Friday, October 3, 2014

Another aerial view of our old estate - 1958.

Recently, the National Archives of Singapore began releasing a large number of documents and photographs that till now have been kept out of reach from the public. I have been spending hours browsing their website for little gems, especially of those relating to our old estate.

Here's one taken by the Royal Air Force 81 Photo Recon Squadron in 1958. Coincidentally, I had recently spent some time with an ex-RAF 81 Sqn member, Mr Al Taylor, who was in Singapore to catch up on old times.

Photo source: National Archives of Singapore.
(click on photo to see a large view)
The photo appears to have been taken above Dairy Farm looking towards the southern end of Bukit Gombak ridge, which was being cleared then for the new Hillview, Popular  and Bamboo Grove private estates.

Most of the places in the photo above would have an article written about it earlier in my blog. So I will not bore you with more descriptions but would like to hear from you instead.

Do drop a line in the comment box below and share with us all your old memories of that place.
(By the way, please select Name/URL and enter your name, instead of selecting 'Anonymous' in the comment box. It would be nice to know who is writing in. Thanks)

Just to pique your curiosity or interest, look for the 2 circular sediment tanks and also the battery tower with the huge model of an Eveready battery.

One last point of interest, Hillview Avenue at that time ended just near the left edge of the photo.



Monday, September 29, 2014

Bokokang - a village from our past.

Bokokang is a place you probably would not have heard of; much less know that it was in Singapore! 
Its heydays were in the 1840s, a couple of decades after Raffles founded Singapore, but by the early 20th century it fell into obscurity and was hardly heard of anymore.

1852 map of gambier farms in Northern Singapore.

Bokokang, (or variously spelt Bookoh Kang, Buko Kanka, Bookoh Khan) was a Teochew  village located on the Kranji River .  It was one of the ‘Chu Kangs’ of the day much like Lim Chu Kang and 
Chua Chu Kang.  The Bukoh clan founded it before 1840 but the exact date is unknown. It was originally known as Bukoh Chu Kang but shortened to Bokokang as time passed, and the name became anglicised in the official records. The earliest record of this name was by government surveyor, John Turnbull Thomson, in 1844.

A Chinese village around 1900s. Bokokang would typically look similar.
(Photo source: National Archives of Singapore)

So what is so interesting about Bokokang?
Despite being unknown to most people today, even to those studying local history, Bokokang featured prominently in the early days of Singapore. There were several reasons for its pre-eminent status.

Bokokang had a kangkar, or village centre, in that gambier and pepper-growing region of northern Singapore that became the most important trading port for that region. Its location was always marked on early maps of Singapore. 
Bokokang was located where today the Yew Tee and Sungei Kadut Estates are.

Photo source: National Archives of Singapore


I first heard of Bokokang about 30 years ago when I was doing a study of the early catholic church missionary activities and the early gambier farmers in Singapore.

Gambier was already being farmed here by the Chinese even before Raffles established a trading post in Singapore. Then they were mainly used for medicinal or personal consumption. However, when it was discovered that gambier could be used for tanning and dyeing, the demand from Europe was so overwhelming and the profits from it so lucrative that every farmer wanted to plant gambier. Gambier became the cash crop that fuelled the early economy of Singapore.


Photo source: National Archives of Singapore
It was to the industrious Teochew farmers who sought and opened up the lands in the ‘unwanted’ jungle areas to capitalise on this demand. Concessions known as chu kangs were setup in the North, West and North-Eastern areas of Singapore. These chu kang lands came to be known by the name of the headman (the kangchu) who held the concession. Thus, major farm areas came to be known as Choa Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang, Yeo Chu Kang, Tan Chu Kang, et cetra.

By the 1850s, there were more than 26 major chu kangs known to the colonial administration. All these chu kangs grew gambier and pepper with many of these farms being sub-divided and tenanted to smallhold farmers.
In 1855, a survey done for the purpose of adminstering taxes, showed that the biggest chu kang in Singapore then was Bokokang, which had 426 coolies working on its lands.

A government survey map (1900) of the Bokokang area showing farm boundaries.
Source: National Archives of Singapore

Bokokang by then was an established trading kangkar and commerce was all by river boats that had to travel around the coast to the city merchants to trade.  Travel across the island was not practical due to the dense jungle as well as the threat of man-eating tigers.

