Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hillview Haunted House - Why it was abruptly abandoned.

The ghostly Hillview Mansion.

Ever since I wrote about the haunting of the Hillview Mansion in this blog eight years ago, it has become the  most searched for, the most visited, and most read article of my blog. I guess many people are simply obsessed by hauntings, by ghost stories or just simply curious. Most are skeptical but still piqued by the possibility and like to know that little bit more. I still get requests from readers, almost on a weekly basis, wanting to know the story behind the haunted house.

Over the years, I have seen so many speculations and conspiracy theories about this place. None of which have come close to the real reason why the Hillview Mansion became as it was.
I have put off revealing the real reasons for the past eight years simply because some of the people involved were, or are still, around and it just wasn't helpful to add to the speculation.
So now, after eight long years of keeping the mystery a secret, and to dispel any further speculations, I will reveal the story....well, at least a major part of it.
There are two parts to this story:
Firstly, why the house was abruptly abandoned, and secondly, why it became haunted.

March 1986.

It was absolutely true that the construction of the mansion at Jalan Dermawan was stopped abruptly.
No notice of a slowdown or postponement. It was simply everything halt, down tools and get out of the property immediately. So what had really happened to reach this dramatic point in March 1986?

As in all dramas, true or fictional, the story reaches further out than you'd expect.
Here, it all has to do with shenanigans at a totally and seemingly unrelated place.

You would have known by now, if you had read the story of the mansion, that the place was owned by Mr Chua Boon Peng. He was then the chairman of Cycle and Carriage Ltd, a major vehicle distributor and land developer. C&C owned many properties in Hillview. These would be developed into houses and condominiums in future. However, this plot at the top of Jalan Dermawan, was personally owned by Chua. It was said that he paid $7m at that time for the land. He wanted to build a villa for his wife and family, and so construction of his villa began sometime in 1985.

Dirty dealings at Raffles Place
If you are old enough to recall events in the mid-1980s, while Singapore was well on its way to become an Asian Tiger, there were also some major financial scandals that rocked, or rather caused earthquakes, in the local business world. Two separate meltdowns involved companies called Lamipak Industries Pte Ltd and Pan Electric Industries Ltd. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost and it even led to the closure of the local bourse for a time. The spectacular collapse of these darling blue chip companies caused the entire business world to go into a dizzy spin.

It was the debacle at the former company Lamipak Industries Pte Ltd that caused collateral damage to the Hillview Mansion. (Note: Lamipak Industries Pte Ltd of 1985 is unrelated to the similarly named Lamipak companies of today) 
Lamipak Industries in 1985 was Singapore's largest manufacturer of plastic products. Famously, they had invented a method to use high-density polymer to manufacture the ubiquitous thin plastic bags. They also made the machinery to roll these out which was sold internationally. With some push from the government, Lamipak had become a world leader and a  household name for plastic manufacturing. It was one of Singapore's industrial blue-eyed boys.
But success got into the heads of those that mattered. Books were fiddled, credit fraudulently obtained and when the game was up, they were in a $140m hole from which they couldn't get out of. Directors were jailed and the company was declared bankrupt.

How is this tied in to the Hillview House?
Lamipak Industries had a subsidiary company called Panther Pte Ltd. Lamipak owned 25% of Panther, while Panther's chairman owned 38%. Panther's chairman was none other than Mr Chua Boon Peng.
When Lamipak Industries became insolvent, the banks pulled their credit from Panther as well. Chua was personally liable for loans totalling almost $19m to the banks. He was a guarantor to the banks for the loans to Panther.

To raise funds to repay the debt, Chua had to sell many of his possessions that included a house at Oei Thong Ham Park, as well as the plot at Hillview where the villa was being built!
And so, the construction ceased immediately with the decision to sell the land.

Part One of the mystery solved!

So then, how did it evolved into a haunted house?
Was it because a lady died (true) when she was struck by lightning there at the abandoned house? Was it because of all the seances being held at the abandoned building? Was it because of bad feng shui? Were the dead cats buried there part of some nefarious ritual? Why was it left abandoned for three decades and access prevented by barbed wires?
Part two will reveal all in due time.

What's left of the Hillview Mansion being completely demolished and removed in 2007.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Snippets of Hillview from the past.

Over the years, there were many events and unusual happenings at Hillview.  I am sure there are lots of tales and gossips to be shared. I 'll just list some stories from way back that most may not have heard.
You are most welcome to add to this page anything you may have heard or known that happened at our old estates.
Comment in the section below and at the 'URL/Address' box, just type in your name. I'll edit it into the main section later.

