Mount Pleasant



Mount Pleasant is an area located in the central region of Singapore bounded by Thomson Road, the Pan Island Expressway (PIE), Bukit Brown Cemetery and Andrew Road.1 It is named after a hill located within its boundaries. The colonial government acquired the area in 1920 to build accommodation for high-ranking colonial officers, including senior police officers from the nearby Police Depot (later known as the Police Academy). These houses were among the grandest black-and-white bungalows built by the colonial government prior to World War II and 33 of them have since been preserved and refurbished for lease to the public. Mount Pleasant is also the site where the Singapore Polo Club has been based since the 1940s. Mount Pleasant Road, which runs through the area, is designated a Heritage Road and gazetted under the Parks and Trees Act in 2005, thus providing the surrounding trees and greenery with more legal protection.

Early history
George Henry Brown, an Englishman, was a shipowner who came to Singapore in the 1840s after living in Calcutta and Penang.2 While residing in Singapore, he purchased a piece of property off Thomson Road. Brown found a hill in the estate pleasant, so he named it “Mount Pleasant”. In addition, he named two roads in the area: Mount Pleasant Road and Mount Pleasant Drive. Brown later built a house on the hill to serve as his residence. The estate was also known as Brown’s Hill (or Bukit Brown) after the owner.3

Brown experimented with planting nutmeg and coffee at Mount Pleasant but was unsuccessful.4 He suffered a severe accident at the estate in 1881 and died in Penang the following year.5 After his death, the estate was put up for sale. At the time, the estate spanned 140 ac with three large houses, a carriage factory, a tapioca processing plant, a tapioca plantation and a large number of fruit trees.6 Part of the estate was subsequently bought over by the municipal authorities for use as a Chinese cemetery, which became known as the Bukit Brown Cemetery.7 In 1896, a tiger was found and shot on Mount Pleasant.8

From the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the Mount Pleasant estate was owned by the Alsagoff family, then headed for the most part by Syed Omar Alsagoff. The family let out houses on the estate to tenants.9 One of these tenants was William Kinsey, a European pioneer in Pahang, Malaya, who subsequently established himself as a timber expert and shipowner in Singapore.10 The Alsagoff family also had a stake in two plantations on the Mount Pleasant estate that produced crops such as coffee, pepper, tapioca and sugar cane.11

Black-and-white colonial bungalows
In 1920, the colonial government acquired the land and houses at Mount Pleasant, which then covered an area of slightly over 200 ac for the purpose of providing living quarters for government officers.12

By 1929, the Police Depot on Thomson Road was opened on a site next to Mount Pleasant.13 Large black-and-white bungalows were built at Mount Pleasant in the years leading up to the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) to provide accommodation for police inspectors-general and other high-ranking colonial officers. Developed in conjunction with the Police Depot, these bungalows are among the grandest government-built black-and-white houses in Singapore.14

Designed by architects from the British administration’s Public Works Department, the colonial bungalows bear a close resemblance to Tudor architecture. Typically surrounded by replications of large English landscaped gardens, many of these colonial houses are two-storey buildings constructed using mainly bricks and timber.15

These colonial bungalows were first leased out to the public in the 1960s.16 The refurbished bungalows have been managed by the private sector since 1999, although the Singapore government continues to retain ownership. The bungalows are currently managed by The Ascott Limited under the brand name “The Heritage” and are marketed as high-end residences for expatriates.17

Senior Police Officers’ Mess
With the establishment of the Police Depot for training purposes, then Inspector-General of Police H. Fairburn felt that a mess was necessary for rest, recreation and bonding. The Senior Police Officers’ Mess (SPOM) – then known as the Gazetted Officers’ Mess of the Straits Settlements Police Force – was completed in January 1931. The mess was for gazetted police officers, which meant those of the rank of probationary assistant superintendent and above.18

Located at 153 Mount Pleasant Road, the SPOM is a grand black-and-white bungalow first used as living quarters for unmarried gazetted officers, who were all Europeans until after the war. The mess was also used by the officers for a host of social activities ranging from fine dining to casual cocktail parties and the weekly dinner-and-dance held on Friday nights.19

During the Japanese Occupation, the SPOM was possibly occupied by Japanese officers, including the Japanese military police, or Kempeitai.20

In later years, the number of officers living in the mess declined and the SPOM was converted into an officers’ mess for formal events, networking, hosting guests and relaxation.21 The SPOM continues to serve as a venue for retreats and meetings by various Home Team departments and government agencies.22

In 2014, the SPOM was included in the Balestier Heritage Trail created by the National Heritage Board.23

Japanese Occupation
During the Battle of Singapore, one of the colonial bungalows on Mount Pleasant Road was used as the headquarters of the Malacca Volunteer Corps.24

Some of the colonial houses at Mount Pleasant were appropriated during the Japanese Occupation to house senior officials in the Japanese army, while others were taken over by the Kempeitai.25 Mohan Singh, a leader of the Indian National Army, also resided at Mount Pleasant during this period.26 In addition, the estate served as one of several work camps established for prisoners of war who were tasked to build a Shinto shrine on the shores of MacRitchie Reservoir.27

Key postwar developments
Pan Island Expressway flyover
A flyover system was constructed at Mount Pleasant Road as part of the PIE during the latter half of the 1970s. The bridge, 60 m long and 19 m wide, is located near the junction of Mount Pleasant Road and Whitley Road.28