The first cross-island overland passage
In 1845, government surveyor John Turnbull Thomson, who was also at that time the appointed Superintendent of Roads, conducted a mapping survey from Bukit Timah Village heading towards the village of Bokokang. Together with his companion, Dr Robert Little, they marked out a route that was previously known to the local villagers towards the north coast of Singapore Island. It was said that they took 4 days to map and mark the 7 mile route to Bokokang. This route would eventually became the road known as Upper Bukit Timah and Woodlands Road.
From Bokokang, JT Thomson proceeded to survey the route towards the coast at Kranji, thus claiming the title of being the 1st to make a cross-island passage from the city to the northern coast.

The first outstation church in Singapore
In 1846, the Catholic Church established a small church at Bokokang called St Joseph Chapel. A French missionary, Fr Mauduit, was sent to minister to the immigrant Chinese Catholics who farmed around Kranji. This was the first Christian church to be set up outside of Singapore City and Fr Mauduit was so successful in his mission that by 1851, there were more than 300 Catholic converts at Kranji.

The anti-Catholic Riot of 1851
As the British colonials had a laissez-faire attitude towards activities outside the city, the rural farmlands were mainly controlled by the Chinese triads, especially by the notorious Ghee Hin Huay secret society. 
One way for the local farmers to avoid the threats and intimidations of the triads was to convert to Catholicism. By doing this, they could look to the ‘foreign’ church for protection and they no longer were required to pay tithes or protection money to the triads.

The increasing defection to the Catholic Church angered the triads so much that on 15 Feb 1851 the secret society declared war on the Catholic farmers. For a whole week, catholic-owned farms were pillaged, burnt and destroyed and the fighting was finally put down through the intervention of the military forces sent by the colonial government to quell the riot. The riot began at Bokokang and spread to other predominantly Catholic areas like Serangoon. This incident was known as the Anti-Catholic Riot of 1851.

The decline of Bokokang
Gambier was the major cash crop grown in Singapore between the 1830s to its peak in the 1870s.  However, gambier was a plant that was not self sustaining nor was it environmentally-friendly. Gambier leached the soil of all its nutrients so much so that within 15 years most of the soil became infertile. 
Further more, in order to process gambier, three times the amount of firewood in volume was required. The farmers had to constantly chop trees to fuel the cooking process. This resulted in devastating deforestation. In fact, by the turn of the century, it was reported that 75% of the tree cover in Singapore had been deforestation due to this agriculture. This alarmed the authorities so much that the central Bukit Timah region was declared ‘out-of-bounds’ to farming and made into a Nature Reserve to preserve what little was left of the primary forest.

After the 1850s, the soil around Kranji was no longer fertile enough to sustain the gambier growth. Farmers began to look for land elsewhere. The Bukoh clan uprooted and sought new lands around Batu Pahat and Muar in Johore State.

In 1858, a priest from St Joseph Church led a group of 25 Catholic farmers to new lands in Johor.  They set up a new settlement on a river that was given to them under a Surat Sungei concession from the Sultan of Johore.
The new settlement was called Pontian Kechil. The 25 farmers started the small town and the Catholic priest, Fr Augustin Perie, himself was instrumental in creating the road from Pontian Kechil to Ayer Hitam in Johore.

With the steady departure of farmers for new farms in Johore, Bokokang went into decline. Additionally, with the opening of the trunk Bukit Timah Road, river transport became a slower and less viable option. The kangkar was no longer required for transporting the processed goods to town.


Its demise was sealed with the establishment of the Tank Road-Kranji Railway in 1903 that totally bypassed the village. Through natural attrition, Bokokang was not heard of since.


Map of Kranji area showing the gambier and pepper farms












Monday, September 22, 2014

Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre - Redux

More than 2 years ago, I wrote a summary of how the community centres started at our old housing estate. From the 1st in 1952, to the 2nd at the shophouse, the 3rd and most familiar one built by People's Association in 1963, and finally, the one at the new Hillview Estate in the 1980s. (article here)

At that time of writing, photographs of the old community centres were extremely difficult to come by. Fortunately, in the past year, the National Archive of Singapore had begun to periodically release old records, maps and documents for public access. This has resulted in more pictures of our old estate being available for viewing.

I have collated some pictures in relation to the old (3rd) community centre for easy viewing here.
If you were in PEE sometime between 1963 to the 1980s, you would have known this building which was the focus of all social events at our estate then.

The first set of pictures is of the laying of the foundation stone by the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew on 5th May 1963. This was done during his constituency visit around Singapore in relation to the referendum of merger with the Federation of Malaya.

This is followed by some pictures of the official opening of the community centre by Haji Ya'acob Mohd, the Parliamentary Secretary to the PM's Office, on 11 September 1963.

