Farrer Park is a sub-zone under the Rochor planning area. Historically, the name refers to the former racecourse (also known as Farrer Park Racecourse), which was built in 1843 as a sports and recreational hub for Europeans. After the racecourse moved to Bukit Timah in 1933, its original site was renamed Farrer Park in 1935 after Roland John Farrer, President of the Municipal Commissioners from 1919 to 1931. Farrer Park became a sporting hub in the 1950s to 1980s.1
Farrer Park was formerly a patch of semi-swampy land on the edge of a stream, near the junction of Bukit Timah and Serangoon Road. The land was granted to the Singapore Sporting Club, which was founded on 4 October 1842 by a few amateur racing enthusiasts, including William Macleod Read, Charles Spottiswoode and William Napier, after they had requested from the government for a site to hold regular horse-racing. The land was levelled, drained, and cleared of vegetation within four months, and the racecourse was opened in 1843. The first race was held on 23 and 25 February 1843 and was named the Singapore Cup with a prize money of $150.2
The racecourse became the hub of European social life in Singapore. The races, which lasted two to three days, were held twice a year, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Races in May were known as the Spring Meeting, while those in October the Autumn Meeting. The first 25 years of horse racing were reserved for the Europeans and Malay royalty. Johore’s Sultan Ibrahim made regular appearances at the grandstand, and the Europeans were mostly amateurs who trained and rode their own horses. Racehorses were kept in the stables under the care of Boyanese syces who lived at the adjacent Kampong Kapor. The wealthy Chinese subsequently took interest in racing and organised Chinese-named cups such as the Cheang Hong Lim Cup, Confucius Cup, Kangchu Cup and Kongke Cup.3
By 1867, the Singapore Sporting Club had made improvements to the grandstand and tracks of the racecourse. In appreciation, the colonial government gave the club a 999-year lease on the site at a nominal “pepper corn rent”, provided that the field was cleared of brushwood and maintained in good order for public races and rifle practice by the troops.4
Being one of the few places with an open field, the racecourse was also used as a golf course and a rifle range polo field. On other days, the local population held picnics on the field, while animals grazed there.5
The racecourse was used as a runway in March 1911, when Frenchman Joseph Christiaens flew and landed one of the earliest planes on the racecourse, and in December 1919, when Captain Ross Smith made a pioneering flight from England to Australia. Grand parades, such as the King’s Birthday Parade, and the 1919 Centenary Day celebrations, were held at the racecourse.6
As horse racing became more popular, the racecourse was upgraded. In 1904, the old stables and other buildings were torn down to make way for new ones. In 1910, a totalisator and an imposing grandstand were built.7
In 1924, the Singapore Sporting Club was renamed the Singapore Turf Club (STC), signalling a renewed enthusiasm in horse racing. In 1927, the STC’s executive committee decided that the racecourse was too old and small to meet the growing popularity of races. The growing city boundaries around the racecourse also made it impossible for the club to extend its grounds. In 1929, the club sold its original home to the Singapore Improvement Trust for $1.5 million. The STC then bought part of the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate for its bigger racecourse. The club shifted to the new racecourse at Bukit Timah on 15 April 1933.8
In 1935, the original site of the racecourse was renamed Farrer Park, after Roland John Farrer, who was President of the Municipal Commissioners from 1919 to 1931.9
Former sports hub
Farrer Park’s sporting legacy continued in the 1950s to 1980s, when new sports infrastructure was developed in the area.
On 26 July 1957, Governor Robert Black officially opened the Athletic Centre and new cinder track at Farrer Park. The new stadium cost $200,000, and its first event was the 440-yard hurdles of the Amateur Athletic Association championships. Also included in the centre was the Farrer Park Swimming Complex, which was opened in the same year.10 In its heyday in the 1950s to 1960s, the stadium was the hub of the country’s track and field. Later, the stadium was leased out to a soccer club and became an exclusive venue for hockey matches.11
On 7 August 1971, a new Sports House was officially opened at Farrer Park by Tan Sri Runme Shaw, chairman of the STC. Minister for Sports, Othman Wok, was also present at the occasion to open the 1971 Pesta Sukan or festival of sports.12 The Sports House was home to 14 sports associations and 7 affiliates, including Ten Pin Bowling Association, Singapore Squash Association and Singapore National Olympic Council, before it was razed to the ground by an early morning fire on 6 June 1985.13
Farrer Park was the training ground of several renowned athletes, such as Ang Peng Siong, who was ranked first in the world in 1982 in the 50-metre freestyle at the United States swimming championship,14 and soccer greats such as Majid Ariff, Rahim Omar, Quah Kim Song, Dollah Kassim, and coach Choo Seng Quee.15
Site of political gatherings
Farrer Park was the site of political gatherings during Singapore’s pre- and post-war years. In 1942, following the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, Indian and Malay soldiers were rounded up at Farrer Park to switch allegiances to the new rulers. On 15 August 1955, the People’s Action Party campaigned at Farrer Park for self-government.16
