Mount Emily Swimming Pool



Mount Emily Swimming Pool was the first public pool in Singapore,1 and was located along Upper Wilkie Road, where Mount Emily Park stands today.2 The pool, which was converted from a municipal reservoir, was opened to the public on 10 January 1931.3

It proved to be an extremely popular recreational venue, with visitor numbers hitting a record high of 8,000 a month during the mid-1930s. There were scheduled daily bathing periods of varying durations to ensure fair access to all members of the public.4 Chlorination and filtration, together with a continuous input of fresh water, was used to keep the pool water clean and clear.5

History
Mount Emily Swimming Pool was a municipal reservoir before the decision was made by the Singapore Municipal Commissioners on 11 September 1929 for it to be converted into a fresh water public pool.6 It was one of the two service reservoirs, constructed in 1878 at Mount Emily to supply the town with fresh water. In 1929, when a larger storage reservoir at Fort Canning was opened, the two reservoirs were adapted for other uses. One became a swimming pool, while the other was retained to store used pool water for town cleansing and drain flushing.7

To convert the reservoir tank into a pool, its depth had to be reduced from the original 15 ft to 8 ft (from 4.5 m to 2.4 m), and its floor had to be graded from one end. Earth was used to fill the tank to the required depth, and concrete was then poured over it to form the pool floor. A vertical wall was also built round the sloping sidewalls of the tank. The wall was perforated to allow water to pass through, thereby throwing the weight of the water onto the original boundary walls of the tank.8

Opened on 10 January 1931,9 the swimming pool was managed by the Singapore Municipal Commissioners until the Japanese Occupation (1942–45). When the war ended, the pool was used by Indian servicemen in the British military before it was de-requisitioned, and handed back to the municipal commissioners on 1 August 1946. The pool was then closed for maintenance and repairs.10 It opened in early 1948 for a brief period before it was shut again owing to an outbreak of polio in the middle of the year.11 During the closure, a new filtration plant was installed and the facilities reopened on 1 December 1949 to a long queue of bathers eager for a dip.12

At the end of the financial year 1981/1982, Mount Emily was one of 14 swimming complexes managed by the Singapore Sports Council. It accounted for only 0.4 percent of the total attendance of close to 3.9 million at all public swimming pools.13 Due to poor visitorship, the pool was closed in December 1981. It was eventually demolished, and the site converted into a park.14

Description
The Mount Emily Swimming Pool had a system of inlet and outlet pipes that was built to ensure a continuous flow of fresh water from the town mains. Used pool water would then flow into the unconverted reservoir nearby to be used for street washing and drain flushing. This was considered more economical than emptying and refilling the pool periodically. When fresh water supply needed to be conserved, seawater from Johnston's Pier (which also supplied the water for the Young Men's Christian Association's seawater pool) would be pumped in.15

The pool had two sections that were divided by a concrete wall. The shallow end for beginners was 90 ft by 60 ft wide (27 m by 18 m), and its gradient was increased from 2 ft 9 in to 5 ft 9 in (from 0.8 m to 1.75 m). The deep end was 164 ft by 40 ft wide (50 m by 12 m) and had a depth of 8 ft (2.4 m). At the deep end of the pool was a three-board diving stage.16

When the pool first opened, its amenities included 20 cubicles and six showers, with an additional 30 cubicles, two showers and a shelter in the pipeline.17 The pool's first superintendent was John Imm18 and among its first lifeguards were Lee Hon Ming and Yeo Jui Hua.19

Pool usage
Being the first public pool in Singapore, Mount Emily was an extremely popular venue. It could accommodate between 250  and 300 swimmers at any one time.20 In the mid-1930s, the number of bathers reached a record high of 8,000 a month.21 The pool was used mainly by the local population, and according to pool staff, 30 percent of its users were of the coolie class.22 The pool also served as a training venue for competitive swimmers.23


In the 1930s, admission charges to the pool ranged between 10 and 20 cents. There were periods of free admission for schoolchildren each week, which were well utilised as these children had no access to private pools. There were four bathing periods of between one and two hours daily. Initially, mixed bathing was disallowed, and male (men and boys) and female (women and girls) bathers could swim only during specific bathing periods on designated days of the week. Over the years, mixed bathing was gradually permitted, and the number and duration of bathing periods were also revised to maximise public access to the pool.24 Other than the public, schools and associations also used the pool for swimming lessons and water sports events.25 In September 1951, schoolchildren got to swim for free for a week as part of City Day celebrations.26