Finally, a few photos of the 8th Anniversary Celebration of the Community Centre on 24th June 1972. This last set of pictures has special significance for myself as my father and sister are featured in some of them!


1. Laying the foundation Stone - 5th May 1963

On the right of this photo, you can see the mangosteen trees, remnants of what used to be the small  orchard that surrounded 2 badminton courts upon which the new CC was built.
The block in the rear is Blk 17 Prince Charles Rise.








2. Official Opening by Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Ya'acob bin Mohd on 11th Sep 1963.




(Some that I can identify as follows:- Right to Left)
Mr Chua Tong Nee, Quah Baba, Mr Koh Keng Kwee, Mrs Michael Wong, ?, Mrs Kim Swee, Mr Kim Swee, Mr Ya'acob Mohd, Leong Kai Ngin, Dr Rajah, Mr Lee Teck Hup, ? ? ? ? ? ?.

It is interesting to note that during the early years of the community centre, the management and running of the place were all done by unpaid resident volunteers. Only the Organising Secretary, Mr Ronald Lim, who was also a resident of PEE, was employed by the newly established People's Association.


3. The CC 8th Anniversary Celebration Dinner on 24th June 1972.


Mr Lee greeting members of the CC management committee.
Beside Mr Lee is Mr Chor Yeok Eng, MP for Bukit Timah, on his right is Mr Chai Chong Yii, later MP for Bukit Batok and beside Mr Chai is my dad, who was the Management Committee chairman at the time.





The old Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre.

If you are able to identify anyone else in the above photos, perhaps your parents, uncles, aunts or even yourself!, please drop me a comment below.


Photo source: National Archive of Singapore.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Photos from ex-residents (19) - More from Tay Kay Swee

Two photographs from way back in 1956/1957 from Tay Kay Swee.
Can you identify any of them?

      Teachers vs. Students Football Match played at our estate big field.
      Kay Swee is the centre of the middle row. Those on his right were teachers and those on his left         were students. Wonder what was the outcome of the match?

Front L-R:- ?, James, ?, Foo x x, Lim Mou Sing, ?, ?, ?, Tai Sun, ?
Middle L-R:- Robert De Souza, Bakar, ?, Tay Kay Swee, ?, ?, Ah Song.
Back L-R: Krisnan, Edmond Doss, ?, ?.







    Deep Sea fishing trip with residents of P.E.E and Scout Master Bernard Fernandez around 1957.
    Photo taken in front of the Principal's office at the school.






Standing L- R : 
1 & 4)  Nair brothers  ( Block 23 )
2) Chan Kum Fatt (107 Prince Charles Rise )
3) Bernard Fernandez ( Scout Master / teacher )

Front row L- R :
1) Seetoh Chow Hoi ( PEE "Lok Hoy Tailor" shop )
2) Tay Kay Swee (116 Princess Anne Hill )



Friday, September 12, 2014

The Girl Guides - 1958

These are the Girl Guides from 1958 in a group photo with their Guide Mistress, Ms Jane Charles, taken outside the ground floor classrooms.
Probably long before most of our time (at least mine!), some of these young ladies may even be your aunts or mothers! Do drop me a comment  if you still recall any of them, or tell us of your days in the school scout or guide movement at Princess Elizabeth Estate School.

(Click on the photo for a large detailed view)
Seated L- R :
 1) ?  (Lived in Fuyong Estate)
 2) Tay Sock Joo
 3) Loo Kim Suan 
 4) Susie Ponnusamy ( Principal M.Ponnusamy's daughter )
 5) ?
 6) ?
 7) ?  
 8) Ms Jane Charles ( teacher )
 9) Victoria Cunico 
10) Leela Nair 
11) ?
12) Catherine Seetoh 
13) Wong Hock Soon 
14) Tay Sock Suan.

Standing L- R :
1) ?  (Lived at 7th mile) 
2) Tan Phuah Choo
3) ? 

4) Aw Choy Peng.

Photo credit: Catherine Seetoh.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Photos from ex-residents (18) - Tay Kay Swee

Tay Kay Swee was in Princess Elizabeth Estate School from 1954-1957.
(See previous blog article here.)
He shares with us the following photos from his school days and of his scout days at PEES.

The Inter-school Table Tennis Champions for 1956.
(Tay Kay Swee is 2nd from left. Beng Seng far right
& Leong Li Lian front left )

Scout Badges 







Friday, September 5, 2014

Looking for old friends - Tay Kay Swee

Tay Kay Swee was a pupil at Princess Elizabeth Estate School from 1954 to 1957.
That would make him one of the pioneers at PEE School that moved to Hillview in 1955.

