Parting Glances: the boxing gym at Farrer Park

30 04 2018

The Farrer Park Boxing Gym, the home of Singapore boxing and its stable, is hanging up it gloves after half a century. Its premises, which it moved into in 1968 after another had burned down, has long been a very recognisable fixture that stood along the famous playing fields at Farrer Park; it does in fact date back to Farrer Park’s pre-playing fields days when the grounds were put to use as a horse racing course, having originally been been built as a horse stable.

Farrer Park Boxing Gym’s gloves are being hung up.

The gym, which also served as the home of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association (SABA), would have been where Syed Abdul Kadir – Singapore’s first Commonwealth Games Boxing medallist and the only boxer to have represented Singapore at the Olympics, trained at in the lead up to his participation in the international events. Besides bringing a chapter in Singapore boxing to an end, the closure of the gym also spells the start of a what would eventually be a complete disconnection of Farrer Park from its sporting roots. The grounds, which Sports Singapore will have to give up by 2020, would eventually be redeveloped as a residential site.

A last reflection – the building which houses the gym was built as a horse stable for the Race Course.

The gym was opened in 1968 after its previous premises burned down.

Part of the furniture – a bench that has been with the gym since 1968.

A final training session at the gym.

Final punches being thrown.

A peak inside the gym – the walls between blue pillars were not part of the original horse stable structure.

Trainees from the final training session with Coach Bala – who is also the Secretary of SABA.

Coach Bala closing up for what may be the final time.


Farrer Park

Named in honour of Mr Roland John Farrer, who presided over the Municipal Commission from 1919 to 1931and had played a key role in procuring the former racing ground of the Singapore Turf Club for the Singapore Improvement Trust, much of the grounds at Farrer Park was converted into much needed sporting grounds as part of a drive by the Commission to provide public sporting facilities for the fast growing municipality in the 1920s and 1930s. This drive, motivated by a growing awareness of the benefits “wholesome sport” to the health and well-being of the working classes, also saw Singapore’s first public swimming pool built at Mount Emily (see: A Short History of Public Swimming Pools in Singapore).

As the race course, which was established in 1843, the grounds also played host to other sporting pursuits including golf and polo. It was also where the first aeroplane seen in Singapore, took off and landed on 16 March 1911. The plane, a Bristol Boxkite bi-plane, was piloted by French aviator Josef Christiaens. Christiaens was granted the rights for distribution of the Colonial Aeroplane Company’s aircraft in the region and required the help of the Royal Engineers to assemble the plane for the demonstration flight.

As sporting grounds Farrer Park – with its 8 football pitches – had also a strong connection with football. Besides being a venue for many matches, its grounds were also where coaching workshops and training sessions were held. The late great Uncle Choo or Choo Seng Quee, one of Singapore football’s best loved coaches, was once a fixture, together with many household names such as the likes of Dollah Kassim, the Quah brothers and Fandi Ahmad, to name a few.

Heather Siddons (Merican) at an Inter Schools Athletics Meet at Farrer Park in 1967 (source: National Archives Online).

Farrer Park was also a name associated with school sports meets – many of which took place at Farrer Park Stadium / Athletic Centre. The centre, which opened in 1957 at the northern end of Farrer Park (straddling Gloucester Road around where Blocks 11 and 12 are today), had a simple grandstand added along with a bitumen track (originally cinder) added in for the second meeting of the Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union in July 1965. The stadium was also were hockey matches were held and where Farrer Park United – a now defunct football club through the ranks of which the likes of Malek Awab rose – played its home matches at from 1975.

Many will also remember Farrer Park for its food stalls at Northumberland Road – across from where the SIT built flats were. Two stalls that I recall were one selling one of the best Indian Mee Siam around and a drinks stall run by a Chinese lady that served bandung with bits of jelly in it.

Farrer Park also became camp for the 2nd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (2SIR) in 1966. Having returned from a deployment in Sabah in August 1965 as part of the Malaysian Armed Forces with their base at Ulu Pandan Road (Camp Temasek) still occupied by a Malaysian unit still based here, the unit made Farrer Park a temporary home with tents pitched on the sports fields (more at this link).

Three storey blocks of SIT Flats being built across Northumberland Road from the playing fields (source: National Archives Online).

A more recent sporting introduction to Farrer Park – Frisbee.

Football training – long associated with Farrer Park.

The boxing gym with a view towards the are where the Farrer Park Stadium was.


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The great “hold up” at the sixth mile

24 07 2015

1999 would have been a year that is celebrated by the residents of the area in and around the 6th Milestone of Bukit Timah. It was in August of that year when the Singapore Turf Club (STC) moved its race course from its sprawling 140 ha. site off Dunearn Road north to the site of the current race course at Kranji, bringing much relief to the area’s long suffering residents.

The old and new grandstands of the former Bukit Timah Race Course as seen today.

The old and new grandstands of the former Bukit Timah Race Course as seen today.

