A Dutch flavoured corner in the former Chasseriau Estate

5 06 2018

With what could be described as Dutch gables prominently displayed, the pair of houses right at end of Watten Estate Road gives the area a distinct feel. The houses are what remain of a cluster of six. Erected from the late 1920s (when four were constructed) and into the mid-1930s (when another two were added), the houses occupied a plot of land that had once been part of the vast Chasseriau Estate1. All similar in design, the houses were each given a uniquely shaped gable Dutch gable. Perched on a small hill and with its verdant surroundings, the setting for the cluster of houses could quite easily have resembled a Dutch or Flemish country village.

One of two Dutch-gable topped houses at Watten Estate Road.

The architect behind the designs for the houses, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, was the preeminent Major Percy Hubert Keys. Major P. H. Keys is best known for efforts that were quite significantly larger in scale and included the likes of the Fullerton Building, the Bowyer Block of Singapore General Hospital and the (King Edward VII) College of Medicine, all of which stand today as National Monuments. While the designs of the three were carried out in Keys’ capacity as a Government Architect, the work that he carried out through his private architectural practice, Keys and Dowdeswell, is also well thought of. Examples of these are the 1929 Oversea Chinese Bank at Cecil Street (now the Quadrant) and the 1930 Namazie Mansions (now the Capitol Building) and Capitol Theatre.

Once the home of Major P. H. Keys. An architect best known for the Fullerton Building and the College of Medicine, Major Keys also designed this house.

One of Keys’ first undertakings with Keys and Dowdeswell, which he founded in partnership with Frank Dowdeswell in June 1927, would have been the design of the Watten Estate2 cluster. One of the houses, No. 130 (as it was renumbered in the late 1960s), was to serve as Keys’ home; a move that was necessary as he would have had to vacate the government residence he occupied in the Labrador area. Art-deco influences can be seen in the design of the houses. The influence can also be seen in much of Keys’ later work in Singapore, such as in the post 1927 buildings identified above.

A peek inside one of the houses.

The “Wheatley”, as Keys’ had named his home, was described as a “European Compound house” with “modern sanitation, four bedrooms, servants quarters, a garage for two cars, two tennis courts”.  The house, comfortable and with a design well adapted for the hot and humid tropics, would however serve as his residence for only a matter of  five years from its completion possibly in 1928 or 1929 until 1934 – when Keys moved both home and practice to Shanghai.

Inside one of the four bedrooms.

The house was put up for rent soon after Keys’ move. Together with No. 1263, the other surviving house, it came into the hands of the government after the war. Among No. 130’s post-war occupants was Mr. H. W. Nightingale. Mr. Nightingale, a government official, served as an Acting Secretary for Economic Affairs in the 1950s. A well-known postwar occupant of No. 126 was Justice T. A. Brown. Justice Brown was a High Court judge who held the position of Acting Chief Justice when the Chief Justice went on leave in 1951. He also played a prominent role in the chain of events that would lead to the Maria Hertogh riots in December 1950, delivering the verdict that declared her marriage illegal and restored custody of Maria to her birth parents.

See also: Story of a lift nearing 90 (Sunday Times, 27 May 2018)


Notes:

1Frenchman Leopold Chasseriau established the estate in 1872 for the planting of tapioca. This would eventually be sold to the founding interests of the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate in 1895 following which it would be split-up. The Municipality purchased a portion – the catchment for the (MacRitchie) reservoir, soon after, followed by the Bukit Tinggi area being purchased by the Swiss (Rifle Shooting) Club. A significant portion of the estate was also sold to the Turf Club in the late 1920s.

While the cluster of houses may have occupied a corner of the former Chasseriau Estate, they acquired addresses connected with the unrelated Watten Estate from the road through it, which was extended to the corner of the former Chasseriau. Watten Estate was a 47-acre estate on which Alexander James Gunn, a one time Secretary for the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, had his residence. Gunn named his residence and estate Watten after his Scottish home village.

The grounds of No. 126 was the subject of an archeological dig conducted by Jon Cooper as part of the Adam Park (battlefield archaeology) Project. It is believed that the cluster of houses housed British POWs as an extension to Adam Park POW Camp (which housed POWs put to work on the construction of the Syonan Jinja) in the early part of the Japanese Occupation.


More photographs:


 

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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:

 





Lost Singapore: The hundred steps to a thousand Buddhas

1 11 2017

Of the many places in Singapore we have lost over the years, none might have possessed the magical quality of the Hall of A Thousand Buddhas standing at the top of Mount Washington. From its isolated perch, even if it was merely 80 metres above sea level, it would have seemed that heaven was a lot closer to it than was earth. A sanctuary for prayer, and perhaps for contemplation, the ascent to it would – at least for the devoted – involved a climb of a hundred steps.

A view from afar with the two 19th century Guanyin temples also seen (photo posted by Tan Chee Wee on On A Little Street in Singapore).

