The unseen passageway in the National Gallery

4 04 2016

One of the functional spaces now can a glimpse of within the former Supreme Court in its reincarnation as a wing of the National Gallery Singapore, are the two prisoner cells. Once part of what I often refer to as the caged passageway – a unseen network of spaces under the courtrooms through which defendants in criminal cases could be bought for their court appearances with a minimum of fuss and away from public spotlight, the cells are the most visible of the parts of this network that are still with us today.

The entrance to the Holding Cells.

The Holding Cells today – a popular spot for a photograph to be taken.

Much of it, including interview rooms and office spaces arranged around the cells, have since been converted. Part of a corridor, I am told, and the two cells – once part of a row of twelve, are all that is left today to remind us of the unseen passageway. Now a popular spot to have a photograph taken at, the two cells are now the unseen passageway’s most visible part, serving to remind us of the building and its short but eventful history.

The caged passageway seen with indicted Japanese soldiers being tried for war crimes being led to the courtroom from the holding cells (source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4999).

The caged passageway seen during the post-war war crimes trials (source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4999).


Photographs of the “caged passageway” taken in 2010

The entrance - the steel doors opened up to the service road being the courthouse and ii was through them that vehicles ferrying defendants from prison to the Supreme Court entered.

The entrance – the steel doors opened up to the service road being the courthouse and ii was through them that vehicles ferrying defendants from prison to the Supreme Court entered.

Entry to an office space.

Entry to an office space.

Another office space.

Another office space.

A filing cabinet.

A filing cabinet.

A caged stairway.

A caged stairway.

The row of cells.

The row of cells – there would have been twelve such cells.

Inside a cell.

Inside a cell.

The WC inside the cell.

The WC inside the cell.

The passageway leading to the courtrooms.

The passageway leading to the courtrooms.

The stairway up to a courtroom, entry to which was through a trapdoor (which can still be seen in their closed positions).

The stairway up to a courtroom, entry to which was through a trapdoor (which can still be seen in their closed positions) placed behind the dock.


 

 

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We’re having our day in Court …

8 10 2010

It’s wonderful that the National Art Gallery of Singapore (NAG) has decided to open the doors of the old Supreme Court and City Hall to members of the public to allow us a lasting last impression of the grand former civic buildings as it would have been like before they are transformed into the future art gallery. While there would be some of the rooms of the buildings that would be kept as they were for historical reasons, such as the City Hall Chambers and the Chief Justice’s Courtroom and Chambers, most of the internal areas of the buildings would be made over and given to the display of art works, with the former Supreme Court being reserved for the South East Asian collection, and the Open House this weekend offers a rare opportunity not just to have a feel of the buildings, but also to photograph them as they were. City Hall Chambers in particular, is of historic significance. This was where the Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of the Second World War on 12 September 1945, and is as well the venue where Mr Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister and the first Singapore cabinet were sworn in in 1959 on the occasion of full self-government. Other rooms that will be preserved include the Chief Justice’s Courtroom (Courtroom 1) and Chambers and the Court of Appeal.


The old Supreme Court and City Hall seen from the Padang - then (c. 1950) and now ... both buildings are being converted into the NAG which will open in 2012.

The Open House will feature guided tours (access to the old Supreme Court Building would only be through the guided tour) for which overwhelming response was received, as well as exhibition displays that portray what the galleries would look like after the makeover. There will also be film screenings, a photo exhibition and lots of activities for the family. Visitors to the City Hall will get a glimpse of areas that include City Hall Chambers and the former Law Restaurant, while those on the guided tour will see among other things the magnificent foyer, the Chief Justice’s Courtroom and Chambers, the Rotunda Library, the Court of Appeal, and the Holding Cells.

There would be free access to City Hall during the open house.

City Hall Chambers: once the grandest room in Singapore, was where the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII in Singapore was formalised, and also where the first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and the first cabinet of Singapore were sworn in.

The Chief Justice's Office.

The Chief Justice's Chambers.

Courtroom 1.

One of the wonderful things you will see inside the old Supreme Court is not just the sheer magnificence of a building, once referred to as “undoubtedly the finest Malayan building”, erected at a time when materials were in short supply, but how light flows softly into the building providing natural illumination without much of a need for lighting in the daytime – brilliant work by the architect Frank Dorrington Ward and certainly worth braving the crowds for this weekend.

Old Supreme Court lobby.

Old Supreme Court lobby.

Stairway - old Supreme Court - love how the soft light streams in!

The Rotunda Library under a minor dome.

Prisoner holding area.

Windows at the Old Supreme Court.

The view from the Chief Justice's Office.

Holding Cell.

Holding Cell.

Lock on the door leading to the Holding Cells.

Skylight inside old Supreme Court.

Former Law Restaurant in City Hall.

Courtyard inside City Hall.

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