What were they thinking??
Screen capture from the film Mogok!
The location was the Eveready factory.
In an ironic twist, in 1957 the National Carbon (Eveready) factory allowed the Shaw Brothers, makers of local feature films, to use their facilities to make a movie.  The Malay movie was called Mogok, meaning Strike! and was about disgruntled workers at a fictional battery factory. It was intended to be a social awareness film against militant instigators and to promote industrial harmony. Soon after the film release, workers at the same, real Eveready battery factory at Hillview went on strike in 1958! (Mogok here & here)

Factory worker gored to death by a deer.
In March 1971, a factory worker was gored to death by a male deer while trying to feed it. The company, Sin Heng Chan Feedmill, had kept a pair of deers, a buck and doe, in its early years for testing their feed products. The animals eventually bred till there was a herd of six deers.
After the goring, the six deers were given to the Singapore Zoological Gardens at Mandai.

Princess Girl becomes Beauty Queen
Miss Bridget Ong (aka Lily Ong), a resident of Princess Elizabeth Estate, won the Miss Singapore/Universe beauty pageant in 1967.
She represented Singapore at the Miss Universe beauty contest held in New York later that year. She said it was her first overseas trip by aeroplane and was the first time she had travelled so far on her own.

Mdm Sahorah being carried into Parliament to cast her vote.
Hillview woman cast deciding vote for government's survival.
Though the PAP won the 1959 elections, it faced a motion of no confidence in 1961 in the referendum for Merger with Malaya. With votes tied at 25-25, MP Sahorah Ahmat, was rushed by ambulance from SGH, still in her sickbed, to cast the deciding vote for the PAP. The PAP government thus survived the motion vote of no confidence. Merger with Malaysia took place in 1963.
Mdm Sahorah was a resident of Princess Elizabeth Estate, living at Blk 24.
How different history might have been if..

The PM kicks own goal losing the constituency
Dr Seet Ai Mee was the electoral candidate for Bukit Gombak in 1988. There was a highly played up incident in which she washed her hands after shaking hands with the wet market vendors. Despite this, she won. However, in the next 1991 elections, the long forgotten incident was inadvertently brought up again by the Prime Minister. Though not the major cause, it was a factor that caused her to lose her seat to the opposition candidate, Mr Ling How Doong.

One of the many estate teams.
The Quah brothers were football rivals too
Hillview had a regulation size public football field in the centre of Princess Elizabeth Estate. It was the home ground for the Union Carbide team. In the 1960s, this team won the Business House championship many times over. The team was led by Quah Kim Choon, from the legendary Quah football family. Their nemesis was always the Wearnes Bros team that was led by another of the Quah brothers, Kim Lye!

Why the Hillview Mansion was abandoned

I apologise again here. I started to write this but found that it's too long to be a snippet and has to be an article by itself.
(Someone had said I was good at cliffhangers! ha ha.)
It WILL be my next post. Please stay tuned and return here soon.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Of Udaya and the Mendoza Cafe.

Quite recently, with all the talk about the Green and Rail Corridor proposals by NParks Singapore to preserve what's left of the natural space vacated by the KTM Railway,  the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) published a pictorial map of a proposed plan.  This was the upcoming linkage between Bukit Batok Hill to the Rail Corridor, near the old Bukit Timah Fire Station.

This is the URA plan for the Green Corridor linking Bukit Batok Hill with the Rail Corridor with an aerial walkway
and an Eco-bridge across Upper Bukit Timah Road. Picture source: URA Singapore
Superimposed labels are mine for illustration for this article. (click to enlarge)

When I saw this, I said "Ah, this is something for my blog. Something people will not know about unless they are in their 60s or older now and lived around Upper Bukit Timah!"

This 'something' is the large plot of land between Lorong Sesuai (the road leading to Bt Batok summit) and Upper Bukit Timah Road (up to the former Ford Factory).

This was the location of one of the last kampongs in Singapore. It was colloquially known as the Mendoza Village with its single road, Jalan Udaya. By the 1970s, the village had more than a hundred kampong houses within the precinct, but was completely obliterated in 1985 under Singapore's plan for the removal of all squatters and kampongs. However, the kampong was not technically 'squatters' until after the land was re-acquired by the government.

The site was until then owned by the family of a certain Mr. Joseph Png Swee Thong.
Joseph Png was a wealthy landowner who own large swathes of land in Bukit Timah and Bukit Panjang from the 1920s onwards. He also owned the stretch beside the KTM Railway line from the Bukit Timah Fire Station up to Kampong Merpati opposite the Ford Factory.

