Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 3 – Newton to Tekka

With a bit of help from my friend, Peter, I would like to tell you about the final stretch of Bukit Timah Road from Newton Circus to Tekka at Serangoon Road.

Newton Road.Newton Post Office-1970

1970 Photo of the POSB at Bukit Timah Road. Photo courtesy of Peter Chan

1) Christian Cemetery

Did you know that the nice and peaceful Kampong Java Park, reputedly a favourite ‘haunt’ for love birds at night used to be a cemetery? The graves here were previously located at Singapore’s first Christian cemetery. Do you know where that was?

Answer - Fort Canning. In the year 1865, the bodies were exhumed and reburied in this Bukit Timah cemetery. The memorials and tablets can still be seen in Fort Canning, embedded in the north and south walls surrounding the old cemetery (see photo below). But the Bt Timah cemetery was later converted into a public park. The bodies were once again exhumed and reburied in the Chua Chu Kang Christian Cemetery. (Sigh .. in land-scarce Singapore, even the dead have to keep moving homes)


I recall seeing the road sign for New Cemetery Road whenever I traveled past this park in the old days before the Central Expressway was built. In writing this blog, I had a tough time confirming the exact location of this road. It could not be found even in my 1998 street directory. I checked two books on Singapore road names at the National Library and both did not list this street. Finally, with the help of National Library's ASK service, I was able to confirm that this road known as New Cemetery Road did not exist simply in my memory. I must say a word of thanks to the National Library Board’s reference librarian, Ms Hameedah M Ibrahim for her assistance.

Next to Kampong Java park is one of those irritating Area License booths. In those days, before the advent of the ERP system, we had to stop our cars by the booth, get down, purchase an area license and stick in to our windscreen. For the younger readers who are not familiar with this system, you can refer to the references in my previous post.

2) Kandang Kerbau Hospital

I think most of you would know about this famous hospital. It’s the predecessor of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. For some reason, they decided to adopt a new name when they shifted to the present location.

Did you know that this hospital used to hold the world record for delivering the most number of babies. Read about this at NLB’s Infopedia (Reference 2). Most of the guys of my generation made our entrance into the world at this place.

When I visited my sister-in-law at KK back in 1972 after she gave birth to my eldest niece. I saw a huge silver Rolls Royce in the car park. Do you know who it belonged to?

Answer – President (Dr) Benjamin Sheares, our second president. Apparently, even though he was our head of state, he continued to practice his craft.

Further down, you will come to the Tekka Centre at the junction with Serangoon Road. This familiar market and hawker centre was for a time renamed Zhu Jiao when the government got carried away with it’s zeal to get Chinese Singaporeans to ‘chiang chua ji” (speak Mandarin). But for the sake of the tourists, they have reverted to the old name.

Across the canal, at the Junction with Selegie Road was one of the oldest cinemas in Singapore, the Rex Theatre.

3) Kampong Java Road

I can think of three landmarks that had been removed to make way for the new KK Hospital. First there is the Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant. I think it was one of their earliest outlets. The first one by the way, was at Sommerset in Orchard Road. In those days, they served you the chicken on proper plates and with proper cutlery.

Next to the KFC were some squash courts. I cannot remember if it was to the right or left side. In the late 70’s and early 80’s squash was extremely popular in Singapore. I was the squash convener of the Philips (Audio Factory) Sports and Recreation Club. I had to search all over Singapore to book squash courts for our weekly games. I think the squash courts here were operated by the Singapore Sports Council. The design was terrible. The entrance into the court was very low and you had to crouch down to get in. I will blog about this game at another time.

Further down towards Thomson Road was the City Council Infirmary for Animals, which also housed the Veterinary Laboratory. This had been around since 1962. During our kampong days, we had to apply for dog licenses here. When our pets were injured, this was also the place to bring them for treatment.


Photo courtesy of Peter Chan

4) Farrer Park Swimming Pool

The next time you travel from Thomson Road to Keng Lee Road or Kampong Java Road, look out for the railings along the canal at the traffic lights junction. You will notice that they are painted red in colour. Do you know why?

It’s because in the old days, this place was a prominent landmark known as Ang Kio Tau in Hokkien. It got its name from the prominent red colour of the bridge railings. I guess, they have decided to retain the red colour as a tradition.