The 1990s to 2000s marked the end of Farrer Park’s status as a sports hub. The Farrer Park Athletic Centre and other sporting facilities were demolished for the construction of the North East Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line and housing.17 The site of the Farrer Park Stadium was occupied by Farrer Park Primary School in 2002,18 while the Farrer Park Swimming Complex was converted into a private swimming complex in 2004 and managed by Ang Peng Siong.19
On 20 June 2003, the Farrer Park MRT Station opened as part of the North East Line. The station incorporated artwork that showcased Farrer Park’s sporting history under the Art in Transit programme by the Land Transport Authrotiy.20
In 2009, Farrer Park became home to Singapore’s first eco-friendly mall – the City Square Mall. With its green features such as eco-restrooms that save water and electricity, and eco-roof to harness solar power and rainwater, the mall won the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum award in 2007.21
In 2018, it was reported that Farrer Park fields would be returned to the state by the middle of 2020, and all existing structures would be demolished. The news led to an online petition, including calls from former national athletes, to preserve the area’s sporting heritage. The Urban Redevelopment Authority and Sports Singapore released a joint statement in 2019, agreeing to keep several existing facilities such as the Farrer Park Swimming Pool and a former boxing gym.22
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia, Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman and Shereen Tay
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Rochor Planning Area: Planning Report 1994 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1994), 7 (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN); Sumiko Tan, The Winning Connection: 150 Years of Racing in Singapore. Singapore: Bukit Turf Club, 1992), 16–17 (Call no. RSING 798.40095957 TAN); National Heritage Board, Little India: Heritage Trail (Singapore: National Heritage Board, 2017), 64–65 (Call no. RSING 915.95704 LIT); “Then and Now,” Straits Times, 22 September 1992, 2; S. Murali, “Farrer Park Sports Ground to Make Way for Progress,” Straits Times, 29 November 1997, 76. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Tan, Winning Connection, 18–19; National Heritage Board, Little India, 64–65.
3. Tan, Winning Connection, 20–22, 24; National Heritage Board, Little India, 64–65.
4. Tan, Winning Connection, 21.
5. Tan, Winning Connection, 21–22.
6. “Maiden Flight at Race Course,” Straits Times, 16 December 1988, 7. (From NewspaperSG); “The Day’s News,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 February 1919, 1 (From NewspaperSG)
7. Tan, Winning Connection, 25.
8. Tan, Winning Connection, 25–28; “Singapore’s New Racecourse Turf Club Members Approve Scheme,” Straits Budget, 27 June 1929, 11; “Singapore Sporting Club,” Straits Times, 26 January 1924, 10; “5,000 at Brilliant Turf Club Opening,” Straits Times, 16 April 1933, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
9. National Heritage Board, Little India, 64–65.
10. K. Toft, “Farrer Park Finest Colony Playing Field,” Sunday Standard, 13 January 1957, 12; “New Swim Pool,” Straits Times, 18 February 1957, 5; “Cinders Now: Sir Robert Gives Word ‘Go’,” Straits Times, 27 July 1957, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Hakikat Rai, “SAAA Wants Farrer Park Stadium as Its Home,” Straits Times, 15 April 1992, 32.
12. Lim Kee Chan, “Sports House Ready for Business,” New Nation, 18 January 1971, 18; Teoh Eng Tatt, “A New Era for S’pore Sports Begins Today,” Straits Times, 7 August 1971, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Ng Weng Hoong, “Sports House Gutted,” Straits Times, 7 June 1985, 1; Suresh Nair and Ernest Frida, “Sports History Up In Smoke,” Singapore Monitor, 6 June 1985, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Desmond Ng, “Risky Venture, But Place Holds Memories,” New Paper, 20 October 2004, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Murali, “Farrer Park Sports Ground to Make Way for Progress”; Joe Doral, “The Park Was My Lifeline for 36 Years,” Straits Times, 29 November 1997, 77. (From NewspaperSG)
16. G. Uma Devi, Singapore's 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press in assoication with National Heritage Board, 2002), 125. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
17. Murali, “Farrer Park Sports Ground to Make Way for Progress.”
18. Alicia Yeo, “Moulmein Set to Become Part of CBD,” Straits Times, 20 June 2001, 7; Jane Lee, “25 Schools Get New Homes Bold in Design and Colour,” Straits Times, 31 December 2001, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Ng, “Risky Venture.”
20. Tan Su Yen, Art in Transit: North East Line MRT – Singapore (Singapore: Land Transport Authority, 2003), 90–97 (Call no. RSING q747.8531 TAN); Goh Chin Lian, “It’s a Smooth Ride on NEL – Mostly,” Straits Times, 21 June 2003, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Hoe Yeen Nie, “Coming Your Way: The Eco-friendly Mall. Today, 6 April 2007, 7; Uma Shankari, “Some 70% of space let out at City Square Mall,” Business Times, 2 September 2008, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Sazali Abdul Aziz, “Farrer Park to Make Way for Redevelopment,” Straits Times, 31 March 2018 (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website); Sazali Abdul Aziz, “URA plan to Retain Farrer Park's Sports Heritage Cheered,” Straits Times, 1 April 2019 (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website); Urban Redevelopment Authority, Draft Master Plan 2019 - Proposals for an Inclusive, Sustainable and Resilient City, media release, 27 March 2019. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
The information in this article is valid as at August 2021 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.