In 1951, an estimated 150,000 swimmers used the facility.27 In the 1970s, it remained one of the most popular pools, along with the Farrer Park, River Valley, Queenstown and Yan Kit swimming pools. Long queues would form before the pool opened, and as many as 300 people could be turned away during the school holidays.28

Pool maintenance
Despite its immense popularity, the hygiene of the pool water was a concern for its operators as well as visitors. In February 1939, a pool user wrote to the editor of The Straits Times newspaper complaining of red patches on his face after having swum in the pool; it was the sixth time that he was afflicted with the problem. The editor replied that the water had been purified by chlorination, and that water samples were tested by the municipal bacteriologist every week. In addition, the water was turned over every four hours.29 The pool was also closed periodically for maintenance.30


During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese used seawater instead of fresh water for the pool. After the war, the British military continued to use seawater until the pool was de-requisitioned and handed back to the Singapore Municipal Commissioners in 1946. By then, the purification plant had deteriorated and was in urgent need of repair. The pool was then closed for maintenance and repairs, and opened in early 1948. Due to a polio outbreak in mid-1948, the pool was closed once again.31 During the closure, the pool was finally fitted with a new filtration plant and re-opened in December 1949.32

Filtration kept the water crystal clear, while chlorination purified it, and kept it clean. The municipal chemist analysed the pool water after every bathing period to determine when the water needed to be changed. In addition, strict measures were adopted to maintain hygiene standards by redesigning the route from the entrance of the swimming complex to the pool to ensure that no one entered the pool without a shower, and by leading bathers directly to the dressing rooms and through the showers before reaching the pool. Bathers who were not suitably dressed or appeared to have skin conditions were also turned away at the entrance.33

Misadventures
Throughout the years that Mount Emily pool was in use, there were occasional reports of drowning or other death incidents.34 Besides drowning, a common accident was that of bathers jumping off the diving platform and hitting their heads against the pool's concrete floor.35