During my primary school days (early 60’s), I often went to Farrer Park Swimming Pool. We would tell the bus conductor, Ang Kio Tau. My brothers and I have some fond memories of the Farrer Park area. There was one occasion when we spent a few days of our holidays staying with our cousins in Dorset Road. My cousins used to stay in what was known as Dutch houses along Dorset Road. It was within walking distance of Farrer Park. The houses were of quite unique design, but unfortunately, I am not able to find any information about them on the internet or the Library.

5) OSH

In 1984, I started work with the National Productivity Board located at Cuppage Centre in Orchard Road. At that time we were part of the Ministry of Labour (name changed to Ministry of Manpower recently). Within NPB, there was a unit known as the Occupational Safety and Health Unit. They were housed in Halifax Road next to the Kampong Java Park. Occasionally, I joined my colleagues for a jog here in the evening. When NPB was transferred to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, my colleagues at the OSH remained in MOL and thus we parted ways. Later, MOL got their own building at Havelock Road, and we got ours at Bukit Merah Central.

5) Tennis Courts

Finally, we come to the other side of New Cemetery Road. Originally the Christian cemetery that I mentioned earlier stretched till Hooper Road. But this was later converted into a squash and tennis centre.

Along Hooper Road were some old houses also of quite unique design. I think some of them are still standing there, but may have been converted to offices. My father’s old friend, who we called Uncle Tham used to live here. My older brother Chun Chew (Zen) will remember more because he was good friend with one of the older Tham boys. But I remember attending a Christmas party at their house once when very young, probably below seven. I think they were Christians. It was quite an experience for me as a kampong boy to mix with such ‘civilised’ (English-speaking) people for a change. I remember Mrs Tham as a very friendly lady who spoke very good English. I also remember playing musical chairs and even got a box of picture/letter cubes as Christmas present. It was a wooden box with a sliding cover on top.

Coincidentally, when I moved to Lily Avenue in 1986, I discovered that Uncle Tham lived at the adjacent street; same house number as mine too, along Lemon Avenue. But shortly after, they moved away, and we lost touch.

Quiz Question

I would like to end with a Quiz Question. Where was Singapore’s Jewish cemetery located?

I doubt anyone younger than 50 will know the answer. So I give you a hint: it was less than 2 km from Ang Kio Tau.


1) Singapore’s earliest Christian cemetery

2) Kandang Kerbau Hospital
3) ASK, the National Library's Enquiry Service


Anonymous said...

Novena Square - between MRT station and the former City Council Gas (or Water) Department or the row of semi-Ds next to Novena Church.

Anonymous said...

I really miss that Farrer Park swimming pool and the CCA centre where my PE teacher taught us gymnastic there.

Thanks Chun See, for this wonderful post.

Lam Chun See said...

LKK. Why do you say you miss the Farrer Park Swimming Pool. I thot it is still there?

Anonymous said...

Novena MRT station.

There use to be a long staircase leading to TTSH, with the hospital quaters near the top of the stairs. A foot ball field( on the right) beside the staircase too.
In the night, after 10pm the staircase is usually deserted, even when it was very well lighted up.

Anonymous said...

I know the answer, too, and I'm below 50, ha ha. I even remember what the cemetery looked like. I believe some of those urban ghost stories about spooky things happening at Novena station came about because of its location.

Farrer Park pool is still there. It's now run by Ang Peng Siong's swimming school.

Lam Chun See said...

Well done people. Yes the Jewish cemetery was at the junction of Thomson Rd and Moulmein Road; probaly the Present-day Novena MRT and shopping complex.

The entrance was from Moulmein Rd I thnk. I seem to recall a wrought iron gate and arch. My friend Simon used to live just a stones throw away. Must ask him to comment.

Anonymous said...

I know where was the Jewish was located inside the Kampong Ja-Heng (spelling?) right at where the Novena MRT/N.Square are. I used to wonder through it ..fascinated by some of the tombstones.....


Anonymous said...

the Doby gaut MRT Station also had a Jewish cemetery. I remember seeing it as a "man's height wall" from Orchard Road side. It was sandwiched between the Indian temple (opposite I suspect Macdonald House where Citibank is) and Amber Mansion

Anonymous said...

I am very grateful to the doctors and nurses of the former KK hospital. My wife had blood clotting problem before giving birth to my eldest daughter. With loving care from the hospital staff the baby was safely delivered and the senior nurse jokingly told me: "your daughter has the loudest cry in the whole ward". Incidentally my daughter and wife share the same birthday.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. I am not aware of that Jewish cemetery along Dhoby Gaut that you mentioned. But I am not surprised seeing that in nearby Middle Road there is a Jewish Synagogue and a David Elias building with the Star of David on the outside.