In as magical a fashion as the hall might have been, photographs of the temple have quite recently come to the surface – in the same wonderful photograph sets posted by Lies Strijker-Klaij On a Little Street in Singapore. The same set includes those of the Anchor Brewery and its railway siding that made an appearance in my previous post.

The Hall of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (potsed by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

The prayer hall, also referred to as a temple, was erected by the World Buddhist Society in 1966 to commemorate the first anniversary of Singapore’s independence. An accompanying pagoda, standing close to the hall, was actually built before the hall and had been in existence since 1957 when it was built in commemoration of the then Malaya’s Merdeka. Besides the pair, two other temple buildings – built onto the slope below the hall – were also found by the long staircase. Both were dedicated to Kwan In – the goddess of mercy, with the upper temple intended for male worshippers having been of a 1871 vintage and the lower temple – for women – thought to have been built in 1884. The complex of structures adorned the summit of Mount Washington, also known as Telok Blangah Hill or Thousand Buddha Hill until the late 1980s. That was when the land on which it stood was acquired to allow an extension to Mount Faber Park, across Henderson Road (a 1972 addition), to be built; despite the appeals that were made against it. The World Buddhist Society’s headquarters, housed in the Alkaff Mansion downslope since 1970, was also acquired during the same exercise.

The Hall of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (potsed by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

The Pagoda of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (potsed by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

A close-up of the Pagoda of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (posted by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

A postcard of the hall and the pagoda.

 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets : Visit to View Road Lodge

9 10 2017

See aslo : A Voice from View Road’s Past


The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has kindly granted permission for a series of guided State Property visits, “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets”, the seventh of which will be to the former View Road Lodge – best known perhaps for its time as the View Road (Mental) Hospital.

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View Road Lodge in January 2011.

As a branch of Woodbridge Hospital (now the Institute of Mental Health) that operated from 1975 to 2001, View Road Hospital was used to house and treat recovering patients from Woodbridge. Many of View Road’s patients were in fact well enough to find work in day jobs outside of the hospital, which also operated a laundry, a cafe and a day-care centre with patients’ help.

IMG_5376Thought to have been completed just prior to the outbreak of war in late 1941, it is also known that the building was put to use as accommodation for Asian policemen (with the Naval Base Police Force) and their families from the end of the 1950s to around 1972. During this time, the Gurdwara Sabha Naval Police – a Sikh temple, operated on the grounds. As View Road Lodge, the building was re-purposed on two occasions as a foreign workers dormitory.

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The visit will also include a rare opportunity to have a look at an above ground bomb-shelter that had been constructed as part of the complex in 1941.

Rimau “Bomb-Proof” Office, 1941 (National Archives UK).

The details of the visit are as follows:

Date : 21 October 2017
Time : 10 am to 12 noon
Address: 10 View Road Singapore 757918

Participants should be of age 18 and above.

Kindly register only if you are able to make the visit by filling the form in below.

Registrations will close when the event limit of 30 registrants has been reached or on 14 October 2017 at 2359 hours, whichever comes first.

More on the property : Rooms with more than a view


Further information on the series / highlights of selected visits:





Registration for Old Changi Hospital Visit (2nd Run)

26 08 2017

Update
26 August 2017 1.15 pm

Registration for the 2nd run of the event has been closed as of 1312 hours, 26 August 2017. All slots have been taken up.

Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to Old Admiralty House being scheduled for 16 September 2017 at 9 am to 11 am (rescheduled due to Presidential election on 23 September). More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


Due to popular demand, a second run of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets visit to Old Changi Hospital will be held on 9 September 2017.

Registration is closed as all slots have been taken up. An email will be sent to registered participants with admin instructions a week prior to the visit.





Parting Glances: Hup Lee Kopitiam

23 08 2017

Just like the remnants of Robinson Petang flea market at Sungei Road, just a stone’s throw away, the old world Hup Lee kopitiam at Jalan Besar was a reminder of a Singapore that has all but been consigned to the past. Its closing, just this week, just over a month after the decades old flea market was shut for good, is perhaps no surprise; the old coffeeshop’s fortunes were very much tied to the flea market from which it drew quite a fair proportion of its patrons.

Going back to the 1950s, Hup Lee was one of a rare breed of old-world coffee shops in which time seemed to have stood very still. The touch of nostalgia that its provided was a huge draw. An oasis in the desert of modernity that Singapore has become, its closure will be mourned by those for whom Singapore has moved much, much too fast.

See also:

The small crowd that gathered at Hup Lee on its last day of business on 21 August 2017.

The last pot of coffee.

Washing up for the last time.

A customer having the very last cup of coffee that was served, as the coffee shop emptied just after 8 pm on Monday.

Closed for business.

A last look.

Gates closed for good.

The morning after.





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.


 








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