Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hillview Road in 1956

Found an old photograph showing the Hillview Road entry towards the "Princess Elizabeth Industrial Estate" taken in May 1956. Can you recognise this spot?

The S.I.T. blocks of flats at Princess Elizabeth Estate were built in 1953. At that time, this was the only road access to the housing estate and to the few factories that were set up at then, such as Kiwi Shoe Polish, Eveready Batteries (National Carbon), Malayan Guttas, Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing and Malayan Textiles.

The photo shows the junction of Hillview Road and Upper Bukit Timah Road at 9-1/2ms. The road on the right of the picture is Upper Bukit Timah heading towards Woodlands.

Besides the road signs "Princess Elizabeth Estate" and "Hillview Road", there are five other signboards visible. Due to the low resolution of the photo, I can only make out three of them - Raja Clinic, Kiwi Polish and Malayan Textile Mill Ltd. Can anyone decipher what the other signboards indicate?

The Chartered Bank branch would be built the following year at this junction. The Green Bus Company had started its No. 5 bus service along this road in February 1953 and there were bus stops on either side of Hillview Road just left of this junction (without shelter!)

Today, exactly on this junction sits the Hillview MRT Station of the Downtown Line.

Related posts:
The Hillview Railway Bridge

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The origin of Tengah

The Tengah region is a large land area located in north-western Singapore, bounded by Lim Chu Kang Road, Choa Chu Kang Road, Ama Keng to the north and the Tengah River to the east. It's claim to fame basically lies with the fact that the British Royal Air Force had an important airfield, RAF Tengah, built there in the early 20th century. This military airfield is still in use by the Republic of Singapore Air Force and is today known as Tengah Airbase.

I had previously written a bit about Tengah in relation to the 19th century Chu Kang farming concession system in Singapore. However, it was in dribs and drabs, so I thought it would be good to consolidate the facts into a unified blog article. This is especially because Tengah has been in the news lately with regards to a New Town being planned for the area.

Fact 1: Tengah does not mean centre or middle, as most people assume!
Yes, in the Malay language, tengah is translated as middle or centre, but the word Tengah as a location in Singapore does not come from the Malay language.
In fact, Tengah's etymology is derived from Chinese!

Fact 2: The Tengah River, a tributary of the Kranji River, did not give rise to the name of the area. It was the reverse, the name of the region, Tengah, gave the river its name!

Fact 3: Tengah was a chu kang formerly called Teng Chu Kang. It was established as a gambir and pepper farm in the 1850s. For more detailed explanation of the Chu Kang farming system in Singapore, you can refer to my other blog articles here, here and here.  It was one of 35 officially recorded chu kangs (gambir farms) in Singapore in 1855.

Gambir was the main cash crop grown in early Singapore.
After the British East India Company set up their trading post in Singapore in 1819, with the eventual take-over of the entire island in 1824, coupled with the discovery that the gambir extract could be used for the tanning of leather, the gambir industry in Singapore took off. Gambir became the main cash crop of the local economy in the fledgling British colony. The tremendous demand for gambir enticed the Teochew immigrants to open up the forested interior regions of Singapore to cultivate gambir and pepper.

1855 map of Singapore (extract) showing location of Teng Chu Kang and the adjacent tributary that was named the Tengah River.
Look for the other chu kangs in the map! (click on map for a detailed view)
Each 'bangsal' marked was a gambir processing facility.

By the 1840s, large farming concessions, known as Chu Kangs, were established at riverine areas mainly in the northern and western regions of Singapore.
The authorisation to start a farm could only come from the Temengong of Johore, (or later from the Municipal government).
The Temengong issued a title deed known as a Surat Sungei , allowing the holder to open up lands and to cultivate certain riverine areas listed in the surat sungei.
The area listed was usually unclaimed forested land that was accessible only by that river that ran beside the land.

The concession holder was called a 'Kangchu' (master of the river) who was given full local authority over the running of the concession, including farming, rentals, the right to brew liquor and sell pork, and even to establish brothels. He was the de facto headman of the region that would bear his name.
He also had to set up an access point by the river that became known as the 'Kangkar'. This was to be his homestead and port of call and was often only a jetty with his house nearby. It was usually from this point that a village would spring up.

