Friday, April 20, 2012

Memories of Toa Payoh (1) - I saw them building Toa Payoh


Earlier this month, I posted a series of articles to the Singapore Memories Portal in support of their Iremember goes to Toa Payoh project. I reorganize and reproduce them here for GMY readers.

The first time I saw Toa Payoh

The first time I saw Toa Payoh, I didn’t know it was Toa Payoh. The year must be around 1963 or 1964 and I was studying at the Braddell Rise School. This was a primary school that was located next to the Mount Alvernia Hospital.

The main entrance to our school was from Thomson Road, and at the back of our school, i.e. at the top of the hill was our school field. At the edge of the field was a fence with many shrubs at the other side. It was at this field that we had our sports events and played the boys’ favourite game, Hantam Bola! The location of this field, in today’s terms, would probably be the Assisi Home and Hospice.

One day, for reasons I cannot remember, I stood on my toes and peered over the school fence and the shrubs outside. I saw something I had never seen before all my days living in a kampong. I saw in the distance, a huge piece of land that had been cleared of its vegetation; i.e. totally bare surface. I did not know it at that time. They were constructing one of Singapore’s earliest modern HDB housing estates – Toa Payoh.

This is a 1956 photo of the BRS field (from the National Archives' Picas Collection)

Where it all began

This 1963 photo, from the National Archives collection shows a wayang stage along Braddell Road. The exact location in today’s geography would be somewhere near Toa Payoh blocks 217 or 218; i.e. between the Kallang River and Toa Payoh North Flyover.

 During my primary school days in the 1960s, I passed by this wayang stage practically every day. There was something very interesting about it. During the Chinese Seventh Month period, also known as Hungry Ghost festival period, this wayang stage would come alive with opera shows. But on normal days, it functioned as a school. Hence, when my bus passed by, I could see students attending classes on the wayang stage!

In this photo you will notice a huge bull dozer and some children standing around a shop with attap roof, and gawking at the action. Do you know where this bull dozer is headed?  It is headed towards what would become Singapore’s largest and most modern HDB estate, Toa Payoh. Joining an army of similar earth-moving equipment, it will convert kampong and farmland into a modern housing estate which will provide high-rise apartments to house the former kampong folks.

Here are more photos of the earth-moving equipment being used for the construction of Toa Payoh (from the National Archives of Singapore collection)


peter said...

The earth from Toa Payoh Estate project was transported to land-fill kallang Basin (that's where you get Kallang Basin Industrial Estate today). There was a Bailey Bridge across Serangoon Road near St George's Road.

D said...

Hi Chun See, the origins of HDB estates in pictures is an often overlooked topic and it's terrfici that you're putting it together here. Having spent half my life in Toa Payoh, I'm eagerly anticipating the next chapter in this series.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi D. If my stories trigger any memories for you; pls share with readers here. I for example am struggling to visualize what Braddell Rd was like during those years. It's like trying to recall a dream! The images are very vague.

Anonymous said...

I can remember some bits & pieces; there was a vegetable farm on the site of the present Delgro depot, a chicken farm where Blk 147 now stands and a circus at the junction of Lorong Chuan and Braddel Road.

D said...

Opposite the present Delgro site (which used to be some sort of SBS bus depot previously, if I'm not wrong), perhaps someone can confirm if there used to be a row of old shops in front of a PUB building, with the Kallang River in close proximity. What was more notable about this stretch of Braddell Road in the 70s was the stench coming from the river as one drove across it!

Edward said...

If you travel along Upper Thomson Road, from Sembawang Hills Estate, you turn left into Braddell Road at MacRitchie Circus. On the right side of Braddell Road, towards Serangoon Road, there used to be single plot vegetable farms, each plot managed by the family who lived in the attap house at the back. What I remember most was the smell of manure used by the farmers as fertilisers. I can still see the lone farmer with a bamboo pole across his shoulder and a pail of water (mixed with manure) at each end of the pole. As he trudged along the passage between rows of vegetables, the contents of each pail will be tipped onto the fresh green vegetables on both sides. I cannot remember much of what was on the left side of Braddell Road – I suppose there were houses along this side but no vegetable farms. This was in the mid 60s.

Lam Chun See said...

Braddell Rd is not a long rd. From Thomson to Upp Serangoon I think is only a few km. So one of these days, I am going to squeeze those brain cells of mine and try to recollect everything I can about what I saw when travelling along this road. At that time, I hope readers can help me to fill in the blanks

PS - Unlike Edward, I remember the left side of the road better than right. Strange.

Edward said...

It is the smell of the manure from the vegetable farms that caught my attention each time I was driven along Braddell Road. These small family run farms cover only a part of the road before Serangoon Road. I am sure there are other homes along this side of Braddell Road but I can only visualise scenes of the owner watering his vegetable plots in front of his small attap house, adjacent to Braddell Road. This was usually in the evening.

Lam Chun See said...

Edward. The scene you described, of the farmer watering the rows of vegetables with 2 pails was a very common sight. We had a neighbour who also did that. Usually they would get their water from a pond, a well or a stream. In my neighbours case, they just go to the a stream which was a tributary of the Kallang River.

Edward said...

Chun See, the only vegetable farms I have seen in Singapore were the ones along Braddell Road. I have walked through several kampongs to fishing ponds but these did not have vegetable farms along the paths leading to the ponds. Asia, Cathay, Chiap Seng, Ocean, Yio Chu Kang and Tampinese fishing ponds are the ones I have been to. This is why I still have distinct memories of the vegetable farms along Braddell Road. Of course it was the scent of the manure used as fertilisers that originally drew my attention to them. For the same reason I can never forget Heap Hoe rubber factory on Upper Thomson Road. Anyone going past this factory will be hit by the strong unpleasant smell of the processed rubber. By the way, I also vaguely recall a housing estate on the left side of Braddell Road before reaching Upper Serangoon Road. I cannot remember the name of this estate; the houses were the typical single storey brick bungalow homes of the 60’s era.

foodie said...

I used to live in Block 205 Toa Payoh between 1975 and 1981. From my seventh floor flat i had a clear view of bradell road with some small kampongs and coconut trees on the other side. Beyond the Kampong I could see a Chinese cemetry which i gather from google maps is no longer there. I used to study in Bartley Secondary School for which I took SBS No.93 from infront of this kampong after walking through the factories bordering Toa Payoh.

P. Ashok
New Delhi

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Foodie. Thanks for your inputs. I have a couple of questions. Hope you don't mind.

1) Do you remember seeing a pond behind the bus stop where took bus 93 to Bartley?

2) Now you are living in Delhi. How did you arrive at my blog? Just curious.

jade said...

Chun See, using Edward's direction and looking to the left of Braddell Rd, I do recall a vegetable farm which was located just opposite of the entrance of Toa Payoh and it belong to a Wong family. It had a pond. The last time I visited a friend who lived there was in 1976. I remember the year as it was her wedding day!