Siglap



Siglap is a residential district situated in the eastern part of Singapore. Noted in John Turnbull Thomson’s survey map of 1846,1 Siglap was originally known for its fishing villages and coconut plantations, before it was developed into a suburban residential district. In 1930, the Siglap district had grown to cover present-day Telok Kurau and Joo Chiat.2 From the mid-1960s onwards, coastal land reclamation works in the area saw the last fishing villages being cleared to make way for further urban development. By the 1970s, Siglap had become an affluent residential area for well-to-do professionals. Today, Siglap is situated within the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Bedok planning area and is part of the East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Early history
Fishing villages
The district probably got its name from the Malay word gelap, which means “darkness that conceals” or the “dark one”. This could be a reference to the lack of sunlight in the area as a result of the tall gelam trees found there, or to the solar eclipse that allegedly occurred when Tok Lasam (also spelt “Lassam”) arrived in the area in the early 19th century.3 Tok Lasam, who was from the city of Pontianak in modern-day Indonesia, is believed to have founded Kampong Siglap sometime between 1819 and 1822.4 Fishermen from Sumatra, Indonesia, were the original inhabitants of the kampong (village). There were three other fishing villages in Siglap – Kampong Hajijah, Kampong Lim Choo and Kampong Goh Choo – all of which were well established by the early 20th century.5

A 1924 newspaper report described a Japanese fishing village of around 100 people being established at Siglap. The village consisted of four houses and a bungalow, with five sailing and three motor boats.6 An account of the history of Kampong Siglap mentioned the presence of Japanese fishermen who were attracted to the area by the abundance of fish in the surrounding waters. The Japanese fishermen reportedly left the area prior to the outbreak of World War II.7

Rural villages
Besides fishing villages, there were also other rural villages found in the Siglap area by the mid-19th century. These included Chinese villages, which were situated along the beach, and Malay villages that were found further inland.8 The Malay villages in Siglap were well known for organising annual races along the beachfront involving traditional keel-less canoes known as kolek (also spelt koleh).9 These races drew participants from other parts of Singapore as well as Johor, Malaya (now Malaysia), and the surrounding islands.10

Pirate villages
In as early as 1843, there was already mention in the press of pirate villages located along the coastline between Tanjung Siglap and Sungei Changi.11 In 1845, an attack on a Frenchmen’s house in the neighbouring Paya Lebar district by a gang of Chinese and Malay men prompted the police to search the area, including the “piratical villages of Siglap”.12 A newspaper report in 1847 described the attacks by the “predatory inhabitants” around Siglap and Changi as being frequent and “murderous”.13

Plantations
By the mid-19th century, the Siglap district had become known for its coconut and fruit tree plantations.14 Among those who owned plantations in the area were Chew Joo Chiat, after whom the neighbouring Joo Chiat area was named, and Robert Little, a surgeon.15 Little’s Siglap Estate was a coconut plantation spanning around 450 ac.16 There was also Annandale Estate, a 325-acre coconut plantation owned by Buchanan Smith, a stockbroker as well as a house, land and estate agent.17

Another major plantation in Siglap was Frankel Estate, which took its name from its owners, the Frankel family. The Frankels were Ashkenazim (a distinct community of Jews) originally from Lithuania. The family patriarch, Abraham, arrived in Singapore in 1878 with his wife Rosa. By the 1920s, the Frankels were living in a 200-acre coconut plantation in Siglap that was bought from a British landowner. The Frankels also owned other landholdings in Siglap, including Seaside Park and Opera Estate. Members of the Frankel family had either died or left Singapore by the time World War II began. After the war, Abraham’s son, David, sold the family’s properties in Singapore and settled in the United States.18

Housing development
Although much of Siglap was still undeveloped by the turn of the 20th century, there were already mention of the presence of seaside bungalows with bathing pagars (sea swimming enclosures19) in the area by 1907.20 At the time, Siglap was considered an ideal location for new residential area because of its seafront location, proximity to town and availability of large plots of land for sale.21