These farm concessions or Chu Kangs came to be known by the surname of the headman. Thus, we had Lim Chu Kang, Chua Chu Kang, Choa Chu Kang, Tan Chu Kang, Chan Chu Kang, Bukoh Kang, Lau Chu Kang, Yio Chu Kang and Who Hen Kang.
Some chu kangs were named for auspicious reasons like Seng Kang (Prosperity). Sun Li Kang (Lucky and trouble free), Sin Pang Kang (new excellence).

Tengah founded in 1853 as Teng Chu Kang
In 1853, a surat sungei was issued to a man named Teng Ah Ting (var. spelt Teng Ah Tong, Ten Ah Tong). He was given a concession to farm the land bordering Chua Chu Kang to the east, Wha Heng Kang to the South and Sun Li Kang/Lim Chu Kang to the west. It was adjacent to an un-named tributary of the Kranji River.

Teng Ah Ting the kangchu, was colloquially called Teng-Ah, and his farm was known as Teng Chu Kang or sometimes recorded as Teng Ah Kang.
The tributary river beside his farm came to be called the Teng-Ah River. In time, it was simply called Teng-ah (Tengah).

In 1855, when the municipal government conducted a survey of all farms in Singapore (for tax purposes), Ten Ah Kang was listed as one of the smaller farms with 17,000 vines of gambir and 8,000 vines of pepper. ( It was less than 2 years in existence then)
 In comparison, neighbouring Chua Chu Kang (also spelt Chu Chu Kang), established much earlier in the 1840s, had 300,000 vines of gambir and 53,000 vines of pepper.
Municipal survey of farms in Singapore 1855

Collapse of the gambir industry in Singapore
Between the 1870s to the 1890s, the planting of gambir slowly moved into mainland Malaya as the soil in Singapore was leeched of its nutrients and was no longer fertile for this crop. Other crops replaced gambir, mainly pineapple and, later, rubber.

In the mid 1930s, as a result of a British initiative to defend Malaya from perceived foreign threats, land was acquired around Lim Chu Kang and Tengah area for the construction of a new military airfield. As most of this new airfield was built over the former Tengah farm area, the airfield was named Tengah Airfield.
Tengah Airfield as in the 1950s.
The original airfield had 2 runways in an 'X' configuration.
The north-south runway was built after WW2 and remains the main runway today.
 In old maps of Tengah, you may see the airfield marked as an X for this reason.
The airfield was built upon Teng-Ah's farmland.
The Tengah river can be seen on the top right of the photo.

In 2016, the Housing & Development Board announced the creation of a new town to be called Tengah New Town. This area is actually south of the original Tengah region, in what was known as Bulim, Hong Kah and Lam San districts.
Thanks to the HDB, Teng Ah Tong's legacy lives on for posterity in Singapore.

(Picture credit from HDB news release)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sixty-six years ago over Hillview

I found another old RAF aerial photograph, taken in 1950, of the area above what would become Hillview Avenue.

At the end of World War II, the British Military Administration, in order to conduct a mapping survey of Singapore Island, found that the fastest way then, given the limited resources, was to do an aerial photo mapping survey. The task was given to the RAF Photo Reconnaissance Squadron 81.
The magnificent pictures they took are now in the National Archives.

In 1950, Princess Elizabeth Estate was not constructed yet as the site was only considered in 1951.
Union Carbide Co Ltd, maker of the Eveready Batteries, and Malayan Guttas Ltd, manufacturer of Wrigley Chewing Gum, were the only factories then located at Hillview Road. The massive factory complex on the right of the picture is the Hume Pipe factory wth the Manager's Staff Housing located behind on Hume Heights.

Fuyong Estate, which was built by philanthropist Lee Kong Chian, was a row of houses facing Upper Bukit Timah Road. These were meant as low cost houses to cater to the shortage of housing in those days. This row of houses is still in existence today, but has been converted as eateries and restaurants called Rail Mall.. Terrace houses would later be privately built behind the row of low cost housing and incorporated as part of Fuyong Estate.

On the top left are the Public Works Dept (PWD) offices which ran the adjacent PWD granite quarry for gravel used mainly for road building works. Part of the pastureland of The Cold Storage Dairy Farm can be seen beside the PWD offices.

On the top right is the Singapore Quarry, privately owned by Mr Chia Eng Say, whose namesake is now given to the road fronting Rail Mall at Fuyong Estate.

Notice the KTM railway line that runs across the picture with the grider bridge over Hillview Road.
If you look very carefully at the land just beside Upper Bukit Timah Road, left from the black truss  bridge onwards, you will see some remnants of long streaks in the ground.

These long streaks were the original Tank Road-Kranji Railway line that ran alongside Upper Bukit Timah Road. (You didn't know that, right?) The  old railway line was dismantled and replaced by the KTM Line that was built further uphill. The 1957 Chartered Bank would be built over the old track line.

Click on the picture to get a more detailed and enlarged view.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Staff & Pupils - Rosie Bramphy.

Princess Elizabeth Estate School - Staff Photograph.

I've received another set of photos from the collection of Rosie Bramphy, through the courtesy of Mr Ebert Upatissa. I will post two of the photos below and hope someone can identify the staff in the 1st picture, and, the pupils in the second photo.
At this moment, I do not know which year the pictures were taken but i suspect it to be around the late '50s or early '60s.

Click on the pictures for a larger detailed view.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

PEES Scouts and Cubs Troop - 1958/1959.

What better way to open this year's blogging than with a heritage photo of the Scout & Cubs Troop 1403 of Princess Elizabeth Estate School taken in 1958 or 1959.

(click on photo to enlarge)
Courtesy of Akela Rosy (Mrs Rosy Bramphy) who had sent it to Ebert Upatissa, who kindly allowed me to post it here in my PEE blog. It took a while for us to try and come up with the names of those in the photo and I guess we succeeded to a good extent. Thanks must go especially to James Chan Kum Sung and his brother, Kum Choy who is in the picture and later became a Queen's Scout, and Tay Kay Swee for coming up with most of the identities.

However. it is still not complete and we hope that anyone who can further identify the missing names will send me a note in the comments below.  Or a note of correction for the mis-identified.

We are also not very sure as to the exact year the photo was taken but only that it was a group photo of the cubs taken in front of the Principal's Office, whose door can be seen at the back on the right. The other door on the left was the Teacher's Staff Room.

To make it easier to read I am reposting the above picture with the names below and removing the sepia aging for a clearer view.

Back row:
Chan Kum Choy, Babir Singh, ?, Tay Kwee Keong, Segaran, Tan Boon Hin, Fong Kum Siong, Heng, Pritam Singh.
(Face between the Staff Room door post is teacher Mr Chia)

3rd Row:
Bernard Fernandez, Chew Kim Huat, Tan Boon Hui, Gerard, Tham Yew Hin, Ong Ee Keng, Assuan, Szeto Fun Hoy, Venogopalan.

2nd Row:
Mammat Anwar, Alias Ali, Maniam, Jumiam, Ernie Koh Fei Meng, Rafie, Mrs. Rosy Bramphy, Richard Lim, Chong Kew, ?, ?, Robert Lim.

Front Row:
Vincent Seow See Chye, Zainal Ali, ?, Salwant Singh, Tay Kwee Jin, Tan Boon Huat, Tan Boon Kwang, Yeo Loy Tong, Kok Lee Kwang, Ng Chock San, Poh Cheng Toh, Ronnie Choo Chuan Chye.

postscript: I was just informed that the above photo was taken in 1958-1959 period. As such I have amended the heading.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Homecoming the Musical: Honouring our Pioneers & Alumni

I had an invitation from Mrs Joyce Lee, head of National Education at Princess Elizabeth Primary School (PEPS) to attend a musical which the school was putting up in conjunction with SG50 and the theme was Honouring our Pioneers and Alumni.

I went with a bit of trepidation knowing that I probably wouldn't know anyone from the school after all these years. Joyce had invited me as I had let them use some of my blog material and photos for their celebration. My fears were unfounded as meeting Joyce, the Principal Mdm Moliah and the Vice Principal Kok Keong, really put me at ease immediately.