Anonymous said...

There is a rumour ppl say that the underground shopping mall cannot do business bcos it's under the former cemetery site whereas Novena Station is above ground-level.

U remember there was a Cycle & Carriage carshowroom there and one "Hassan Carpet" shop (now I think at Centerpoint) there Chun See?

Ah the cemetery was next to the locked-up Cycle & Carriage showroom. Inside the locked-up car showrrom I remember seeing a 5liter Pontiac car inside belonging to one of the Chua brothers.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ngiam Shih Tung said...

There are photos of the Jewish Cemetery at Dhoby Ghaut at the NAS picture archive ( - Seach for "jewish cemetery"). MacDonald House is just visible in some of the pictures. There is also a "man-sized wall" which probably hid it from most people passing by. Incidentally, the caption on the pictures should say site of Dhoby Ghaut MRT station rather than MRT Headquarters.

The Kampong anonymous mentioned was Kg Jai Heng. The 1969 Street Directory shows the Cemetery further up the hill, away from the main road, rather than at the junction where Novena Square is, but hard to say exactly where the boundary was. I'd site it closer to where TTSH is now.

Anonymous said...

The exact location when it is up a hill will be the corner of Sinaran Drive and Novena Terrace: probably the MRT exit upwards towards the old TTSH highrise block - from Novena Station overhead pedestrian bridge to TTSH. From Thomson Road I remember there was a Malay kampung an so the graves must be on higher ground up a hill.

Anonymous said...

I think the Farrer Park pool is now a private pool. Don't think it's open to the public anymore.

Anonymous said...

There are 2 things I missed most about the KK Area.
The Nasi Lemak sold at the hawker centre facing the massive football field. I believe the field was where the first horse race was held in Spore. Another is the Rex cinema which was later converted into a ice skating ring. That is the place where I first held my wife hands while teaching her to ice skate. I think that was in 1990.

Anonymous said...

got ice-skinting rink inside Rex Cinema? I didnt know, maybe if i still pak-to then I know. But I remember in 1976 there was the sen-surround movie (fore runner of the THX movie era) called "Earthquake" screened at REX Cinema. Why Rex when it was a second-rate cinema, I dont know. When the "Boom,Boom" started, I looked at where the sound came from. Since I was seated in the Back Stall, I saw some big speakers piled on top of each other along the aisles. This rocked the whole cinema when sen-surround turned at full blast.

After the movie walked over to Albert Street for "Fatty Restaurant" Cantonese food.

Rex Cinema and the area around Niven and Sel;egie Road very dull in the 1970s. Today I found a lingerie shop in front of the bus-stop facing Sel;egie House. Shows u how much times have changed.

Lam Chun See said...

Woaaa Chuck. So romantic. Come lah, email the full story and share with the world leh. But pls don't mention that you not sure of the date. Can get you into serious trouble ok.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. Everytime I think of Rex, I remember the Sensurround and Earthquke, starring Charlton Heston.

Anonymous said...

The cinemas acted as a great medium for dating couples of the past. Men had good excuse to date the ladies, usually saying that they bought extra tickets. The ladies hinted that they love certain films, especially the romantic type. For the men, ghost films were much preferred choice. It was an excellent place for blind dates (cannot miss the location), and after the meeting proceeded to the cafe for a snack/drink or going to some other convenient eating places nearby (definitely available). Better still the girl's parents felt safe when knowing that their daughter went out with a guy to the cinema. The list showing the advantages of cinema going went on and on.

Anonymous said...

Chun See... seriously, cannot remember the date la...
I think the Towering Inferno was also screened at Rex. I wonder if the coffee shop facing Rex selling chicken rice is still there. Have not been there for a long time except driving past there a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday evening. The car park besides Rex is a popular gathering point for Indian workers.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. Are you sure that photo of Newton POSB is taken in 1970? I checked the 1969 Street Directory at National Library and it shows the Newton Post Office to be still at the junction of Kg Java Rd and Bt Timah Rd, beside Newton Circus as we said in the earlier post.

Could it be later?

Anonymous said...

chun see...maybe 1972 bcos that was th year i opened POSB account via a drive-in. I rememebr u could drive aroudn the bdlg bcos the drive-in at the back.
1969 street directory would be based on survey made in 1967 10 1968, usually 1 year delay from Survey Dpt.

Actually i dont enjoy watching romance movies with date. I brought one out to watch war movie "TORA TORA" at Orchard Cinema in 1970 (we still school kids then). after that never hear form her again. FASTY FORWARD, about maybe 4 -6 years ago I bunmped into her again bcos her son n my son same class in school. why she still can remember the name of the movie....Then i found out she also staying in the same neighbourhood as i am now. thank goodness not just immediate next door.

Anonymous said...

actually my movie visit to see TORA TORA quite thrilling. No lah I dont mean what happen inside the cinema (u think I like that "Quan"). My best freind also interested in a girl but could not think of a movie to see. So he said, Peter u got n see firts n tell me afterwards good or not. So I told him the truth: movie got plenty of action but I no action.

My friend went to see the movie with this girl but jiah lak! the girl felll asleep 1/2way during the movie nad her head was his shoulder. He thout got chance but the girl said very boring movie....

Anonymous said...

I know of two guys in my class. One asked the girl if wanna see movie.

Girl said "Can" and boy went to buy tickets at Cathay midnight show, Bruce Lee "Way of the Dragon" in 1972. One week later, this boy's best friend ask him which movie good to see in town, he said Bruce Lee. So the second guy bought the ticket and when reaching the Cathay Cinema, the girl said, "I already see the movie". The second guy went blur did not know how to react to situation but in the end swollow his pride and went to this cafe at the corner of Handy Road for soda and pastries. Then when second guy met first guy in school they concluded they dated the same girl.

I am not sure whether any guys kena like that kind of luck b4? For the second guy, his date was extra expensive.

Anonymous said...

The cinema could also let out a secret. I once had a very shy colleage who insisted that he had no girl friend and asked his office friends to introduce him one (just throwing smoke). One day I happened to see a film at Capitol and this same guy came in with a girl and unknowingly sat right in front of me. He must have forgotten that it was a small world, unwittingly letting the cat out of the bag.

Anonymous said...

Newton Circus has got a lot of grill seafood stalls. I remembered a stall charged a Japanese tourist S$15.00 for a plate of peanut many years back. From there on, I won't go to Newton unless necessary. Even when it's renovated recently, I been there once only because a tourist friend requested to go there.

Lam Chun See said...

I will not to go to Newton Circus unless 'forced' to. Not just becos of the prices, but becos they look down on locals. The last time I went was about 10 years ago; and before that maybe another 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Many tourists nowdays head for seafood in the East Coast area, UDMC. For me I prefer to take my foreign friends to Hwa Yue Wee Restaurant along Upper East Coast Road or to Bedok Corner.

bcos many expats live in east coast area - Bayshore, eastern Lagoon, casa de Soil, they recommend their country men to go to the east coast.

Anonymous said...

for that authentic Malay food i recommend Geylang Serai area like Haig Road Hawker Center.

Anonymous said...

And for Tulang... head to Adam's Road Hawker Centre. Chun See.... when???

Lam Chun See said...

Peter, I think your date of the POSB building is still wrong. I checked the 1978 street directory at National Library (Reference) and it showed that the Newton Post Office was still at where we said, and the place where the POSB building stands was called Japan Club??

Anonymous said...

i can only blame my darn memory bank....not working so well as before. Yes i now confirm that I drove my father's Peugeot 504 to open the posb account in that drive-in bank. That being the case it must have been after 1975 and before 1980 because my father switched to a Japanese car in ealry 1980s. So the pict must have been from late 1970s and not 1972. Japan Club...i thot this one was in Adams Road or was it the Ducth Club?

Anonymous said...

hi. just to say i am glad i come across your blog. i was a singaporean but now british. i used to stay at winstedt drive (along bukit timah road). your blog brought back so much of my beautiful memories there. i can still remember clearly monk's hill secondary school, the char siew pau shop opposite the posb(offhand, i couldnt remember the shop name) and also the popiah at newton circus.... (gosh i am so hungry....ha3)
thanks for 'bringing' me home to my teenage days..... :)

xx chris from london xx

Lam Chun See said...

Welcome Chris. Glad to know you grew up in this neighbourhood. Perhaps you can help me with some info about the 'Dutch houses' at Dorset Road. If I am not mistaken, those old houses at Hooper Road were also called Dutch houses?

Anonymous said...

hi.thanks for the welcome. re the dutch houses, yes, i remembered my dad mentioning that at hooper road as well. it was due to its architectural style i guess.

to add something to the kampong java park, there used to be a ywca child care centre there as well (which was next to the squash centre). i worked there for awhile as an assistant child care teacher after my 0 levels.
also not to foget to mention the curry puffs that were sold near the rex theatre. they were lovely.

thinking back now, i do love my life in singapore especially those carefree days at bukit timah :)
xx chris xx

Anonymous said...

During the port days at keppel, we had an officer, a very aggressive guy, who at his early fifties had a memory that had gone bonkers. He simply could remember things, and when reminded would say: "oh is it?", but one thing he could not forget is eating of beef. During lunch time, we could predict his answer. When asked: "Mr Michael would you follow us for lunch?" His usual reply was: "Oh, is the place selling beef!" We all wondered whether the cows were his enemies or was the beef he ate propelled his mind to twightlight zone (no mad cow disease was reported at that time).

Anonymous said...

The POSB building near Newton used to be the Japan Club.

Anonymous said...

in the 1980s,there used to have 2 entrance to entry Hooper Road, beside the existing one from bt. timah, another one from Kampong Java, at the current power station site used to be another 2 stretch of colonial houses,one stretch is 2 storey, another stretch is 1 storey,which were torn down to make way for the existing power station and expressway cte?

Anonymous said...

A great thread.

I was born in Kampong Java in the early 1970s and lived in an old colonial terrace house. Those houses still exist along Kampong Java Road, and I would love to go back to my old house and see what it looks like now. I lived there until I was twelve. I spent many hours cycling, walking the dogs, and playing in the Kampong Java park behind us. I understand Lee Kuan Yew was also born in one of the houses along Kampong Java Road, though I don't know which number.

Our neigbours were the Ang family at some point, and Peng Siong and his Dad were our swimming coaches at Farrer Park. I LOVED the curry puffs sold by the Malay lady outside the pool. That was a treat for us after our strenuous exercise.

I remember my kindergarten on Keng Lee Road, I think - Good Shepherd Kindergarten (run by the Marymount Sisters), which no longer exists. I remember taking the 166 from my primary school in Fort Canning and stopping at the bus stop just in front of the Primary Production Department, where we took the dogs to see the vet.

Cycling in the park was awesome. We had really nice bikes, I remember. Oh and I do remember that Area Licence Office, which was also a bus terminus for a bus company called City Shuttle Service, I think. I remember I could take CSS 7 to go to school. The more I think about it, the more I feel can recall a lot of detail about the area.

Icemoon said...

Anon, LKY was born in 92 Kampong Java Road. Do you know the exact plot?

IIRC, at one time 92 Kampong Java became a government or NGO office.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in this area too. My family has been living in this area for 3 generations. Originally living in those 3 level flats (didn't know they're called dutch houses- never seen pics of them) exactly where the badminton court is now on dorset road. Then moved off to the flats in the same area in the 70ies and again about 12 years ago. My grandma was one of Ang mum's gossip buddy at the market. Food choices were terrible at the market before the renovation.

I love the swimming pool and I would walk through the tennis courts along with those dusty old colonial houses (I think people use them for boxing and gym) parallel to dorset to reach the pool. I remember the pool had those small little open drains to filter and replenish the 2 pool's water.

I also remember the old race course stadium where my school would have our annual sports day with those very rare and fragrant cannon ball trees. There used to be a long shady footpath next to the stadium and the football fields towards a food court and towards little india.

I also remember picking those xiang xi red seeds along dorset. BTW don't know if anyone can remember this. I remember walking on dorest towards the pool and after crossing the canal you can continue walking in the same direction into a small lane to reach the ponds. I think I remember seeing some graves to my left. Any idea?

Trivia: this should be easy- the current pek kio CC used to be a ?

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. I was born in 1967 but I recognise quite a few of these places you talk about as rapid development only took off a little later. I came across it Googling for the location of the pre-1980s KK Hospital.

My Mum is the oral historian of both sides of the family - she knows exactly how everyone is related of the huge extended web of connections, the intricate ins and outs of how their individual histories are interwoven - but she has almost zero sense of direction.

I had to figure out from historical photos of Buffalo Road I found online that the old KK Hospital is now the Land Transport Authority Gallery in 1 Hampshire Road, one 'block' (in the American sense) away from the current premises.

I guess I should ask my Mum which wing of KK Hospital but another time! Pretty specific as I'm trying to get the exact geographical coordinates for something slightly obscure perhaps: Birth time rectification with Jyotish! Having the geographical coordinates of the city is a bit too far off the mark. For now, I'm quite happy with the middle of the premises of the LTA Gallery.

Thank you for sharing your blog.

Greetings and blessings from a fellow Singaporean.