Alexandra



Alexandra broadly refers to the area adjacent to Alexandra Road that connects River Valley in central Singapore to Pasir Panjang in the southwest.1 From 1968 to 1988, Alexandra was a parliamentary constituency. The British military had a strong presence in the Alexandra area from the early 20th century until its withdrawal from Singapore in 1971. The area has also seen the development of public and private housing estates as well as commercial and industrial buildings.

Origins and changing boundaries
Completed in 1864, Alexandra Road was named after the then Princess of Wales, who later became Queen Alexandra, consort to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. The road, which connected River Valley Road and Pasir Panjang, was known as chui bo lai in Hokkien, meaning “within the water (rice) mill”.2

In the 1950s, parts of Alexandra fell under the planning district and electoral division of Queenstown.3 In 1967, the Electoral Boundaries Delineation Committee recommended the creation of a new electoral division of Alexandra to be formed from the Queenstown electoral division as the latter had grown too large.4 In 1968, University of Singapore lecturer Wong Lin Ken was elected as the member of Parliament (MP) for the Alexandra constituency.5 Tan Soo Khoon succeeded Wong as MP of the constituency from 1976 to 1988.6

In 1988, the electoral boundaries were again redrawn and Alexandra came under the Brickworks Group Representation Constituency (GRC).7 The area is currently part of the electoral boundaries of Tanjong Pagar GRC.8

Alexandra falls within the Queenstown and Bukit Merah urban planning areas designated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.9

British military presence
Alexandra was an area with a strong British presence. This is reflected in the road names, many of which were derived from places in Britain and the Commonwealth such as Berkshire, Bury, Canterbury, Cornwall, Hyderabad, Winchester and York.10


Alexandra Barracks
In the early 1900s, the British established Alexandra Barracks near Alexandra Road. The roads leading to it bear names reflecting their association with the British military.11 The barracks accommodated Indian troops such as the 99th Daccan Infantry and 3rd Brahmans.12 The most significant event related to the barracks was a deadly mutiny involving the men of the 5th Light Infantry stationed there.13 In addition to the barracks, the British Army also developed facilities such as food stores, water supply and power plants in the vicinity.14

Gillman Barracks
Gillman Barracks was established in 1936 by the British military in the Alexandra area between Telok Blangah Road and the western end of Mount Faber. The barracks was initially meant to serve as the new army headquarters of a second battalion of infantry due to be stationed in Singapore. It was named after General Webb Gillman, who had led a commission to study the island’s defences in 1927.15

The Middlesex Regiment arrived on 1 April 1936 to occupy the barracks.16 Three months, in July, a combined services athletic team championship was held at the barracks, which was equipped with its own swimming pool.17 Alexandra School, located at the barracks, was officially opened in 1939 and attended mainly by the children of military families from the surrounding areas as well as some students from civilian families.18 In 1948, the barracks became home to the Royal Engineers of the Far East Land Forces.19

Following the British military withdrawal from Singapore in 1971, the barracks was symbolically “sold” to the Singapore government for a token sum of S$1 and subsequently used by the Ministry of Defence to house various Singapore Armed Forces units.20 The barracks was renamed Gillman Village in 1996 and repurposed as an area for bars and restaurants.21 The site was then redeveloped and opened in 2012 as Gillman Barracks, a contemporary art destination then housing 13 galleries from 10 countries.22 

Alexandra Hospital
Although there was already a military hospital at the Tanglin Barracks, the build-up of troops in Singapore in the 1930s called for the development of a larger hospital to accommodate the needs of the growing garrison. Thus the British Military Hospital was constructed on a plot of land in Alexandra near the present-day Ayer Rajah Expressway. Opened in July 1940, the hospital was described by the press at the time as “the most up-to-date and one of the largest military hospitals outside Great Britain”.23 During the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942, the hospital was the site of a massacre that claimed the lives of many staff and patients.24 When the British military left Singapore in 1971, the hospital was renamed Alexandra Hospital and converted into a civilian hospital.25

Alexandra Park
Located near Alexandra Barracks and Alexandra Hospital, Alexandra Park was a colonial residential estate for British military staff and their families. Although most houses in the estate were completed between 1935 and 1940, there were several that were built much earlier.26 For example, the house named Bukit Damai was constructed in 1906 for the commanding officer of the Alexandra Barracks.27 Subsequently, a number of houses were built for senior staff of the Royal Army Medical Corps who were stationed at the British Military Hospital.28 After the British military withdrawal, some of the houses in Alexandra Park were converted into hostels for nurses and doctors, or rented out to senior doctors working in Alexandra Hospital.29