Kay Swee lived with his family at Blk 19 Princess Anne Hill.
He moved away in 1976 but his family remained there till the estate was closed in 1994.

Tay Kay Swee was in the school scout movement as well as being an active sportsman in school.
He sent me an old photo that was taken after the scout troop ended a camping trip to Sembawang Beach. He was a Troop Leader then in 1956.
He is very keen to meet up with his school mates or anyone from the scout troop.


Princess Elizabeth Estate School Scouts - 9 August 1956.













Though information is sketchy, here's a bit that might help:

Tay Kay Swee - Seated 2nd from left
Idris - Seated 1st far left.
Edmond A Doss - Scout Master - seated 3rd from left
Robert De Souza - Scout Master - seated 4th from left
Lau Cheng Hock (Dr) - seated 2nd from right.
Mohinder Singh - Back row 3rd from right - lived near the circus beside Castrol
Beng Seng - Middle row 2nd from right - sportsman & table tennis player - lived next to the Ang                              family (Ang Meng Huat/Ang Meng Kong) facing the football field.
Kam Fatt- Middle row 6th from right - lived at house facing football field.
Also searching for Seetoh Hon Hoy, the estate tailor's son who was a scout but not in the above photo.

If you can recognise or identify anyone from the photo, do put in a comment below and hopefully, I can get some sort of reunion going for them, as this blog has done for many others.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Photos from ex-residents (17) - Talentime at PEE CC.



Chew Wah Meng shared this photo and comments about the annual talentime contest held at PEECC in those days.

An old picture of Princess Elizabeth Estate.
The talentime photo shows the estate band boys (Hogan’s and Moss boys ?)
We used to have annual talentime in those days.
You can see Ronald Lim (the CC organiser) on the left of the picture.
The dancers were not from PEE but relatives of mine from other part of Singapore.
They were not part of the talentime, but supporting act during the break.
Hope the photo will start some memories jogging amongst your readers.
I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the talentime shows over the years....


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Guest Blogger - Soh Fong Phui

Hi James, 

Thank you for keeping Princess Elizabeth Estate alive.

I spent my childhood at Block 6 Hill View. We were the pioneer batch of residents and spent a good 8 years there before moving out. My elder brother studied at the Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre, while I being younger by 2 years, had the chance to study at the then brand-new Hill View CC in 1983 (before it was renamed as Bukit Gombak CC).

I was a student of PEES in 1985 and had always passed by the PE Estate en-route to school every day. I loved climbing up the slopes and passing by all the houses. 
I fondly remember the Magnolia Ice Cream Uncle in the old tuckshop and the Malay Auntie who used to sell donuts. I bought donuts daily from her for my entire P1 year :) 

I was showing my mother the photographs and she was very excited and pointed out the details of her primary school which she spotted on one of the photographs. She lived and studied near the old St Joseph Church.

It was a Chinese primary school, and you can refer to the comments in the attached photos.
Please continue to keep the old memories of our childhood places alive.








Addendum by James Tann

This is the area behind the cemetery (bottom right) which Fong Phui wrote above.
This area is now the Chestnut Drive housing development.
Her mom's old house should be in the kampong area on the top left of picture.
Jalan Geok Siang Nng led all the way to Jalan Cheng Hwa at Bukit Panjang Village.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Mysterious House at Dairy Farm.


If you have been to the Dairy Farm Nature Park, you might have seen this rather quaint abandoned building near the Wallace Education Centre.
In the past, I have been often asked by many people, including some TV production companies, with regards to the background of this mysterious bungalow.

Until recently, my only bit of knowledge of this house was that it was used as the field headquarters of Brigadier Duncan Maxwell during the Battle of Singapore in Feb 1942. Brigadier Maxwell was in command of the 27th Brigade of the 2nd Australian Imperial Forces. His men were assigned to defend the area between Kranji River and the Causeway.

Who occupied the house before and after the war was totally beyond me until recently, when a close friend, Jerome, sent me some old photos of Dairy Farm.
Jerome's great great grandfather came to Singapore from China in the 1890s and lived in the area that would eventually become Dairy Farm and Chestnut Drive. His family homestead was there till the late 1980s when the government acquired the land for housing.

It seems that this particular house was formerly owned by the Cold Storage company that ran the dairy farm. The house was staff quarters and was used by the chief veterinarian as well as the General Manager of Dairy Farm in its time.

So, mystery solved !
Until now, you'd probably only find urban legends and talks of haunted houses if you tried to google this place.