Mount Pleasant Cemetery
The widening of the PIE in the 1990s resulted in the Bukit Brown Cemetery being split into two sections. The section nearer to the Police Academy at Thomson Road became known as the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.29

Singapore Polo Club
In the 1940s, the Singapore Polo Club – one of the oldest sporting and social clubs in Singapore – moved from its first home on Balestier Road to Mount Pleasant Road. During World War II, the club’s Mount Pleasant site was converted by the Japanese into a gun emplacement area and then a squatter’s camp.30 The Singapore Polo Club continues to be situated at Mount Pleasant Road.31 Besides polo events, the club also provides horse riding lessons for its members.32

Heritage Road
The Heritage Road Scheme was introduced by the National Parks Board (NParks) in 2001 to conserve scenic roads lined with mature trees and greenery. Mount Pleasant Road is one of the 55 Heritage Roads. Widening and realignment of these roads are not permitted unless there are compelling reasons for doing so.33 While trees and greenery at the green verges of these roads are protected, the mature greenery behind them is not.34

In 2005, Mount Pleasant Road was gazetted for conservation under the Parks and Trees Act, which extended the conservation of greenery to 10 m on both sides of each road.35 Trees along these roads cannot be cut down and no development is allowed within the 10-metre-wide buffer zone.36 However, private landowners at the time the law was passed were exempted from this regulation. The other four gazetted Heritage Roads are Arcadia Road, Lim Chu Kang Road, Mandai Road and South Buona Vista Road.37

The Mount Pleasant Heritage Road spans 1,353 m. It begins at the junction with Denham Road and ends at the PIE slip road. Mount Pleasant Road is flanked by mature saga trees. Wild-sown trees such as wild cinnamon, palms and figs can be found fronting the garden fences of the bungalows in the area. Of just three Burmese banyan trees in Singapore, two can be found along Mount Pleasant Road.38

Mount Pleasant Mass Rapid Transit station
Construction of the Mount Pleasant Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station began in January 2015 and is expected to be operational by 2021. Situated at the site of the former Police Academy on Thomson Road, the Mount Pleasant MRT station is one of 31 stations along the Thomson–East Coast line linking Woodlands to Bedok.39 The Police Academy was closed in December 2005 after 76 years in operation and police training has since moved to a new facility at Choa Chu Kang known as the Home Team Academy.40

Others
A house on Mount Pleasant Drive was used as a filming location for Singapore’s first full-length English movie, Medium Rare, released in 1991.41

In 2002, one of the Burmese fig trees at Mount Pleasant was found bearing red figs with seeds. This was an unusual occurrence as Burmese fig trees in Singapore were then thought to be incapable of reproduction since they require a type of wasp native to Myanmar for pollination. The huge tree, estimated to be 120 years old at the time, has aerial roots that drape over the gates of a colonial bungalow. The tree is marked a Heritage Tree under NParks’ Heritage Tree Scheme.42



Author
Cheryl Sim



References
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17. Kerk, C. (1999, July 14). Pidemco unit launches 33 colonial bungalows for rent. The Business Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Ascott Limited. (2016). The Heritage Singapore (other residence). Retrieved 2016, May 12 from Somerset Serviced Residence website: http://www.somerset.com/en/singapore/singapore/the_heritage.html; Shankari, U. (2010, December 7). Ascott wins bid to manage bungalows. The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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24. Singh, J. (1982, February 15). Private’s life made public. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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28. $27m Pan-Island Expressway system to be ready in mid-1977. (1975, April 13). The Straits Times, p. 5; Work begins on $2m flyover at Mt Pleasant. (1975, December 15). The Straits Times, p. 13; New road open today. (1979, November 3). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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36. Tay, S. C. (2011, April 16). Green with history. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Tan, H. Y. (2005, February 12). Roads now safe havens for trees. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. National Parks Board. (n.d.). A guide to Heritage Roads of Singapore. Singapore: Author, p. 3. Retrieved 2016, May 12 from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/~/media/nparks-real-content/gardens-parks-and-nature/diy-walk/diy-walk-pdf-files/heritage-roads-of-singapore.pdf?la=en; Tay, S. C. (2011, April 16). Green with history. The Straits Times, p. 10; Neo, H. M. (2002, December 10). No figment... this ‘barren’ tree bears fruit. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Cheong, D. (2015, January 25). Work starts on two MRT stations. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Land Transport Authority. (n.d.). Thomson Line: Media briefing. Retrieved 2016, May 12 from Land Transport Authority website: http://www.lta.gov.sg/content/dam/ltaweb/corp/PublicTransport/files/tsl-station-maps.pdf
40. Lum, S. (2005, December 11). When cupid struck at Police Academy. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Goh, J. (1991, May 17). Filming of S’pore’s first full-length movie completed. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Neo, H. M. (2002, December 10). No figment... this ‘barren’ tree bears fruit. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Parks Board. (2014, December 30). Burmese banyan. Retrieved 2016, May 12 from NParks website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/heritage-trees/ht-2009-174



Further resources
Edwards, N. (1990). The Singapore house and residential life 1819–1939. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 728.095957 EDW)

National Park Board. (2015, February 4). Mount Pleasant Road. Retrieved from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/heritage-roads/mount-pleasant-road



The information in this article is valid as at 24 May 2016 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
Nature and Environment
City planning--Singapore
Streets and Places
Land use--Singapore
Heritage and Culture
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places