Housing
Besides the British military installations, there were also kampong (villages) and plantations in the Alexandra area. Medic Will Brand, who worked in the Alexandra Military Hospital in the early 1940s, recalled the existence of rubber, coconut and papaya plantations in the area, as well as kampong predominantly occupied by Chinese families but with some Malays and Indians.30 A former Alexandra resident, Tan Kim Ock, remembered many attap houses in the area during the 1930s. He also recounted that the people who lived there mainly worked as boatmen, lorry drivers or small-scale farmers.31


As early as 1926, the colonial government began to develop the Alexandra Road area by acquiring 750 ac for improvements and extensions to the town. Part of this land was later acquired by the military for the construction of barracks and a military stores depot.32


In 1959, Alexandra was one of several areas included in the Singapore Improvement Trust’s building programme to create homes for the masses.33 In 1961, the SIT announced plans to build one-room flats in the Alexandra estate to cater to people in the lower-income group.34 A new public housing estate was also constructed on Alexandra Hill, which included a market, shopping area, school, carparks and playground.35 In the 1970s, Kampung Alexandra, a piece of land bounded by Jalan Bukit Merah and Alexandra Road, was developed into a housing and industrial site by the Housing and Development Board.36

The 1980s saw the development of Gillman Heights, a middle-income housing estate developed by the Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) on a site bounded by Alexandra and Depot roads. Completed in 1985, the estate comprised 244 apartments and 152 maisonettes.37 Half of the apartments were set aside for expatriate staff of the National University of Singapore.38 In 2007, the HUDC estate was sold to CapitaLand and a condominium known as The Interlace now occupies the site.39

Another prominent private housing project in the area is The Anchorage, launched in 1994. Built on the site of the former Anchor Brewery, this was the first condominium project managed by Centrepoint Properties.40

Industrial and commercial buildings
Industrial buildings began to spring up in Alexandra from the 1930s onwards. One of the earliest was Malayan Breweries, the first modern brewery in Singapore when it opened in 1932.41 This brewery was situated behind Alexandra Brickworks, west of Alexandra Road.42 Also known as the Tiger brewery for its main product,43 the brewery was later relocated and the site sold in 1990.44 On the site now stand an industrial park and the Alexandra Point commercial building.45
In 1933, Archipelago Brewery Company (ABC) opened Singapore’s second brewery, which was also situated along Alexandra Road.46 Its main brew was Anchor beer and thus the factory was known as Anchor Brewery.47 The brewmaster’s office, a two-storey Arts and Crafts-style bungalow, was gazetted for conservation in 1993.48

The choice of Alexandra for these breweries was strategic as the area was close to the breweries’ main clientele: the British military personnel stationed at Alexandra, Ayer Rajah and Tanglin.49

Certain areas in Alexandra were zoned for industrial use from 1948 onwards.50 Industrialisation escalated in the 1960s with the government announcing plans to set up small industrial estates in areas such as Alexandra.51 The Alexandra industrial estate attracted companies like Mizarahie and Co Ltd, the first pharmaceutical company to set up a manufacturing plant in Singapore.52  German camera manufacturer Rollei also set up its office on Alexandra Road.53


In 1978, work started on Alexandra Village, Singapore’s first motor repair “village”. Built on the site of a former kampong once frequented by British servicemen, the redeveloped village had workshops and shophouses selling motor accessories as well as three- and four-room flats, eating houses and food stalls for residents and workers.54

It was also in the 1970s that the first modern shopping centre, Queensway Shopping Centre, was built in Alexandra. Located at the junction of Queensway and Alexandra Road, the complex comprised shopping arcades, office space, a basement carpark and an apartment tower.55

In 1995, Swedish furniture giant Ikea opened its flagship store and warehouse diagonally opposite Queensway Shopping Centre. It targeted customers living in the nearby public housing estates.56 More recent commercial buildings include Alexandra Central, a mixed-use development; and Alexandra Precinct, a business hub that includes Alexandra Retail Centre and the PSA Building.57