Part of the Mendoza village adjacent to the Ford factory.

This is a map produced in 1972 showing the area of Mendoza Village with its only paved public stretch of Jalan Udaya for access. Within the village, the roads were unnamed tracks. It was located immediately south of the Ford Motor factory on the eastern slope of Bukit Batok hill.

(Extract from Singapore Map 1972, National Archives)
The area shaded in blue was owned by Png Swee Thong & family.
Note the large number of kampong houses mapped.

Why was it strangely called Mendoza Village? And what was the meaning of Udaya, the name of the only road way into the village.

Mendoza Village, or Kampong Mendoza, was named after Clement Mendoza. Clement Mendoza was an Indian Eurasian descendent of the Mendozas from Mangalore, India. In 1925, Clement Mendoza married Miss Agusta Png, the daughter of Png Swee Thong, who was the landowner. Ahh, you say!
Mendoza lived at a shophouse fronting Upper Bukit Timah Road. It was an eating-shophouse selling food and drinks. They collected rent from tenants who built their kampong houses there and was in fact the de facto landlord for the village. The village, with its Eurasian name, had mostly Chinese tenants but there were many Malay and Indian families who built their homes there as well. Within the kampong, there were also a few provision shops. One was ran by an Indian and another by a Chinese who named his store Kedai Beng.

A typical Chinese kampong house that would be found at Mendoza village.
(Picture source: National Archives Lee Kip Lin collection)

During World War II, British prisoners-of-war (POW) were forced to work at the Ford Factory. One group of POWs were from the 1st Leicestershire Battalion. They were made to build fences at the Ford Factory. Private Tom Sansome, a former POW, recalled that after toiling at the Ford Factory, they had to marched down from the factory to MacArthur POW camp at Reformatory Road. However, they were allowed to stop at the 'Mendoza Cafe' for refreshments before the start of their return march. "It was a small shack adjacent to the factory fence that we had built", recalls Pte Tom Sansome.

In an episode during the Japanese Occupation, the Mendoza family was caught harbouring an escaped prisoner from the work gang.  The Mendoza family was forcibly evicted from the house and the house was occupied by Japanese officers from then.

In 1958, the Malayalee community around the area started a library to promote reading amongst the Malayalee workers who worked at the nearby factories of Hume, Ford, Gammon, Union Carbide and the nearby granite quarries. They registered an association called the Kairali Library and used a kampong house in the village for this purpose.

In 1959, on his victory lap around Singapore, the Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, stopped at the village to thank voters for his party's victory at the 1959 General Election. Mendoza Village was a staunch Party stronghold then. He paid a visit to the Kairali Library and when he was told that the 'road' outside the library was unnamed, Mr Lee declared that it would henceforth be called Jalan Udaya. By 1965, it was officially in the government street directory.
Udaya, a word with religious connotations, in Sanskrit or Marathi means 'growth' or 'increase'.

When Mr Chor Yeok Eng became the MP for Bukit Timah in 1966, he based his Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) at a kampong house in this village across the road.

The entire estate owned by the Png family, said to be approximately 75 hectares in area, was acquired by the government in the 1980s. It was rumoured that the compensation to the landlord was $2m at that time. The kampong folks were offered flats at the upcoming HDB Hillview Estate at Hillview Avenue. The Kairali Library with its collection of Malayalam books was offered space to display its books at the new Bukit Gombak Community Centre at Hillview Estate. It was later given a room at the Education Centre set up at Blk 11 Hillview Estate.
The kampong was completely demolished by 1985 and Upper Bukit Timah Road at that area was widened to improve traffic flow.

In the late 1960s, I had to travel to school by bus passing the Mendoza Village to and fro, and I can still recall the Mendoza eating-shop facing the roadside. This was because my regular Indian barber had shifted his shop from Fuyong Estate, where I was living then,  to set up his new shop beside the 'Mendoza Cafe'. I believe they had partitioned the food-shop to rent the space to the barber.

Here is a very interesting overhead aerial photo of the area (you must have concluded from my blog by now that I'm an aerial photo fanatic!). This was from 1950 when the RAF did aerial surveys of Singapore Island.
In the photo you can see the Mendoza village beside the Ford factory building. You can also see the summit of Bukit Batok with the foundation base of the Japanese Chureito Syonan memorial still in existence then and the little Allied War Memorial behind it.
(Click on the picture for an enlarged detailed view)

In this picture, you can also see the relic of the original Tank Road-Kranji Railway line that ran right through Mendoza Village. Dismantled in 1932, the mound on which the railway sleepers were laid can still be seen today if you search and look closely.
I was there about two months ago doing bird photography and could still see some remnants of the mound. (oops, did I just give away my secret birding spot?)