Opened on 15 April 1933 by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, who made his grand entrance riding in on the back of a horse; the race course was to experience its first race day traffic holdup at its inaugural race meeting in May of the same year. Described as “Saturdays Great Hold Up” in a 22 May 1933 report in the  Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, a motorist spoke of the 25 minutes it took him to cover the final mile into the car park, which was said to be almost three times as long as the time he had taken to cover the distance from town to the new race course.

A post card a newly built new Turf Club in the 1930s.

A post card of the then newly built new Race Course with its iconic 5000 seat grandstand.

That the 1933 opening was a grand occasion, there is little doubt. Among the 5000 guests at the opening was the Sultan and Sultanah of Johor, the Tunku Mahkota, as well as the Sultan of Perak – who was at the time the largest individual owner of racehorses in Malaya.

The original south grandstand.

The original south grandstand as seen today.

The new course, designed by Swan and MacLaren, was itself built as a replacement for the older race course at what is today Farrer Park. The older race course’s location in the city made it difficult for it to be expanded and a decision was taken in 1927 to sell off the site, the use of which went back to the Singapore Turf Club’s founding as the Singapore Sporting Club in 1842, to the Singapore Improvement Trust. A new site was identified and the 244 acres (99 ha.) acquired from the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate for it in 1929 required the felling of some 25,000 of the estate’s rubber trees and a huge effort in the levelling of the area’s undulating terrain. The new race course’s location also made it convenient to move racehorses around to the other venues in the Straits Racing Association’s circuit in the Peninsula by rail with the re-sited Bukit Timah Railway Station of the 1932 railway deviation located just a stone’s throw away.

A view of the south grandstand from the car park.

A view of the former south grandstand from the car park.

A reminder of its horsey past.

A reminder of its horsey past.

Among the features of the new race course and its spread of structures such as stables and quarters was its rather iconic grandstand with its distinctive central clock tower. The three tier grandstand at its opening contained a royal box and press box on its second level and stewards’ and owners’ boxes on the upper tier. The stand was also fitted out with some 2000 tip-up teak chairs, which was described as “the largest single chair order East of the Suez”.

A track-side  view of the former South Grandstand.

A track-side view of the former South Grandstand.

One thing that the Turf Club, renamed in 1924 as the Singapore Turf Club, wasn’t able to do was to commemorate its centenary with war interrupting the running of races from Octber 1941 to November 1947. The days leading up to the fall of Singapore saw the British Military move in and during the occupation the race course and its auxiliary buildings were reportedly used as a prisoner of war camp and its lawns used for growing food crops.

The area where the former race track was - now used as a sports ground.

The area where the former race track was – now used as a sports ground.

Much of the appearance that the former race course’s main structures display today, are the result of work carried out to expand its capacity in the 1970s and 1980s. A second grandstand, the North Grandstand, which expanded the seating capacity to 8,000 and a possible 50,000 standing, was added in 1981. The two-storey car park we still see on the grounds today, was an addition made at the end of the 1980s. Another addition made, a multi-storey car park with a capacity of 2900 cars at the corner of Swiss Club Road and Dunearn Road, has however since been demolished.

The north grandstand, which came up in the early 1980s.

The north grandstand, which came up in the early 1980s.

The upper deck of the two-storey car park that was added at the end of the 1980s.

The upper deck of the two-storey car park that was added at the end of the 1980s.

The grounds, zoned in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan for future residential use, was soon after the race course’s last meeting in July 1999, re-purposed in part for use as Turf City. Among the tenants during an initial ten-year period and the extension of its lease to 2012, were a hypermarket, dining outlets, early education providers and other retail outlets in the former grandstands as well used car dealers on the ground level of the spacious double-storey car park. During this time the building took on a rather worn and tired look.

The link way between the car park and the former grandstand.

The link way between the car park and the former grandstand.

A touch of the countryside nearby at the   Bukit Timah Saddle Club - which has been using part of the race course's estate since 1951.

A touch of the countryside nearby at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club – which has been using part of the race course’s estate since 1951.

Under a new leasee, the former grandstands and car park has been refurbished and reopened as The Grandstand in 2012. Besides the hypermarket and used car dealers from the Turf City days, The Grandstand has also attracted a host of dining outlets and a new-age food hall style market. This is however, only in the interim as under the terms of the new lease, even if some S$20 million has been pumped into the refurbishment, will see it used for a maximum of 3 + 3 years, after which the race course and its long association with Bukit Timah, will possibly only be a distant memory,

As Turf City - seen in early 2012.

As Turf City – seen in early 2012.

Another look at the inside of the South Grandstand in its Turf City days.

Another look at the inside of the South Grandstand in its Turf City days.

The last days of Turf City.

The last days of Turf City.

Other parts of the former race course site such as the former stables at 100 Turf Club Road have also been re-purposed - this as HorseCity.

Other parts of the former race course site such as the former stables at 100 Turf Club Road have also been re-purposed – this as HorseCity.

A residence belonging formerly to the Turf Club, which remains vacant.

A residence belonging formerly to the Turf Club, which remains vacant.