Alexandra Arch
The 80-metre-long Alexandra Arch pedestrian bridge across Alexandra Road opened on 10 May 1998. The bridge is a part of the Southern Ridges chain of greenery consisting of three large hill parks: Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill and Kent Ridge Park.58




Author
Stephanie Ho



References
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13.
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Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: Alexandra Hospital; Singapore Polytechnic, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
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Services’ championship meeting. (1936, July 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Good performances at Command aquatics. (1938, August 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18.
General opens new garrison school. (1939, January 6). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3; School spots at Gillman. (1939, August 3). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
19.
Barracks ‘sold’ to Singapore govt for a dollar. (1971, August 21). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20.
Barracks ‘sold’ to Singapore govt for a dollar. (1971, August 21). The Straits Times, p. 32; Gillman site worth more than $1b if condos are built. (1993, October 26). The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.
Sleepy nook now a quiet, little bohemia. (2006, April 1). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
22.
Contemporary art destination officially opens. (2012, September 15). The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva. 
23.
Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: Alexandra Hospital and Singapore Polytechnic, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); New military hospital now open. (1940, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24.
‘Japanese massacred 400 in Singapore hospital’. (1984, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25.
Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: Alexandra Hospital and Singapore Polytechnic, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); Ministry takes over army hospital. (1971, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
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31.
Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1983, January 25). Oral history interview with Tan Kim Ock [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000247/26/01, p. 6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/ 
32.
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33.
Homes for the people. (1959, September 19). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34.
$20 one-room flats to house 20,000 people. (1961, March 25). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35.
$7m. skyscraper estate goes up on hill-top. (1961, October 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36.
New HDB estate at Kampung Alexandra. (1975, September 17). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37.
This is Phase Three. (1979, July 9). New Nation, p. 1; Gillman Heights flats will be ready by the end of the year. (1984, August 29). Singapore Monitor, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38.
Varsity expats shift to Gillman. (1985, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39.
The Interlace replaces Gillman Heights. (2009, September 9). Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
40.
Condo expected to help double Centrepoint profit. (1993, December 21). The Business Times, p. 21; Centrepoint nets $375m with 80pc of The Anchorage sold. (1994, March 10). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
41.
A new industry for Malaya. (1932, April 5). The Straits Times, p. 7; A wonderful achievement. (1932, September 30). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
42.
Two breweries for Singapore. (1932, January 2). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
43.
Free beer! (1932, October 3). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
44.
Asia-Pacific Breweries to sell Alexandra Road sites. (1990, July 3). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
45.
F&N Group plans corporate headquarters at Alexandra site. (1990, February 3). The Business Times, p. 4; F&N industrial park expected to fetch $35m in rentals a year. (1991, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46.
Million dollar brewery opened today. (1933, November 4). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47.
Tiger’s rival. (1933, November 6). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48.
Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Alexandra Road No. 366. Retrieved 2016, May 19 from Urban Redevelopment Authority: https://www.ura.gov.sg/Conservation-Portal/Explore/History.aspx?bldgid=ALX01 
49.
Alexandra. (1985, January 6). Singapore Monitor, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
50.
New Towns Working Party. (1958). Queenstown, Singapore: Final report of the New Towns Working Party on the plan for Queenstown. Singapore: New Towns Working Party, p. 18. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095951 SIN)
51.
$45m industrial town plan for S’pore. (1960, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52.
New plant for Singapore. (1961, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
53.
Locally-made cameras for world mart. (1972, April 22). New Nation, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54.
Alexandra to get first motor repair ‘village’. (1978, November 22). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: Alexandra Hospital and Singapore Polytechnic, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
55.
New landmark in Alexandra. (1972, January 10). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56.
Ikea targets market in HDB heartland. (1995, August 23). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
57.
MapleTree Investments Pte Ltd. (n.d.). Alexandra Precinct. Retrieved 2016, June 16 from MapleTree website: http://www.mapletree.com.sg/~/media/Property%20Files/factsheets/Alexandra%20Precinct%20Fact%20Sheet_Singapore.ashx; Alexandra Central. (n.d.). Alexandra Central. Retrieved 2016, June 16 from Alexandra Central website: http://www.alexandra-central.com/ 
58.
Two new bridges = 9 km scenic walk. (2008, May 11). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 20 June 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
Streets and Places
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places

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