belief, the site – originally part of the Royal Engineers Kitchener Barracks – only became a hospital after the war in 1947. That was after the RAF established an air station at Changi, building on an air strip laid during the Japanese Occupation.

Kitchener Barracks was part of the larger POW camp complex in Changi in the early part of the Occupation until early 1943. During that period, a POW hospital was set up in Roberts Barracks – in what is now Changi Air Base (West) – where the Changi Murals were painted.

Kitchener Barracks was vacated when a significant proportion of POWs were moved out of Singapore to work on projects such as the Siam-Burma “Death” Railway and was subsequently used by Japanese personnel involved in supervising the construction of the airstrip.

There are no accounts of torture and in fact accounts of POWs held at Kitchener Barracks tell us that the POWs had minimal contact with the Japanese troops during their time there. Dispatches sent by General Percival to the War Office in London prior to the Fall of Singapore also confirms the fact that there was the hospital at Changi did not then exist,


 

First of 2018 visits will be to the former Naval Base housing area in Sembawang

Details of Visit:

Date : 2 June 2018

Time : 10 am to 11.45 am

Registration: https://goo.gl/forms/bcdJ8nlccdtBiqSo1 (Limited to 30 persons)
[Registration has closed as all places have been taken up. An email with instructions will be sent to all who have successfully registered through the above link.]

Participants must be 18 and above.

Do note that a unique registration is required for each participant. Walk-ins on the day will not be permitted. There is also a list of terms and conditions attached to the visit as well as clauses relating to indemnity and personal data protection you will need to agree to. Please read and understand each of them.

Do also note that some walking will be required for this visit.


A second series of “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets” guided State Property visits is being organised this year with the very kind permission and support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). The visits will take place once a month starting from June and will possibly run until December 2018. The series will present an opportunity for registered participants to visit several State properties as well as discover each of the sites’ histories. The series this year will also see the participation of the Urban Sketchers Singapore (USKSG), who will be invited to sketch the properties involved (sign-ups managed separately by the USKSG).

The “Japanese Theatre”, thought to have been built during the Japanese Occupation.

The first guided visit of the series will be held on 2 June 2018. This will take participants into the heart of the former Sembawang Naval Base’s residential complex, set in an area where the base’s first housing units came up. The properties that will be visited each represent a different period of the base’s history: pre-war, the Occupation and the last days of the base. The properties involved are a Black and White house at Queen’s Avenue, a community hall cum theatre thought to have been built during the Occupation at Gibraltar Crescent and a rather uniquely designed block of flats – one of two that came up in the early 1960s at Cyprus Road.

The staircase of a tropical modern apartment block built in the 1960s.

The construction of the Naval Base, which stretched along Singapore’s northern coastline from the Causeway to what is today Sembawang Park, was a massive undertaking. Construction began in the late 1920s and included the relocation of villages, clearing of land – much of which was acquired by the Straits Settlements Government from Bukit Sembawang and donated to the Admiralty. It was only in the late 1930s that the base was completed. Built in response to the post World War I Japanese naval build up, the base was sized such that the entire British naval fleet could be accommodated. The base also boasted of the largest graving dock east of the Suez – the King George VI (KG6) dock.

A pre-war housing unit.

To accommodate the large numbers of British personnel that were needed, first to construct and then later to operate the base (the latter with their families), large numbers of residential units were built. Amenities, such as recreational facilities and schools, were also constructed. Many of these can still be found – spread across large areas of the former base given to housing. These properties and the settings they are still found in, provide an idea of the considerations that were taken by the military facility planners to provide a maximum of comfort and ease living conditions in what would then have been a strange and harsh tropical setting.

Found in the housing area – the “Ta Prohm” of Singapore?

With the pullout of the British military forces in 1971, the base ceased operations. Besides the large number of former residences1, parts of the base are still very much in evidence today. These include some of the base’s working areas – such as the former dockyard (which was taken over by Sembawang Shipyard in 1968) and the former Stores Basin (now used as a naval supply depot and as the wharves of Sembawang Port).

The block of flats in Cyprus Road.


1Some 400 former residences including low-rise flats were handed over to Singapore in 1971 when the British pulled their forces out. Many saw use by the ANZUK forces and later the New Zealand ForceSEA.


Previous Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets visits to the former Naval Base:

More on the Naval Base:






A voice from View Road’s past

2 11 2017

A voice from the former View Road Hospital’s past: an ex-resident Roszelan Mohd Yusof from the days when it was the Naval Base Police Asian Quarters, revisits the units in which he lived from the 1960s up to 1972 (see video below).

Best known as a former mental hospital (used as a rehabilitation centre from 1975 to 2001 for long-term schizophrenia patients as well as to allow them to work, reintegrate and return to society), the building had prior to that been used as a quarters for Asian Naval Base Policemen and their families.

A large proportion of the residents of the quarters were Sikhs and Malays. There was also a Pakistani family, and a Bangladeshi family living there, as well as one Nepali family.  The lower floor of the north wing, which  housed the Chart Depot, was out of bounds to the residents, as well as the observation tower and the bomb-proof office.

The last Naval Base Police Force residents were allowed to vacate their flats in 1972, following the disbandment of the Naval Base Police Force a month after the British Pull-out.  More of what is known on the building’s history is also seen in the video.


More on the former View Road Hospital and the visit that was organised to it: