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:





They don’t build schools like they used to

18 06 2010

I just love old school buildings in Singapore. There are many built by the various missions which still survive in some form like the magnificent building that was my alma mater, now the Singapore Art Museum, and there are the many more that were built at various periods in  Singapore’s history, reflected in the architectural style (or absence of), each with a charm and character of its own. I particularly love the single storey schools, which I suppose were liked by both teachers and students: teachers as there would not be the need to trudge up and down the stairs with the heavy pile of books before and after each class, and students, as it allowed a quick dash to the expansive playing field that were usually found by the clusters of classrooms, or to the tuck shop. One such school was Anthony Road Girls’ School which my mother taught at in the 1960s. She did mention that this was her favourite school for the very reasons that I mention, and for the airy widely spaced classrooms housed in rows of single storey buildings spaced relatively widely apart, providing the classrooms with very generous ventilation.

Anthony Road Girls' School in the 1960s.

During her posting there, I had a few opportunities to accompany her, mostly on the Saturdays when classes were conducted (classes were conducted every other Saturday at one time in Singapore), when I would wait for her in the airy staff room while classes were going on. Walking around the school with her, I always caught the smell of exercise books that somehow always accompanied visits to the schools. What I remember the most was the wonderful field which ran along Clemenceau Avenue where sports days would be conducted.

The dressed up buildings that were once Anthony Road Girls' School.

It’s nice to see that the buildings are still there – although they have been disfigured somewhat for use by the Ascott Group, for what appears to be a training centre. It had previously housed the Chao Yang Special School for special needs pupils, and was before that, the temporary home for St. Margaret’s Primary School while the premises at Mount Sophia were being rebuilt soon after the Girls’ School closed its doors. It would however, really be nice to see it as it was, plain and unassuming, built as a functional and practical solution to solve a growing problem in post war Singapore.

The field and the cluster of single storey buildings gave the old school a certain charm.

The school was one of the first four “emergency” schools that were built in 1950, under the supplementary education scheme launched to provide schools to absorb the growing population of school going age children, who had had no schools to go to. Many had ended up working as juvenile hawkers which was creating a potential social problem and with the realisation of this, the then colonial government put forward the scheme which involved building “emergency” schools and also the training of more teachers to cope with the tens of thousands of school children that the schools were being built to house. The other of these first four schools were Monk’s Hill Boys’ School, and schools at Duchess Road and McNair Road. These days, schools are no longer what they used to be like, simple in form and in execution. It would be good to see some of the old schools such as this one at Anthony Road, kept as they were built to be, as a reminder of how it once was in Singapore.

Roof structures that have been added that overdress the old school buildings. It would be nice to see the buildings in their original form.