Heritage hunters may want to check it out as this is about the ONLY place where you can still see the original 1903 Tank Road-Kranji Railway line left today.
You can also see the colonial 'Hillview Estate', the namesake for the future Hillview region, at the bottom of the photo.  To learn more of this country estate, click on the related link below.

Postscriptaddendum to this article 26 October 2019.
After publishing the above blog article, I was contacted by members of the Mendoza family (Anne and Thomas) with whom I had no previous contact, expressing their thanks for highlighting their family history with regards to the Mendoza kampong. They also gave me permission to publish their private family photos here.
Anne also confirmed that the Mendozas were the landlord, and that she remembered that as a little 9-year old child, she accompanied her aunt, Ah Yee, around the kampong to collect rent from the tenants.

Joseph Clement Mendoza (with dog).
The namesake of Mendoza kampong at Jalan Udaya.
He married Agusta Png, daughter of the landowner Joseph Png Swee Thong.

The grave of Joseph Png Swee Thong, who owned Kampong Mendoza.
He lived to a full 101 years old and died in 1951.
He was buried at St. Joseph Church cemetery at Chestnut Drive.

A newspaper cutting from the Singapore Free Press of 4th Dec 1958
announcing the 'electrification for 'Kampong Mendosa Bukit Timah Road'
Postscript 2: 
I also received from a friend from the UK, WW2 researcher Ken Hewitt, a picture of the ex-POW, Tom Sansome whom I mentioned above. Tom Sansome just celebrated his 100th birthday last month.

Ex-POW, Tom Sansome (in wheelchair), who was forced to work at the Ford Factory during WWII.
Tom just celebrated his 100th birthday in Sept 2019 with congratulations from Queen Elizabeth
Photo: courtesy of Ken Hewitt

Related links:-
The Ford Motor factory
Bukit Batok Hill
The Japanese Memorial Syonan Chureito
The Colonial Hillview Estate

Saturday, October 19, 2019

An anecdotal history of Hillview Part 3. 1951-2019

The industrialisation and gentrification of Hillview

Hillview Circus - the roundabout is the only landmark remaining from the creation of Hillview.

In 1948, the British Government created a new statutory board called the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC). Its task was to promote and assist economic development of the post-war British colonies worldwide, especially in S.E.Asia and Africa. In S.E. Asia, it determined that the then Malaya and Borneo would have agriculture as its basis for their economy, while Singapore would pursue an industrialisation program.
In 1951, they proposed the construction of two industrial zones. One at the Redhill area and the other at Hillview, Bukit Timah. These would become known as the Colonial Industrial Estates.

The Colonial Industrial Estate at Bukit Timah
At Hillview, the CDC secured 53 acres of land and set about clearing the "gambia forest ", at an eyebrow-raising cost of £500,000, to prepare the land for new factories under their industrialisation programme.
Their plan was to raise twenty-two plots on which they would construct prefabricated factories. Each plot would be about 2 acres and businesses could apply to buy these pre-built factories on hire purchase, or seek favourable loans from the corporation to build their own factory. The land could be on long-term lease or bought freehold. The CDC would even provide loans to kick start their operations.

The Hillview Colonial Industrial Estate (in green) as proposed by the CDC.
Hillview Avenue was extended for a further 1/2 mile (about a kilometre)

Initially, the  CDC managed to secure six enterprises to begin operations at the fledgling estate.
These were:-
1. Malayan Textile Mills, to produce cotton yarn,
2. Central Oil Refinery, to produce cooking oil, soap and margarine from palm oil,
3. Kiwi Polish Co, to produce shoe polishes and waxes,
4. Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Co, to produce manila ropes.
5. Siglap Development Co, to produce edible oils,
6. Davar Company, to produce ceramic tiles and building material.

The first four companies began production in 1953 & 1954. However, the Siglap Development Co and the Davar Company failed to start and rescinded their contracts with the CDC.

In 1954, the CDC changed tack. After failing to lure more overseas buyers, it decided to offer the factories to local businesses to shift their operation from overcrowded Geylang, Kallang and Lavender to the new industrial estate.  Despite generous incentives, there were no takers. It was, in a great part, due to social issues at the time, a mistrust of the British government corporation with its stringent and rigid rules, and that Hillview was so remotely located.

The project was floundering by 1958. The colonial's plan of economics by committee had fallen flat on its face.  Only one more company was convinced to set up a business there. In November 1958, the F. E. Zuellig (M) Ltd company bought 5 acres to set up an animal feed mill. Only these five companies were ever located at the Colonial Industrial Estate.