On 1 January 1929, the Municipal Commission took over the administration of the Siglap district from the Rural Board.22 At the time, Siglap was bounded by East Coast Road, Siglap Road and Changi Road.23 Following the municipal takeover, plans were put in place to build more roads and improve the area’s drainage in order to encourage further residential building projects.24

The 1950s saw the building of private housing estates in Siglap. Terrace houses, bungalows and shops were built in Frankel Estate, along with new roads and a secondary school.25 Opera Estate was also developed into a private housing estate during this period.26

In 1964, a small public housing estate consisting of four blocks of five-storey flats was completed. Known as the Siglap housing estate, the two-room Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats were built on the site of a former kampong that was razed by a fire during Chinese New Year in 1962. The fire destroyed about 50 attap houses in Siglap, leaving more than 500 homeless. The HDB flats were part of the housing authority’s low-cost housing scheme, and it was the first of such schemes to be built in the east. The victims of the fire were given preference for the units.27

Japanese Occupation and aftermath
During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), Siglap was one of the places where the Japanese killed and buried detained civilians. Survivors of the massacre recalled being taken to Siglap in February 1942 and witnessing other detainees shot or burnt and their bodies buried in the area.28 The exact location of the burial sites were not known until 1962 when five mass war graves were found in an area dubbed the “Valley of Tears” or “Valley of Death” in Siglap.29 Subsequently, 40 more mass war graves were found in the Siglap area off Evergreen Avenue.30

In 1959, a buried World War II incendiary bomb exploded on the beach off Siglap Road.31 The incident prompted the authorities to search the area, which led to the discovery of two boxes of mortar shells that had been discarded by the British prior to the fall of Singapore in 1942.32 Nine more bombs were later found and removed from Siglap beach in 1960.33

Electoral and planning boundaries
In the 1955 legislative assembly election, Siglap was part of the Changi rural division.34 Between 1959 and 1991, Siglap was a single-member electoral constituency.35 During this period, the Siglap seat was held by various members of the People’s Action Party: Sahorah binte Ahmad (1959–63); Abdul Rahim bin Ishak (1963–84), brother of Singapore’s first head of state Yusof bin Ishak; and Abdullah Tarmugi (1984–91).36 In 1991, Siglap was absorbed into Bedok GRC, which was renamed East Coast GRC in 1996.37

The URA places Siglap within the Bedok planning area.38

Land reclamation
Land reclamation works at Siglap had started as early as 1956 when the Rural Board decided to reclaim the swampy coastal land in Siglap using layers of refuse.39

In 1964, the government announced plans to reclaim more than 1,200 ac of land off Tanjong Rhu and Bedok.40 The East Coast Reclamation project, which started in 1966 and was the largest reclamation project at the time, aimed to expand the coastline and add to the land in the Siglap Plain.41 By 1970, with land reclamation from Bedok to Tanjong Rhu nearly completed, the HDB decided to reclaim about 1,350 ac of land from the sea stretching from Bedok to Tanah Merah Besar.42

The reclamation project had a large impact on Siglap’s seafront fishing villages.43 By 1970, the 200 fishermen inhabiting the four remaining coastal villages in Siglap found it difficult to sustain a living from their fishing activities due to the reclamation project.44 In 1976, the residents of one of these last coastal villages, Kampong Siglap, were served notices of land acquisition by the URA.45 It was only in 1985 that these residents were finally resettled.46

The East Coast Parkway (ECP) expressway, which links the eastern part of Singapore to the city, as well as the East Coast Park and the Marine Parade public housing estate were some of the major projects constructed on the reclaimed land.47 On the reclaimed area closer to Siglap, the government built the Laguna Park, Lagoon View and Neptune Court residential developments.48

Middle-class ‘yuppie haunt’
With the exception of the few remaining fishing villages, Siglap was predominantly a residential area by the 1970s, with about 75 percent of the residents from the upper-middle and middle classes.49 A survey in the 1980s found that the Siglap constituency at the time had the highest proportion of white-collar workers on the island. About 40 percent of its working constituents were either professionals, administrators or managers.50