Author

Irene Lim



References
1. Gillis, K., & Tan. K. (2006). The book of Singapore's firsts. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, p. 169. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 GIL-[HIS]); Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 224. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)
2. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 224. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
3. A big splash: Opening of Mount Emily swimming pool. (1931, January 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20; Opening of Mount Emily swimming pool. (1931, January 31). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 13; Mount Emily: Official opening of public swimming bath. (1931, January 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Singapore municipal swimming pool scenes. (1935, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 20; Mount Emily pool re-opened. (1949, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 12; Mount Emily: Cleaning municipal swimming pool. (1939, February 16). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. New public park: Future of Mount Emily Reservoir: Proposed swimming pool. (1929, September 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9; More amenities for Singapore. (1930, April 23). The Straits Times, p. 12; Swimming pool at Mount Emily. (1931, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 15; Mount Emily pool plans. (1949, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 5; Mount Emily work to begin. (1949, April 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 9; Mount Emily pool opens again. (1949, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Municipal affairs: Swimming bath at Mount Emily. (1929, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 12; More amenities for Singapore. (1930, April 23). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. New reservoir opened. (1929, February 7). The Straits Times, p. 10; Swimming pool at Mount Emily. (1931, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 15; New public park: Future of Mount Emily Reservoir: Proposed swimming pool. (1929, September 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. I). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 328. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
8. Swimming pool at Mount Emily. (1931, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. A big splash: Opening of Mount Emily swimming pool. (1931, January 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20; Opening of Mount Emily swimming pool. (1931, January 31). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 13; Mount Emily: Official opening of public swimming bath. (1931, January 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20; New swimming pool: Official opening of Mount Emily. (1931, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Mount Emily pools is de-requisitioned. (1946, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Mount Emily to re-open on Feb 1. (1947, December 30). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5; Mount Emily pool closure. (1948, October 26). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6; Mount Emily pool plans. (1949, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 5; Singapore Municipality: Mount Emily swimming pool. (1948, March 6). The Straits Times, p. 2; Singapore Municipality: Mount Emily swimming pool. (1948, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 2; Singapore police rushed to Mount Emily swimming pool. (1949, December 5). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Mount Emily work to begin. (1949, April 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 9; Mount Emily pool opens again. (1949, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 8; Mount Emily pool re-opened. (1949, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 12; They all wanted a swim... . (1949, December 5). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singapore Sports Council. (1982). Annual report, 81/82. Singapore: The Council, p. 38. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957093 SSCAR-[AR])
14. Ang, P. H. (1983, June 23). Swimming pool to be demolished. Singapore Monitor, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lai, C. K. (2008). A historical sketch of the Mount Emily area. The Singapore architect, 243, 64–71.(Call no.: RSING 720.5 SA)
15. More amenities for Singapore. (1930, April 23). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Swimming pool at Mount Emily. (1931, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 15; A big splash: Opening of Mount Emily swimming pool. (1931, January 31). The Singapore Free Press, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Swimming pool at Mount Emily. (1931, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Bathing fatality at Mount Emily. (1931, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 12; Swimming pool at Mount Emily. (1931, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 15; Mount Emily: Official opening of public swimming bath. (1931, January 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20; New swimming pool: Official opening of Mount Emily. (1931, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singapore Life Guard Corps. (1990). 40 years of lifeguarding: 1950–1990. Singapore: Singapore Life Guard Corps, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 797.200289 FOR); Bathing fatality at Mount Emily. (1931, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 12; Opening of Mount Emily swimming pool. (1931, January 31). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 13; Mystery of swimming pool tragedy. (1931, February 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Mixed bathing: Two hours on Sunday at Mount Emily. (1932, July 12). The Straits Times, p. 18; Mount Emily pool opens again. (1949, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 8; Singapore police rushed to Mount Emily swimming pool. (1949, December 5). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Singapore municipal swimming pool scenes. (1935, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Mixed bathing. (1934, March 10). The Straits Times, p. 18; Bathing fatality at Mount Emily. (1931, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Colony cavalcade: A popular pool. (1935, November 3). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. The only pool with ‘women only’ days. (1979, March 15). New Nation, p. 4; Modesty won’t help Emily. (1979, March 17). New Nation, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Tan, T. S. (1950, July 25). Record numbers come for training. The Singapore Free Press, p. 6; Laycock Cup for boys’ club. (1950, February 17). The Straits Times, p. 12; Boys clubs swim meet today. (1951, April 14). The Straits Times, p. 11; Rivalry should be very keen. (1952, March 29). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Free swimming for a week. (1951, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. New swimming pool plan. (1952, August 30). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. David, J. (1972, June 26). Getting all heated up in the long futile wait to cool off. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Mount Emily: Cleaning municipal swimming pool. (1939, February 16). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Notice: Mount Emily swimming pool. (1931, April 1). The Straits Times, p. 9; Singapore Municipality: Mt. Emily swimming pool. (1936, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Mount Emily pool plans. (1949, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 5; Singapore police rushed to Mount Emily swimming pool. (1949, December 5). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Mount Emily pool re-opened. (1949, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33.  Mount Emily pool plans. (1949, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 5; Mount Emily work to begin. (1949, April 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 9; Mt Emily pool open soon. (1949, November 24). The Singapore Free Press, p. 17; Mount Emily pool opens again. (1949, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. 112,000 paid $13,000 to escape heat. (1950, August 24). The Straits Times, p. 7; Lifeguards were busy: 35 ‘rescues’. (1951, October 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5; Swimming pool tragedy: Young Chinese drowned at Mount Emily. (1931, January 26). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10; Swim girl drowned. (1952, August 13). The Straits Times, p. 1; Vain bid to save boy’s life. (1960, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Diver hurt at Mt. Emily pool. (1950, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Boland, G. (1950, February 22). Mount Emily pool. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG


Mount Emily and Singapore River. (1947, April 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singapore’s tots have their own pool now. (1951, May 31). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singapore’s water consumption. (1932, July 29). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Recreation>>Sports
Sports, recreation and travel>>Water sports>>Swimming
Sports and games
Swimming pools--Singapore