Monday, October 7, 2019

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

Union Carbide Co Ltd.
The Wm. Wrigley Company set up a factory called Malayan Guttas Ltd.
This factory manufactured the famous Wrigley Chewing Gum and was to become the largest chewing gum manufacturer to supply all of the British Commonwealth. It was also the major sourcing office for Gutta Percha, a natural rubber-like material used for making chewing gum, golf balls and dental inserts. Gutta Percha was a tree found only in the Malay Archipelago.

An aerial view of The National Carbon factory and Malayan Guttas factory at Hillview in 1950.
(Click photo for detailed view)

In order to build these two factories, the Singapore Rural Board created and paved two new roads leading to the factory sites. These were Hillview Road and Hillview Avenue.

Hillview Road junction with Upper Bukit Timah Road 1956.
(Photo source: National Archives Singapore)
Hillview Road was upgraded from a gravel track, a desire path, that was already in use since the days of the gambier farms of the 19th century. The well-treaded path was the boundary line between two major gambier farms. Hillview Road was to become the arterial road that connects to Upper Bukit Timah Road. A new road, Hillview Avenue, was created leading to the Malayan Guttas factory.
The naming of these two new roads were the first official application of the term 'Hillview' for the area. The name Hillview was chosen simply because there was a grand private retreat and country house called Hillview Estate nearby. It was the manor house of the rubber estate that the plantation owner named Hillview (Rubber) Estate.

Trivia:  Click here to find out more about the colonial Hillview Estate and its location.

1947, 27th November.
A significant event happened in far away England that would have a direct impact on a little obscure piece of farmland at Upper Bukit Timah.
On this day, Princess Elizabeth, heir to the British throne, married Prince Philip of Greece.
To celebrate the event, the Singapore Municipal Commissioners created a Princess Elizabeth Wedding Celebration Fund to solicit donations from the public as a gift from Singapore. This gift would comprise a specially designed golden casket and the building of a tuberculosis hospital to be named after Princess Elizabeth. Almost one million dollars was raised for the royal gift.

The creation of the Princess Elizabeth Estates
After much disagreement and debates, the plan for a tuberculosis hospital was dropped in favour of building low-cost dwellings to alleviate the acute housing shortage problem. Two hundred units of Workmen's Dwellings, also called Artisan Quarters, were proposed to be built, one in the city and the other in the rural area. These two new estates were to be known as 'Princess Elizabeth Estates'.
The building project was undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and the first estate of a hundred units was completed by 1950 at Farrer Park. It was called the Princess Elizabeth Flats.

Building of the second rural estate was delayed due to public objections to its location. The proposed site was along Dunearn Road, in front of the Singapore Turf Club. After vehement protests from the neighbourhood residents, who were very much against building of a low-cost 'slum' in their vicinity, the site was declared 'not suitable for public housing' and a new site beside the Reformatory at Clementi Road was proposed as an alternative.

However, at the end of 1948, in a quid pro quo deal with the colonial government, the French-Belgian mortgage bank, Credit Foncier d'Extreme Orient, donated to the Wedding Fund, twelve acres of land which they held, for building the second estate. This land was the former failed gambier farm at Hillview Avenue opposite the National Carbon factory.

Princess Elizabeth Park Estate at Bukit Timah
Now with the donated land, and with $400,000 in hand from the Wedding Fund, the SIT proceeded with the building of the second estate in 1951. This was to be called Princess Elizabeth Park.

The plan was to build 84 single storey 2 bedroom units, complete with kitchen, bathroom with modern sanitation (flush toilet!), running water and electricity supply.
In comparison to what most of the general population had at that time, with their village houses and kampongs, this was considered ultra modern, especially for a rural area like Hillview!
In addition, there were to be 16 single storey shophouses to serve the estate. The shophouses were to be rented out for provision shops, coffee-shops, a dhoby, a tailor, a clinic and even a charcoal shop.

A rare vintage picture of Princess Elizabeth Park Estate being constructed in 1951.

The single storey Artisan Quarters at Princess Elizabeth Park.

As the cost of land and construction came from donations, the SIT was obliged to charge a very low monthly rental for the Artisan Quarters. Twenty-four units were allocated for government civil servants while the rest were rented out to the general public.

In addition to the building of the Artisan Quarters, the SIT decided to build an additional eight multi-storey blocks of flats as an extension to the estate. These comprised 6 blocks of 3 & 4-room flats 3-storeys high, and 2 blocks of 3-room flats 7 storeys high.
These additional 8 blocks of flats were not subsidised through the Wedding Fund but was borne entirely by the SIT.  These flats were offered to the public but priority was given if you provided proof that you worked within 2 miles radius of the estate.
Thus, many of the applicants were employees from Union Carbide, Malayan Guttas, Hume Pipes and Ford Motors. It became a very close knit community as a result of many tenants being co-workers.

The multi-storey blocks built by SIT forming part of Princess Elizabeth Park Estate.

The artisan quarters and flats were all ready for occupation by February 1952.
A new road called Princess Elizabeth Drive was created to run through the estate from Hillview Avenue. (The 'Princess' was dropped after the estate was demolished and renamed Elizabeth Drive.)

One of the strangest arrangement for the new estate was the naming of the 'streets' within the estate.
There were actually no streets, just walkways and footpaths! Yet, these walkways were given official street names. So there was Princess Anne Hill, Prince Charles Rise, Philip Walk and Clarence Walk.
In the above picture, you can see the footpaths leading to the blocks. These were Prince Charles Rise in front and Princess Anne Hill at the rear.

Princess Elizabeth Park Estate had its fair share of teething problems in the early years. Residents wrote regularly to the press and the Rural Board raising many grievances like the lack of bus services, the lack of nearby schools, the lack of Police presence, the lack of a public telephone, there was no market and no medical services. The estate was isolated in a remote region of Bukit Timah and residents felt the Rural Board had neglected them.

With support from the SIT, the residents organised a committee to run a Community Centre. 
SIT allocated a shophouse, No 8 Clarence Walk, for this purpose and the residents raised $500 to purchase sports and games equipment. The Community Centre was opened in November 1952 by Mrs JC Lee, the wife of the SIT Estates Manager.

Mrs JC Lee opening the new Community Centre at No 8 Clarence Walk

In February 1953, the  Green Bus Company started a route from Queens Street that terminated at the car park at the end of Elizabeth Drive. This was their bus service No.5.

Green Bus No.5 service at the terminus at Princess Elizabeth Estate. Taken in 1955.
The car park was paved with red laterite and gravel.
In 1953, flushed with the success of their deal with the colonial government, Credit Foncier d'Extreme Orient, the French-Belgian mortgage bank, again donated a further 5 acres of land at Hillview Avenue for the building of a primary school for the residents.

Work to build the school began almost immediately and the school was named Princess Elizabeth Estate School. It was located at the very end of Princess Elizabeth Drive, beside the bus terminus.
By Sept 1954, the school building was completed and the first cohort, which had until then been using the facilities at Bukit Panjang English School, moved to their new school.
Princess Elizabeth Estate School was officially opened on 10 January 1955 with the beginning of the new school year. The first principal was Mr. M. Ponnusamy.

Princess Elizabeth Estate School at Elizabeth Drive.

If you missed part 1, you can read it at this link.

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