Notwithstanding the slow progress of the industrial venture, the Chartered Bank was convinced to build a branch office at Hillview. It opened in April 1957 and would serve the industries and businesses in the rural area of Upper Bukit Timah, Bukit Panjang and Woodlands. It would go down in history as Singapore's most held-up bank. It was robbed at gunpoint in 1964, 1974 and again in 1980.

The Colonial Industrial Estate at Bukit Timah in 1958.
Only the 4 original factories, plus one, were operating.

(Click for detailed view. Photo source: National Archives Singapore)

The late 1950s and early 60s were tumultuous times, with social and labour problems rampant in Singapore. Wildcat strikes at the slightest instigation were held. Workers from the Hillview factories including Ford Motors, Hume Industries, Malayan Guttas and Hong Kong Rope Co all participated in some form of industrial action during these times.

Workers on strike at the Ford Motors company.

In May 1959, Singapore obtained full internal self-government from Britain. Singapore now had to manage on their own. This included the problems of high unemployment, lack of housing and education for the people.
The new government initiated bold plans to solve these issues. Until then, Singapore depended heavily on entrepot trading. The new focus was now on industrialisation and labour-intensive industries. Foreign investments were lured with 'pioneer' status, tax holidays and generous grants and incentives. The push was for more factories and more jobs for the population and providing technical training to work in these new industries.
Key to this was the creation of Jurong Industrial Estate in 1961 to spearhead the industrialisation programme. Building new factories, creating jobs and opportunities were urgent and crucial for survival. When Singapore became an independent nation in 1965, these issues became even more critical.

Re-vitalisation of Hillview 1961 to 1994

In 1965, the Economic Development Board, tasked to lead Singapore's economic development, identified and designated Hillview as a Light Industries Zone to provide secondary support to the heavy industries in Jurong.  Hillview was given a new lease of life! It would be known as the Hillview Industrial Estate.

Land at Hillview was doled out generously for startups and a flourish of new industrial buildings came on-stream from 1965 onwards. New set-ups at Hillview included big names like Cycle and Carriage which set up a factory to assemble Mercedes Benz cars, Daihatsu and Isuzu trucks, Supreme Star Ltd built buses for SBS, Cerebos with their famous Brands Essence of chicken. Others were Lam Soon Oil and Soap Manufacturing, Metal Containers, Camel Paint, Yakult, Sanden Air Conditioners, Cement Aids, Singapore Ceramics, Sin Heng Chan Animal Feedmill and other SMEs. Even MacDonalds had their warehouse there when it opened for business in Singapore. Warehouse complexes like Kewalram Hillview, Hillview Warehouse and Lam Soon Industrial Building which could house up to 154 businesses, all came aboard with the growing Singapore economy over the next few decades.
A new road, Hillview Terrace, was created in 1972 leading to a sector of Hillview Avenue where a few rows of small terrace factories were set up. These terrace factories are still in operation today.

The Lam Soon Industrial Building, a warehousing office complex that could house up to 150 businesses.

Of the colonial era factories, Hong Rope Manufacturing folded and the land was sold in 1963 to Castrol (Far East) Ltd to build a lubricant manufacturing facility. Malayan Textile Ltd was bought over by a new company called International Spinning Mills which took over their operations. The government by then had re-acquired all the land under the old Colonial Development Corporation.

With the growing Hillview Industrial Estate now on-stream and doing well, Hillview Avenue, which was then still a cul-de-sac, was extended in 1969 all the way south to join Jalan Perang, which was connected to Jurong Road. Jurong Road by then had been upgraded to a major highway leading to the Jurong Industrial Estate. Hillview Avenue was to provide an important bypass for traffic from Bukit Timah to Jurong.
(Link to article on the development of Hillview Avenue here)

The Hillview Industrial Estate, as it was now known, provided jobs and opportunities for many living in and beyond the area. Hillview was no longer seen as an 'ulu' backwater area.

The end of Hillview Industrial Estate
However, in 1994, the businesses there were all given a big surprise when it was suddenly announced that the entire Hillview Industrial Estate would be re-zoned as  'Residential Area' under the next Singapore Master Plan.
The area would be re-designated for high-end residential housing meaning it would be re-developed for condominiums and private landed properties. All the companies operating there were given notice to sell or move their operations, preferentially to the Jurong Industrial Estate. They were given a time frame up to 20 years to relocate.
A new phase of development once again was upon Hillview.