The main milking shed at Dairy Farm has now been turned into the Wallace Education Centre and is used for teaching schools about art and ecology.

Here are some pictures of the Wallace Education Centre today as well as an old photo from Jerome showing the original milk shed in the background

Wallace Education Centre, Dairy Farm Nature Park.
The original milk shed at Dairy Farm.


Related links:
The Dairy Farm
Dairy Farm Nature Park
Alfred Rusell Wallace

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tenancy Agreement for living at Princess Elizabeth Est

Princess Elizabeth Estate was built in 1953 by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), after taking over the project from the Princess Wedding Fund Celebration Committee.

In 1960, all housing related functions in Singapore were assumed by a newly created government body, the Housing and Development Board, which was established by an Act of Parliament on 1 Feb 1960.

Reader Amir Ahmad recently sent me a copy of the original tenancy agreement which his father signed with the HDB in June 1960. That allowed them to move into No. 141 Elizabeth Drive. This unit was on the ground floor of the 7-storey block. This bock would in time be known as Block 24.

Here is a scanned photo of that tenancy agreement, a rare and priceless heritage document today.
This was one of the early documents issued by the new Housing and Development Board.



Amir Ahmad also made me a sketch of his old home at unit #01-141.
Some of you, who might have lived at Blk 23 or Blk 24 will recall the layout of these 3 room flats.





If I am not wrong, I believe Amir used to live beside the unit that was used by our estate band boys, the Pests Infested, for their loud band practice? Can't imaging fitting a band into those tiny living rooms that we had!

Thanks for your contribution, Amir Ahmad.




Related links:

Photos from ex-residents (14) - Amir Ahmad

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Trekking Bukit Gombak in search of WW2 relics.

Last November, I wrote about the suspected World War 2 Japanese pillbox that may still exist on the slopes of Bukit Gombak. With the recent dry spell, it was perfect weather to organise a search and to identify the concrete structure, or what's left of it,

This morning a team of enthusiasts brought together over Facebook made the exploratory trip.
Among those who came along were Andrew and Christopher, who had previously been to the structure itself, Kim Frost, a WW2 vehicle expert and Jingyi, one of the few trained archeologist in Singapore, heritage blogger Jerome, and with experts from the Bukit Brown team, Andrew and Fabian.

I had brought together this team on my own premise that the structure there could possibly be Japanese or at least WW2 related. But, in order that I would not disappoint anyone if it turned out to be a wild goose chase, I decided to embellish the trip with some side itinerary.

1. A good mornings' hike up the hill.
2. An understanding of the geology of Bukit Gombak and the region.
3. A visit to the mysterious hidden lake at Bukit Gombak.
4. A history of the war in relation to Bukit Gombak.
5. The primary purpose - to view and identify the damaged concrete structure.


The trekkers reaching the base of the spur where the concrete structure is located.

Climbing the steep cliff face. Part of the concrete can be seen above/

Andrew cutting the vines to create a passageway.

The hidden lake near the top of Bukit Gombak.

Part of the concrete structure. Anyone recognise what these are?

Kim Frost digging and trying to identify the structure.

A large metal protrusion.



Were we able to positively identify the structure? Unfortunately, no.
There was simply not enough visual evidence to indicate what it was or what it was used for.  The structure was in total ruins as though it was purposely destroyed but this is not likely to be as Andrew and Christopher had seen the structure semi-intact before the roof caved in.

Even then, the group found other distractions at the site.
Apparently, some unknown people, probably the residents living in the nearby HDB flats, have created a sort of vegetable garden and it was thriving in this isolated hillside. Pandan, tapioca, pineapple, bananas, sugar cane and chillies were found in neat plots.
And, best of all, we discovered a new and easier route to the structure that didn't involve climbing the cliff!


A real Pandan garden

Alas, we also saw signs of a recent field survey, which could possibly mean that some sort of development might be on the cards for this place.

As for the concrete structure, I guess it has to be left to more professional people in future (if there is a future for it).

Here's a little trivia about Bukit Gombak which I shared with this group.
Bukit Gombak contains the oldest known rocks in Singapore.
Contrary to the misconception, Bukit Gombak is actually not made of granite but of another type of hard rock called Norite. Though one is easily forgiven for not knowing the difference.
Samples of norite can be seen strewn all over the Gombak hill.
Bukit Gombak Norite is estimated to be 500 million years old, in comparison to the granite of neighbouring Bukit Timah which is a young 250 million years old.

A geological map of Singapore,

Bukit Gombak as seen from the East (Upper Bukit Timah side)


Watch a clip of the Gombak Trek