I realised there that the function was actually a gathering in celebration of the former PEPS educators and staff from the previous years, which I must frankly say that I don't know any of them as they were all after my years at PEES. The only one I could still recognise was Mrs Kannan, whom I had first met at their Diamond Jubilee Dinner a few years ago. Mrs Kannan never taught me but she had taught my siblings though.

The highlight of the evening was the musical put up by the staff and students. It was colourful and performed to an excellent level. You can see the tremendous effort put into the production. Kudos to all the staff and children.

Here are some photo highlights of the evening.

Guest of Honour was Mr Ramesh Kannan, Judicial Commissioner at the Supreme Court of Singapore.
Ramesh Kannan was an old boy of PEES and is also the son of former teacher Mrs Kannan.
Mdm Moliah, the current Principal, is showing Mr Kannan  the Alumni Wall, a new plaque created to acknowledge prominent alumni of the school.

A rousing standing ovation from guests and parents for the performers!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

More football teams of the 60s.

Football was the one sport that galvanised our estate back in the 60s and 70s.
Blessed with a free and open regulation size football pitch within the estate, several teams were formed from ad-hoc to almost semi-pro status. In those days it was all amateur football but then our estate teams had managed to make a name for themselves winning national and constituency competitions.

Unfortunately for me, football was not in my blood and my only contacts with it was as an evening spectator when all the 'small boys' would gather around the field to watch and pick balls that roll to our sidelines.

But I can recall the Union Carbide team who had their regular training on the pitch after work.
My dad worked at Union Carbide and thus I came to meet people like Quah Kim Choon (one of the Quah family) and Mahat Ambu, Singapore's centre-forward at that time. These two big names were enough to draw crowds to watch their training.

I am at a loss with the number of teams formed or even the team names they call themselves by, so if anyone remembers, please drop me a line in the comments below.

Aswan, whose family lived beside the football pitch, had just sent me 2 photos of some teams that played back in the 60s.
In the first photo, I can identify Glen Hogan in the striped jersey. This would then date the photo to the mid-60s. If you can identify anyone else, please share with us here.

Thanks to Udin Anwar for identifying all the footballers.
This team was called the ASAS FOOTBALL CLUB.

Links to other articles about our estate footballers:

Monday, July 20, 2015

The lost hills around Hillview.

I was just sharing with a nostalgia group on Facebook on the topic of lost hills in the Singapore city. Right in the city long ago were some small hills named Mount Wallich, Mount Erskine and Mount Palmer. These hills are no longer there, having been levelled and the earth dumped into the sea for land reclamation.

While sharing my thoughts about those lost hills, I recalled recently the incredulous looks from some young school children who had invited me to take them on a tour of the Jurong and Bukit Batok areas as part of their National Education programme.

I had done four tours with four different primary schools and each time the kids all had that same unbelieving look. They just can't visualise the area being full of hills in the past!

Since Singapore's Independence, the routine construction method seemed to be 'level everything and begin anew'. The country now seems to be so flat and connected that a whole generation has now grown up not knowing the difficulties of moving around these hills to get from place to place.

When I was growing up in Princess Elizabeth Estate in the 1960s, the furthest we could go along Hillview Ave was just beyond today's Hillview Villas where the track ended. Beyond this was the hills into Jurong and the farm area. It was not only hilly but forested in many parts.

Recently I came across this photo on the net and remembered I had the same copy from my days working at the Church of St Mary of the Angels.

This is a picture of the hill top, where today the Church of St Mary of the Angels is located. It was taken in 1957. The man is Fr Virgil Mennon who built the original church.
Right at the back on the top right is Bukit Gombak. Gombak II was another hill that was part of Bukit Gombak. The private housing estates of Chu Lin and Jalan Remaja would be later built on this smaller hill.

What is interesting to note is that between Gombak II and the church foreground, the hills have all been levelled and today the flats of Bukit Batok New Town are built there. The hills are completely gone !