The gentrification of Hillview

Hillview as a residential area began at the same time that the Colonial Industrial Estate was being built in 1951. The first housing estate, Princess Elizabeth Park started off as low-rent public housing that was built from donations. Despite Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) building multi-storey flats that were not subsided, and which formed half of the development, the estate never really managed to shake off that 'low-rent' stigma.

Princess Elizabeth Park Estate.
The artisan quarters (foreground) with the SIT flats built on the slope of Bukit Gombak (rear).

However, it was still viewed with envy by many for its then modern facilities. It had its own sewage treatment plant which meant all homes had toilets that flushed! This was remarkable then given that most public housing were still using the
'bucket system'. It had running water and electricity supply to every unit. The things which we take for granted today was but a luxury for many then. There was a direct bus service to the city.

They had a regulation-size football field, albeit, of the smallest allowed dimensions, that was the central meeting place for residents in the evenings to watch soccer matches that were held regularly by both the residents and the nearby factory teams. There was a primary school within the estate for the resident's children education.

A community centre was organised and ran by residents. This was long before the Singapore government built community centres of their own. The initial centre was a small shophouse at Clarence Walk but it later moved to a larger shophouse at Prince Charles Rise where it could organise kindergarten classes for children in the estate.

The P.E.E. Kindergarten at Prince Charles Rise, 1959.

In 1963, the government took over the management and building of all new community centres and a new community centre was built in 1963 for the residents. The community centre then came under the management of the People's Association with full time staff and resident volunteers to assist.

The new People's Association Community Centre at Princess Elizabeth Estate. 

Despite being built in the 1950s, Princess Elizabeth Estate suffered from the lack of a produce market. Hawker pitches were ad-hoc and illegal. It was not till 1967 when a proper market was built. It was an experimental market by the HDB to combine a dry provision and wet market in one location and housing the hawkers in individual stalls.

The Princess Elizabeth Estate market 1967.

In the late 1960s & 70s, Princess Elizabeth Estate gained fame and some notoriety. 
The estate was well-known as the birthplace of many local musicians and bands. These included the Pests Infested, The Blue Stars and The Jumping Jades. Musicians like Ramli Sarip (Sweet Charity) and Moliano (Lovehunter) would all have their start connected with Princess Elizabeth Estate. 
A dark side to the  estate was that in the 70s, it was a haven for drug abusers and was raided constantly by the Central Narcotics Bureau.

Private housing developments at Hillview
In the early 60s, the former gambier plantation land beside Princess Elizabeth Estate was bought by housing developers, Malaysia Land Investments Ltd and Singapore Trading Co Ltd, for the construction of terrace houses.
Singapore Trading Co. built about 300 units of single storey and two-storey units. They called the new development Popular Estate

Advertisement for the sale of homes at Popular Estate.

In creating Popular Estate, six new roads were constructed at Hillview.
These were Jalan Dermawan, Jalan Zamrud, Jalan Intan, Jalan Gumilang, Jalan Remaja and Jalan Batu Nilam. The first residents moved in around 1965.

Popular Estate, fronting Elizabeth Drive. picture taken 2019.
Most of the homes have been rebuilt and renovated over the years and hardly bears any resemblance to the original houses.

By 1968, the second private development called Bamboo Grove Park was ready for occupancy. Similar to the private landed properties of adjacent Popular Estate, Bamboo Grove Park comprised terraced, semi-detached and bungalow homes. New roads built to access the homes were Chu Lin Street and Chu Yen Street.

In the early days of their residency, owners of these houses were faced with many teething problems. From mud slides from the 'never-ending' house building, low water pressure to houses uphill, to a lack of bus services. Worse for early residents was the fact that it was located beside an industrial area. 

Air and noise pollution were the greatest gripes. Residents along Jalan Batu Nilam were breathing the constant fumes and pungent smell of cooking oil from Central Oil Refinery. Residents at Bamboo Grove were faced with the incessant pounding of metal from the adjacent metal works and the dust from the ceramics tile factories! The residents were even bombarded by flying granite shrapnels that flew into their houses on many occasions from the granite quarries at Bukit Gombak.

Landslide at Jalan Dermawan, 2007.

Over the years since, more houses were built beyond Popular Estate and Bamboo Grove Park, called Hillview Gardens Estate.  Today, it is generally accepted that the entire landed property area is colloquially called 'Hillview Estate'.

Jalan Remaja, separating Bamboo Grove Park from Popular Estate.

Another Hillview Estate?
In 1975, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced the building of a new 'Bukit Batok Estate' as an extension to Princess Elizabeth Estate. Ten slab-blocks of the standard HDB design and three point-blocks would be ready by 1978.
The new estate would be named Hillview Estate and would include a wet market, a hawker centre, 33 shophouses and 4 coffeeshop eating houses. It will also have a new community centre.