From the 1990s onwards, upmarket retailers and eateries as well as private condominiums began sprouting up in Siglap. One of the earliest retail developments was the Siglap Centre shopping complex launched in 1993, which brought retailers such as Cold Storage and Guardian Pharmacy to Siglap.51 By the 2000s, Siglap had become known as a “yuppie haunt” with wine bars, cafes, fast-food eateries as well as fine-dining outlets.52 Adding to the charm of the area are its low-rise shophouses that have been preserved by a building height limit set by the URA in the 1990s to maintain the look of the neighbourhood.53

Landmarks
Masjid Kampung Siglap (Kampung Siglap Mosque)
The original Kampung Siglap Mosque was built in 1846 by fishermen living in the area. This mosque was originally a small wooden house that stood near the sea on land donated by an heiress known as Hajjah Hajijah.54 In 1992, the mosque was redeveloped to include a new prayer hall, religious classrooms and multipurpose rooms. The use of Malay architectural motifs and design – such as bumbung panjang (“long roofs”), enamelled steel wall panels that look like wooden planks, and timber latticework – helped to retain the kampong ambience.55 In 2009, the mosque’s prayer building was gutted by a fire in an act of arson committed by a 14-year-old boy.56

Sekolah Indonesia Singapura
The Sekolah Indonesia Singapura, a school for children of Indonesian diplomats and staff of Indonesian companies, was founded in 1969. The school moved from Holland Road to Siglap in 1988. The school building in Siglap, featuring a traditional Javanese roof, was declared open by then Indonesian ambassador to Singapore, Rais Abin, in July 1988. The school offered classes from kindergarten to the junior college level.57

Wisma Mendaki
Wisma Mendaki (Council on Education for Muslim Children) stands on the site of the former Siglap Malay School.58 The school was opened in 1903 as a school for children living in the kampong. It was renamed Siglap Indah Primary School in 1977 when it became an English-medium school. In November 1983, the school was closed down and the campus subsequently taken over by Mendaki for use as its headquarters.59


Siglap Centre
The Siglap Centre shopping complex was completed in 1993.60 It occupies the site of the former Siglap Market, a private wet market that was built in the 1940s. The market was closed in 1989 for redevelopment after the stallholders lost a long-drawn battle with the centre’s developer over the resettlement compensation.61

St Andrew’s Autism Centre
The St Andrew’s Orthopedic Hospital, opened on 28 February 1939, originally occupied the site of the current St Andrew’s Autism Centre. The hospital initially comprised two wards with 30 beds each, an operating theatre and a small chapel.62 Located on Kee Sun Road, the hospital catered to children suffering from tuberculosis of the bone.63 The hospital closed down at the end of 1987 due to declining patient volume.64 Between 1992 and 2005, St Andrew’s Community Hospital occupied the site. Since 2011, the St Andrew’s Autism Centre has been located there, bounded by Elliott Road, Elliott Walk, Kee Sun Avenue and Marine Parade Road.65


St Patrick’s School

St Patrick’s School was founded in 1933 by Brother Stephen Buckley of the De La Salle Brothers religious order. The land on which the school stood was initially bought by Brother Gregory of St Joseph’s Institute in 1897. A bungalow was built on the land to be used as a seaside retreat for the brothers and boarders of St Joseph’s. In the 1920s, there were plans to rebuild the site in Siglap as a branch of St Joseph to relieve the congestion in the main school in town.66 The school buildings were requisitioned by the British military in 1941 for use as a hospital.67 Classes resumed in October 1946 when the school buildings were released from military use.68

Cathay-Keris Studio
The Cathay-Keris Studio was formed in 1953, with its production facilities located along East Coast Road in Siglap. The company produced films for the Malayan market and thousands of visitors toured its studios in the 1960s. The studio ceased film production in 1972.69

Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
Opened in October 1961 at the junction of Siglap and Changi Roads, the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was designed by architect Alfred Wong and served Catholic residents living in the area.70 The church building underwent renovations in the 1990s to expand its capacity and improve its facilities. It now has a columbarium for 2,500 niches.71




Authors

Jaime Koh & Stephanie Ho



References
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22. Municipal limits at Siglap. (1928, May 10). The Straits Times, p. 10; Building activities in Singapore. (1930, July 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Municipal limits at Siglap. (1928, May 10). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Opening up Siglap district. (1928, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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27. Crackers on roof: 500 lose homes. (1962, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 1; 136 flats for blaze site. (1962, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 7; New Siglap housing estate opens. (1964, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. 1,000 were civilians. (1951, September 13). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Massacre site not yet found. (1951, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 8; Mass war graves found in Siglap’s ‘valley of death’. (1962, February 24). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Discovery of 40 more mass graves in Siglap. (1962, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. War bomb explodes at Siglap. (1959, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Army clears beach of boxes of discarded mortars. (1959, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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39. Making swamps into living areas. (1958, March 27). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Reclamation of land for new suburb to begin next year. (1964, June 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Giant project adds 1,000 new acres. (1966, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. 1,350 acres more to be reclaimed. (1970, May 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Now survey on vanishing fishing industry. (1974, August 20). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Loh, B. T. (1970, November 17). Siglap. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. An air of uncertainty in Kampung Siglap resettlement. (1984, March 26). Singapore Monitor, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. 346 families to be resettled. (1985, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. $300m expressway and a Marina Centre. (1973, May 24). The Straits Times, p. 6; Getting away from the crowded beaches. (1972, October 10). The Straits Times, p. 15; Marine Parade Estate project will be completed next year. (1975, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48. 3 East Coast estates which have a place in history of condos. (1989, November 16). The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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50. Fun place and home to the middle class. (1984, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. More shops will combine to pull people to the area. (1995, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Scoring in Siglap. (2001, July 26). The Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. Like Holland Vee, but cheaper. (2002, September 7). The Straits Times, p. 7; House-owners 'welcome plans to preserve estates' character'. (1994, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. Nur Dianah Suhaimi. (2009, October 11). Old, but definitely not forgotten. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Kampung feel kept alive in Siglap mosque. (1992, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56. Yong, N., & Muhammad Nurluqman. (2009, October 9). Fire insurance mandatory for mosques soon. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
57. New Indonesian school. (1988, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 23; Indonesian school to be relocated to Siglap. (1987, September 16). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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59. My school, my school. (1983, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
60. More shops will combine to pull people to the area. (1995, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
61. Chong, E. (1988, December 18). Siglap Market set to close for good on Jan 1. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
62. New hospital at Siglap. (1939, February 28). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
63. New Singapore hospital. (1939, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ng, B. Y. (2001). Till the break of day: A history of mental health services in Singapore, 1841–1993. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 208. (Call no.: RSING 362.2095957 NG)
64. St Andrew’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Siglap to close. (1987, December 25). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
65. St Andrew’s Autism Centre. (n.d.). The legacy at Elliott Road – A rich history. Retrieved 2016, August 2 from St Andrew’s Autism Centre website: http://www.saac.org.sg/index.php/about-us/organisational-milestones
66. St. Patrick’s School. (1983). Our story: St Patrick’s School 1933-1983. Singapore: The School, pp. 17, 20, 24, 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 OUR)
67. Military takes over school. (1941, August 12). The Straits Times, p. 10; Still waiting for liberation. (1946, September 6). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
68. St. Patrick’s School is released. (1946, October 8). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
69. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 34. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL); Every year thousands of visitors make a tour of studios. (1962, January 30). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
70. 3,000 at opening of new $220,000 church at Siglap. (1961, October 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7; New church in Siglap. (1960, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
71. Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor. (n.d.). About OLPS. Retrieved 2016, July 12 from OLPS website: http://www.olps.sg/about-olps-11



The information in this article is valid as at 18 August 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.

 

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