by Chan, Rachel
Dempsey Road, also known as Dempsey Hill or Tanglin Village, is located across from the Singapore Botanic Gardens, near the Embassy of the United States. It was originally the site of a nutmeg plantation that later became Tanglin Barracks for British troops. The site was also once the headquarters of the Far East Land Forces, and later the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Central Manpower Base (CMPB). Dempsey Road is now a flourishing lifestyle-and-entertainment enclave.1
Dempsey Road – named after Miles Christopher Dempsey, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Land Forces Southeast Asia and General Commanding Officer of the Malaya Command – was part of a former nutmeg estate in the 1850s known as Mount Harriet, co-owned by British colonial treasurer William W. Willans and Hoo Ah Kay, who was also known as Whampoa. However, this thriving nutmeg plantation ceased operations in 1857 due to a blight.2
In 1858, Captain George Collyer of the Madras Engineers was brought in to strengthen Singapore's defence and see to the accommodation of British reinforcement troops who were due to arrive. He found the Tanglin area a suitable location, and the British purchased the plantation from Whampoa for 25,000 Spanish dollars in May 1860.3
The 213-acre site was turned into Tanglin Barracks to house the British military troops in Singapore. The barracks comprised nine buildings with wooden floors, plank walls and huge thatched roofs. Each building could accommodate 50 soldiers. Extensive renovations were carried out in 1867 in order to station a European regiment there.4
The Tanglin Barracks housed its first full battalion – the 80th Regiment of Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers), an infantry regiment of the British Army – when it arrived in Singapore on 17 March 1872. Subsequently, it accommodated 26 officers and 661 men of the sole infantry battalion in Singapore, two artillery batteries, a company of Royal Engineers, and some Sikh soldiers from the Chine Gun Lascars by 1893.5
In the midst of World War I on 15 February 1915, during the Indian (Singapore) Mutiny, 60 mutineers – troops of the 5th Native Infantry of the Bengal Army based at Alexandra Barracks – made their way to the German prisoner-of-war camp near Tanglin Barracks, freeing 300 prisoners and providing them with arms. Then they broke into Tanglin Barracks and killed 13 soldiers – from the British military, Singapore Volunteer Corps and Johor Military Force – and a German prisoner-of-war.6
When the British surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 during World War II, Tanglin Barracks was taken over by the latter, and became one of the assembly points where British and Australian troops marched to internment in Changi.7
After the war, Tanglin Barracks served as the general headquarters of the Far East Land Forces, until the British withdrawal from Singapore in 1971. On 10 February 1972, it became the headquarters of MINDEF and CMPB, where young men enlisted for National Service. The move to Tanglin Barracks enabled MINDEF to centralise the ministry and the majority of its key command and support organisations in a single location.8
MINDEF and CMPB occupied Tanglin Barracks until 1989, when MINDEF relocated its headquarters to Bukit Gombak and the CMPB to Depot Road. MINDEF returned Tanglin Barracks to the former land office in the early 1990s, and it was eventually leased out to the private sector.9
In 2006, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) embarked on an upgrading initiative and rebranded Dempsey Road as Tanglin Village, an approximately 40-hectare site.10 It was also one of the exhibition sites for the 2006 Singapore Biennale.11
In November 2006, the SLA called for tenders to turn Tanglin Village into a site for lifestyle, education or the arts.12 Country City Investment, a local company in the construction industry, was awarded two sites: the former Civil Service Club at 25 Dempsey Road (consisting of four blocks) and 8 Dempsey Hill (consisting of seven blocks) on 28 June 2007.13
Country City Investment spent about S$3 million developing both sites with retail, recreational and food-and-beverage establishments. By mid-July 2007, all outlets at Dempsey Hill, which sits on 23,838 sq m of land, had opened.14
Tanglin Village is a vibrant and buzzing lifestyle-and-entertainment enclave nestled in a rustic and quaint setting. The area comprises three clusters: Dempsey, Minden and Loewen.15
The Dempsey cluster has a myriad of furniture stores, education centres, food and beverage establishments as well as sports and recreational outlets. The Minden cluster houses tenants in the education, religious, sports and recreation, and food and beverage sectors. The Loewen cluster is the smallest of the three and has tenants in the education sector and other miscellaneous uses.16
Part of the appeal of Dempsey Road lies in its idyllic and tranquil ambience, imbued with old-world colonial charm. It boasts a stylish and upmarket selection of restaurants, bars, antique and carpet shops, as well as art galleries housed in colonial bungalows.17
A new lifestyle cluster in Tanglin Village opened in September 2009. Named 6ix and 7even @ Dempsey, the project includes restaurants that offer fusion cuisine, bars and pubs with live music, and a bicycle boutique cum café with shower services for cyclists.18
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1994). Tanglin planning area: Planning report 1994. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
2. Country City Development (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2016, April 6 from Dempsey Hill website: http://www.dempseyhill.com/history.html
3. Hattendorf, J. B. (1984). The two beginnings: A history of St. George’s Church, Tanglin. Singapore: St. George’s Church, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 283.5957 HAT)
4. Low, W. M. (1999, October-December). A history of Tanglin Barracks: The early years. Pointer. Retrieved 2016, April 6 from Ministry of Defence Singapore website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/safti/pointer/back/journals/1999/Vol25_4/10.htm
5. Low, W. M. (1999, October-December). A history of Tanglin Barracks: The early years. Pointer. Retrieved 2016, April 6 from Ministry of Defence Singapore website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/safti/pointer/back/journals/1999/Vol25_4/10.htm
6. Hattendorf, J. B. (1984). The two beginnings: A history of St. George’s Church, Tanglin. Singapore: St. George’s Church, p. 83. (Call no.: RCLOS 283.5957 HAT)
7. World War II and Japanese Occupation. Dempsey Hill. Retrieved 2016, April 6 from Dempsey Hill website: http://www.dempseyhill.com/history.html
8. Lim, J. (2007, October 16). Village life. The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Lim, J. (2007, October 16). Village life. The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Leong, W. K. (2006, November 8). Tanglin’s eclectic dream. Today, p. 4; Lim, J. (2007, October 16). Village life. The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Chow, C. (2006, September 13). Biennale draws 10,000 in first week. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Pereira, M. L. (2006, November 9). Niche businesses will add to Tanglin Village's charm. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Leong, W. K. (2007, June 29). Village with growing vibes. Today, p. 6; Cheam, J. (2007, June 29). SLA awards two more sites at Tanglin Village. The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Huang, L. (2007, July 1). The village people. The Straits Times, p. 82; Huang, L. (2007, December 27). A woman who built a Hill. The Straits Times, p. 72. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Lim, J. (2007, October 16). Village life. The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Getting new tenants not a problem. (2009, February 21). The Business Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Leong, W. K. (2007, June 29). Village with growing vibes. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Van Miriah, C. (2009, November 29). Full house at Dempsey. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we can 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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