The old Jurong Road (9m.s.) ran across the picture just beyond the church boundary 10m below the clump of large trees in the valley.
It would be only later around 1960 that Hillview Avenue would be connected to Jurong Road here (somewhere to the right of the picture).

So when I was telling the children about how the soldiers during the war had to climb over hills after hills to escape the Japanese army advancing through Jurong, I usually can see bewildered faces.
They just can't imagine that it took hours to cross Bukit Gombak to get to Bukit Batok, today a 5 minute drive by car.

From this aerial photo map of the Bukit Batok battle area, you can actually see how hilly the area used to be; the lumps and bumps in the photo.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The oldest region of Singapore Island.

My apologies for being rather tardy in updating this blog for a while.
I think some of you may know I took up another hobby in my spare time and have been out in the field photographing birds instead. I guess I should do an update now, if not just to assuage my guilty conscience.

There has been a lot of new developments around the old Hillview area these few years past. There's the upcoming Hillview MRT Station, the new HillV2 mall and of course more condominiums. Apart from the old primary school building, now reincarnated as the United Medicare Nursing Home, nothing structural was left of our old Princess Elizabeth Estate. The land where it once sat on is now flattened and levelled and presumably waiting for new developments.

But did you know that our old estate sat on land that is the oldest piece of rock found in Singapore geologically? Surprised? It sat on what is called the Gombak Norite which is 500 million years old.

If you look up Google Earth and see the continental shelf of South East Asia, you can see a flat area out at sea running from China near Hainan Island going down south along the Vietnam coast, across to Borneo and then south to Java and then following the coast up along Sumatra toward Myanmar.

Eons ago, it was believed that this entire region (excluding the Philippines, Suluwesi and the islands west) was all above sea level and the region was called in geology/geography as Sundaland.

Over the ages, tectonic and other geological forces created the mountains and countries and the melting ice age water made the sea level rise within Sundaland.

Five hundred million years ago, in the area which was to become Singapore Island, a small bulge known as the Gombak Norite arose.
(Norite is a type of rock like granite and is also found at Ponggol end and on Pulau Ubin.)

Another 250 million years would pass again before geological forces pushed up what is now known as the Bukit Timah Granite. Together these 2 rock formations would form the backbone of what would become Singapore Island.

Surrounding this central core, alluvial soil accumulated over the millennia and eventually shaped the island. Alluvial soil meant it was deposited by rivers and it is believed by geologists that the rivers that created the land was what is now the Straits of Malacca and the Singapore Straits before the sea level rose as a result of the melting ice. Interesting theory.

Princess Elizabeth Estate was built directly over this dome of norite rock and many ex-residents will remember the block of flats that they used to live in was built mostly with little foundation as it sat on the bedrock itself.

Photo of the old SIT Princess Elizabeth Estate with Bukit Gombak at its rear.

Addendum: August 2015.

I found this Youtube presentation which is an excellent explanation of the Sundaland flooding.
This was extracted from the blog "Atlantis in Java Sea" by Dhani Irwanto.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Photos from ex-residents - Chew Wah Meng (#22)

Regular contributor Wah Meng has again sent me 2 wonderful old photos taken in the old estate.

The first is one of Wah Meng with his brothers as well as with some friends and neighbourhood kids. This was taken in front of the Sin Wah Hin Provision Shop (block 16 Prince Charles Rise)


The second is of the PEE Youth Group organised by the estate community centre.
The CC Organising Secretary is Mr Ronald Lim who is pictured in the front row extreme right.
Ronald Lim was also a PEE resident and lived at the 7-storey block ground floor (Blk 23).
Back Row: XX, Kim Huat, Szeto Fun Hio, XX, XX Johar Anuar, Balbir Singh, XX, XX, Aswan Suri, XX

dle Row: Chok Kor (Sin Wah Hin eldest son), Jumain Bakri, Binhan, Wong Par (No13 Provision shop son), Ang Beng Kong - Ang Beng Huat's youngest brother(?), XX, Woo Eng Lee(with watch), John Sim, Cheng Wee, Ang Beng Huat .

