Sunday, February 12, 2012

A bizarre landmark at Princess Elizabeth Estate

Princess Elizabeth Estate was built as a 'modern' estate with proper electricity supply, water and, more importantly, modern sanitation. Back in the 1950s when it was built, Singapore was still very 'backward' with regards to sewage systems. The norm at that time was still the 'bucket' system, if there were any at all.

As a result, every home at P.E.Estate had a W.C. flush toilet, something we take for granted today, but it was a real blessing at that time. The sewer system led to a treatment plant that was located within Princess Elizabeth Estate itself.

There was only a single access to the estate from Upper Bukit Timah and this was Hillview Road passing the Union Carbide factory. Whether you drove or walked in, you would pass a remarkable landmark on entering the estate from Hillview Road.

You would be greeted by an unusual structure. Two huge circular tanks. Each with a rotating arm like the hands of a clock that was constantly pouring water out from holes along the rotating arm. The spray of water was onto a bed of granite stones that seem to fill the entire tank to the top.

As a child growing up in P.E. Estate, I didn't know what these were at that time.
I recalled my mother used to say it was the 'septic tanks' but it was meaningless to me.
All I knew was that when we were going home from an outing and saw this 'landmark', it meant that we were about to arrive home!

Thankfully, these septic tanks were screened a little from sight by oil palm trees and a high bush.
The garbage disposal area was also beside these tanks.
In later years, these septic tanks were replaced by a more modern enclosed sediment treatment plant on the same site.

Construction of the Sewage Treatment Plant in 1951.
The primary school and Blk 23 & Blk 24 have yet to be built.


  1. I remember this now...Used to see 2 of them like the way you describe. There was stench in the air as I passed, usually in the late mornings when the sun was high up. By sunset, stentch gone. So what's on them now?

    James can email that sketch? Thanks

  2. I used to alight along Upper Bukit Timah Road after school and rather than wait for the No 5, walk home - under the railway bridge, pass Union Carbide, down the slope, then dash across the road and right into the "fragrance" of these 2 treatment tanks. I then knew that I am almost home:)

    I think they are not called septic tanks - cannot recall the right term even though I did civil engineering! There was a septic tank subsequently constructed near the entreance to Princess Elizabeth Estate School but that it is to serve the newer houses being built.

  3. Hi Tarraleah,
    The technical term for these are Settlement Tanks used for sewage treatment. Septic tank is just a colloquial term.
    You remembered correctly that there used to be a newer type of Sediment Tank located just beside the school gates. This must have been built around 1965 because I recall playing on it with my friends before they started operations. It was a rectangular box shaped structure with many covers on the top made of concrete.
    It is no longer there and there are now private houses built over the land where it once stood.