The new estate would be built north of Princess Elizabeth Estate on land occupied by a Chinese kampong, opposite the Castrol factory. The kampong folks were most unhappy over the acquisition of their homestead but were crushed to learn that they were squatting on state land all the while. However, the kampong folks were given compensation and relocated amicably.

The Chinese kampong being demolished to make way for the HDB Hillview Estate.

The HDB Hillview Estate in 1978.

The new People's Association Community Centre at Hillview.
It was later renamed Bukit Gombak Community Centre.
It would be the 4th iteration of a community centre at Hillview.

With the building of HDB Hillview Estate and the HDB new policy of home ownership, residents of Princess Elizabeth Estate were encouraged to buy a flat at the new estate. It was announced that no further development would be made at Princess Elizabeth Estate and empty flats would be mothballed to discourage rentals. The old Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre would be shut down. Princess Elizabeth Estate would face a slow run down until 1985, when all its residents who still remained were offered new flats at Bukit Gombak New Town.

Princess Elizabeth Estate School shifted to a brand new building at Bukit Batok New Town in 1986. The old school building was retained and converted into a facility for the disabled, the Red Cross Home for the Disabled. It was later sold to the United Medicare Centre and converted into a nursing home. Princess Elizabeth Estate, the gift to the royal couple, was finally demolished in 1985.

The old Princess Elizabeth Estate School 1955-1986.
Revived as the Red Cross Home for the Disabled. In 2010 became the United Medicare Centre nursing home.

The HDB Hillview Estate itself would come to grief in 1999 when it would come under the HDB Selective En Bloc Relocation Scheme (SERS). The entire estate was to be demolished and residents would be offered new flats at Bukit Batok Ave 5.

The demolition of Hillview HDB Estate under the SERS programme.

The Hillview field where once Princess Elizabeth Estate and Hillview HDB Estate were sited.
The row of trees in the middle marked the separation of the two estates.
The field has been left to fallow for the past two decades.
In 1979, at the southern end of Hillview Road, the HDB began the construction of the new Bukit Batok New Town. A portion of Hillview Avenue was renamed Bukit Batok East Ave 2, with Hillview Avenue shortened to end at this junction. Bukit Batok New Town eventually would house over 140,000 residents. The old Poh Kim Quarry at the end of Hillview Avenue would be converted into the Bukit Batok Nature Park along with the development of the New Town.

The coming of the Condos
With the re-designation of Hillview into a residential zone in 1994, companies located there started to shift their operations out, with most selling their land to housing developers.
But even before this had occurred, some companies, prior to the re-designation of 1994, had already decided to close their operations and had requested the authorities for a 'change of use' for their properties. Was this the impetus for SLA to redesignate the zone? One wonders.

Cycle and Carriage Co Ltd and Supreme Star Ltd had stopped production of their vehicle assembly plants around 1981 due to the government lifting of tariff protection on vehicle parts.
Cycle and Carriage was a major land owner at Hillview and had a lot of clout.
Their huge assembly factory plot was developed into private landed properties called Hillview Villas.  It was so large that new roads within had to be laid. These were Hillview Drive, Hillview Way and Hillview Crescent.

Hillview Villas, developed on land that was the former Mercedes Benz assembly factory.

Cycle and Carriage would continue land developments with the building of Meralodge, Montrosa and Merawoods condominiums. One of the early condo development at Hillview was Hillview Heights on the old Union Carbide factory site.

My blog article here will not cover the development of individual condominiums as I'll leave that to others who may be better specialists in the condominium history at Hillview.
Today, in 2019, there are more than 34 condominiums within the Hillview residential zone.
With the increasing condo developments, new roads within Hillview had to be created as a result.
The first being Hume Avenue, (so named as it was built over the old Hume Industries land, and not named after the founder of Hume as alleged in Wiki), Hillview Rise and Hillview Walk to prepare for future development.

The only commercial building to date is the HillV2, while the latest offering is The Midwood, expected to be completed by 2023.

The HillV2 development is the only one with commercial shops integrated.

The Lanai, just one of the many condos along Hillview Avenue.

Hillview Avenue in 2019.
Surprisingly, the same road that was used for the 1956 & 1957 Grand Prix.
Hillington Green on the left with Hillvista on the right.

The new Bukit Gombak Community Club built by People's Association in 2019.
This would be the 5th time a community centre would be built in Hillview.