Front Row: XX, Sulaiman, Yao Hung, XX, Kampong Boy, Johnny Tan, Ronald Lim

 The pictures were taken around 1957. This would make most of them in their 60s today.
Can you recognise anyone in the photos? I'd love to hear your comments.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Photos from ex-residents (#21) - Estate Footballers

Chew Wah Meng, who contributes regularly to my blog, has sent me another photo he found stashed among his hidden treasures.
This is of our estate footballers taken during a competition at Boys Town school field in 1978.

Chew Wah Meng is standing at the back row 4th from right. However, he is unable to identify most of the other players in the photo now. Perhaps, some of you can identify them. They would probably be in their fifties now and we would like to credit them even now for their representation of our football-crazy estate residents then.

Click on photo to view full size.

For a full story of how football crazy our estate was those days, you can read an earlier article about our footballers here.

Update: Thanks to friends and readers from the PEES facebook group, a good number of the footballers have been identified as follows:-

Standing Back Row (L-R)
2. Zainnuddin Abdul Samad
3. Dino Pereira
4. James Yeo
5. Abdul Rahim
6. Chew Wah Meng
7. Buang Rawi
8. Roger Bulner
9. Mr Choo (PEES PE teacher)

Front Row (Squatting L-R)
1. Tan wee Long
2. Yang Lee ?
3. Arriffin Selamat
4. Nasir Hj Ali
5. Sithamby
6. Yunos
7. Salim
9. Tan Wee Koon

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tien Tor Long

A documentary series was recently broadcasted on Channel New Asia called Days of Disaster.
Last Sunday, March 8, there was an episode titled Megafloods which covered the floods of Singapore over the past few decades.

I was asked to watch this episode by my blogger friend, ex-schooltecher Mr Yeo Hong Eng.
 Yeo Hong Eng is the author of The Little Red Cliff, a book in which he tells of his young days living in rural Bedok.  Hong Eng was featured in the episode in an interview about his days when Bedok was severely flooded in 1954.

During the show, a picture flashed on the screen for about one second but it immediately caught my eye! It had nothing to do with floods but it was shown as an example of industrialisation in Singapore.

The picture they used was the Union Carbide factory at Hillview Road.
Screen capture from Channel News Asia.

Many of the early residents of Princess Elizabeth Estate would be closely associated with this factory as many of them worked there. These include both my father and my mother who were once employed by Union Carbide. I have previously blogged about the factory in an earlier posting here.

People living in the vicinity of Hillview will know the factory as the Eveready battery factory or Tien Tor Long in the local dialect. Tien Tor means battery and Long is factory in Hokkien.

It was a landmark at Upper Bukit Timah in those days because of its tower which can be seen from far away.
At the top of the tower was a huge model of an Eveready Silver battery which was lit up at night and acted as a beacon. It could be seen from far off coming up or down Upper Bukit Timah Road.

In the picture you can spot Princess Elizabeth Estate in the background at the base of Bukit Gombak. The private estate beside it does not seem to have been built yet so I surmise that this picture was taken before 1965. If so, then the factory would have been known as National Carbon and not renamed as Union Carbide yet.

From the angle of this picture, I reckon that it was shot from the top of Fuyong Estate which lies across the main Upper Bukit Timah Road. Most probably from the slope where today the St Francis Methodist School lies.

It is one of the clearest picture I have yet seen of Tien Tor Long.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Photos from ex-resident & ex-PEES teacher (#20)

Through the kind effort of James Chan from Canada, I received a set of old PEES photos that belonged to Ms Rosy Fernando. Known by all as Teacher Rosy, she was also known as "Akela" by her cubs being the scoutmaster during her teaching days there. Rosy lived at Blk 21 which was just beside the school

I have not gotten full details of the photographs yet but am very eager to share it immediately.
I will update the details once I have them but am guessing that the photos were taken in the late 1960s.
Do look carefully and see if you can recognise anyone. I found two of my old senior schoolmates and some of the teachers and of course Mr George Catherasoo, the Principal.
You may even recognise some as your siblings or even parents when they attended PEES in those days.

Do share your comments here with us and remember to sign off with your name or url instead of selecting 'anonymous' in the comment section.