Hillview MRT Station was built beside the old, now defunct, Standard Chartered Bank building.
It was opened in December 2015 and serves the residents of Hillview and Dairy Farm region.
A new station, Hume Station, to be located opposite the former Ford factory, is scheduled for 2023.

According to the 2019 Singapore Master Plan, there will be an 'Educational Facility' built at the junction of Hillview Avenue and Elizabeth Drive in future.

Extract of the 2019 Singapore Master Plan on the Hillview region.
Orange areas are residential plots, blue areas are commercial,
red are public community areas and the light yellow E is educational.

If you have read this article up to here, thank you very much for your patience and for visiting my blog.

While writing this article, I came across many interesting snippets of information regarding Hillview, some of which are in other posts here already. I didn't include these in order not to distract from the history. I'll try and gather them all and perhaps my next post will be on these snippets. AND finally, after eight long years, I will pen the follow up to the most asked question about the Hillview Haunted House - Why did it become haunted?

An anecdotal history of Hillview Part 1. 1840-1945.
An anecdotal history of Hillview Part 2. 1945-1955.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The arduous life of a gambier coolie in early Singapore

If you had been following my blog, you may come to realise that gambier is often mentioned in many articles. Why this fixation with gambier?
Was it because my forebears were gambier farmers? Was it because the Hillview region and Princess Elizabeth area, on which my blog is based, were all gambier farms in the past? Was it because most people today don't know about it? In a way, perhaps it's all these reasons.

A gambier processing facility, called a Bangsal, in early Singapore.
Note the coolies bringing in their harvest of leaves.
(Photo source: National Archives Singapore)

My great-great grandfather, Mr Chua Chin Huat, a Teochew Catholic, started his gambier farm in the Chua Chu Kang area beside the Peng Siang River in the 1830s. He was the Kangchu and the farmland was called Chua Chu Kang, named after him. By 1855, it was recorded that he had 650,000 gambier plants and 105,000 vines of pepper on his farm.

Records also showed that he had to pay quit rent to the municipal government for 30 plots on his farm. This would imply that he might have up to 30 tenanted farmers, or coolies, working for him on his land. The coolies and tenant farmers lived a hard and impoverished life, some of whom were indentured labourers.

Gambir and pepper agriculture died out in Singapore by the end of the 19th century. Surprisingly, gambier farming still exist in neighbouring Indonesia but little in the way of life has changed for the gambier farmers today.

The flower of the Gambier plant, Uncaria Gambir.

The leaves are where the gambier extract are derived.

What is gambier?
Gambier is an extract from the leaves of a plant, Uncaria Gambir, which is only found in the Malay Archipelago. The processed extract was long used by the Chinese for medicines and for chewing the betel nut quid. Later, it was discovered that the tannic acid from the gambier plant was an excellent agent for use in tanning leather, and was very much cheaper than using European oak tannins. This discovery caused a boom in the the gambier trade with an insatiable demand from Europe. Today, gambier extract is used mainly for cosmetics and dyeing.

Raw gambier extract. Gambier plants can been in the background.

Gambier was traditionally carried out on a shift agriculture basis. When the soil had been exhausted of its nutrients, the farmers will move to a new plot to grow new gambier plants. The old plots would be used for growing pepper, with the old processed gambier leaves used as fertiliser.

Gambier is an astringent plant, which means that its potency will diminish quickly and has to be processed immediately on harvesting.
The following photos show how gambier is extracted and processed. It is still done by small farm holders through a long laborious method that has hardly changed since the 19th century.

The gambier leaves are harvested when is it between 4-6 months old.

This is a typical Bangsal, a Malay word for Shed. It's where the gambier is processed.
It will contain a huge kuali, or cooking pot, where the leaves are cooked.
Usually located near a stream where copious water is available.
There may be many bangsals located within the same farm.
The gambier leaves are harvested and brought directly to the bangsal for processing.
Note the similarity to the 19th century picture, at top,
and the bamboo basket which has not changed in design.

The gambier leaves are stuffed tightly into a wicker basket.

The entire basket of gambir leaves is boiled until the leaves turns brown. 

The cooked leaves are removed from the boil and tied into a bundle for the next stage.

The hot bundle is placed into a press to extract the juice from the leaves.
Once the juice is extracted, the leaves are re-boil for a second pressing.

Today, a hydraulic press is used. The only advance since the early days.
Previously, heavy rocks were placed on top and pressure was applied manually with a long pole.

The gambir extract is collected and poured out into trays and left to dry.

When the extract becomes a semi-solid compound, it is formed into bricks.

The bricks are left to dry in the sun. This is the end of the raw process.
From these dried bricks, it is sold to be further processed into other products.