Sembawang Road, a two-way road, begins at the junction of Mandai Road and Upper Thomson Road. It ends near the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade campsites, both situated opposite Sembawang Park. An important arterial road in northern Singapore, Sembawang Road connects to the Seletar Expressway via Upper Thomson Road.1 This 23-kilometre-long road has abundant flora and fauna, making it a pleasant drive.2
The earliest reference to Sembawang is found in James Franklin & Philip Jackson’s 1828 map, in which “R. Tambuwang” (River Tambuwang) is labelled. Sembawang Road is said to be named after the sembawang tree (kayea ferruginea). The road was constructed in the 1930s over what was originally Seletar Road.3 It was officially named Sembawang Road in 1938. This road was rarely used by motorised vehicles in the pre-World War II period. After the war, the city was accessible from Sembawang Road via buses operated by Tay Koh Yat Co. Ltd.4
Until the 1930s, mosquito buses used to ply Sembawang Road. In 1935, a Chinese bus company began operating buses on this road.5
In the 19th century and early 20th centuries, the area surrounding Sembawang Road was known for its gambier and rubber plantations. Seah Eu Chin, known as the “king of gambier”, once owned large gambier plantations in this area during the mid-19th century. Subsequently, Lim Nee Soon, who owned rubber and pineapple plantations, built a row of shophouses along Sembawang Road in 1912 and established his Thong Aik rubber factory there. Some of the shophouses were later used as housing units.6
On 23 March 1951, a massive fire broke out on Sembawang Road, which resulted in losses amounting to $300,000. The blaze also destroyed 22 shophouses and rendered 500 residents homeless.7 Four fire engines from the naval base and the Central Fire Brigade took two-and-a-half hours to extinguish the fire.8
There were many kampongs (villages) located along Sembawang Road, such as Chye Kay and Bah Soon Pah. The main economic activities of these kampongs were vegetable farming and livestock rearing.9 While most of the kampongs had disappeared by the 1970s and ’80s, some of them remained until the late 1990s. One such kampong was Wak Hassan, located opposite Sembawang Park, near the former Mihad Jetty.10 By April 1998, the kampong was left with one Malay and six Chinese families.11 It was cleared later that year to make way for new developments.12 The nearby Mihad Jetty, home to 20 small boats, was demolished in May 2000.13
Sembawang Road was also home to the 1st Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, which was based at Dieppe Barracks from 1954 to 1989.14
Sembawang Road is a dual carriageway lined with greenery on both sides. In 1993, a 3.4-kilometre dual-carriage six-lane road, Gambas Avenue, was constructed to link Yishun and Woodlands. The road shortened the travel time between Sembawang Road and Woodlands New Town.15
A bird sanctuary at Senoko, near Sembawang Road, was levelled in 1994 to make way for the development of residential and industrial estates. The government rejected appeals and a petition to conserve the area as a nature park, stating that the site was to be developed for residences and industries. Senoko used to attract over 1,000 birds daily.16
In 1994, the Urban Redevelopment Authority approved the construction of 450 terrace, semi-detached and detached houses over 112,214 sq m of land along Sembawang Road and Jalan Ulu Seletar.17 The following year, Fraser and Neave Ltd obtained approval to begin the construction of 100 houses along Sembawang Road, between Gambas Avenue and Jalan Ulu Sembawang.18 Private housing estates along Sembawang Road today include The Springside, Hong Heng Mansions, Forest Hills Condominium, Euphony Gardens, Sembawang Cottage and Sembawang Straits Estate. Several Housing and Development Board estates – Chong Pang City, Chong Pang Green and Montreal Ville – are also located on Sembawang Road.19
Several recreational facilities are found at Sembawang Road. The 15-hectare Sembawang Park, developed in the late 1970s, is one of the largest parks in northern Singapore. Equipped with recreational facilities and linked by meandering footpaths, the park is home to a wide variety of plants. A 1.6 km-long Canberra-Sembawang Park Connector links Canberra Link to Tuah Road via Sembawang Road and runs along residential estates to join Sembawang Park.20 A landmark in this park is Beaulieu House.21 Built around 1910, it was once an admiral’s residence.22 A grand building with a mansard roof, it has been converted into a restaurant.23
Another prominent landmark near Sembawang Road is the Sembawang Hot Spring at Jalan Ulu Sembawang, near the junction of Sembawang Road and Gambas Avenue. After Fraser and Neave Ltd (F&N) acquired the hot spring in 1922, the company began bottling the spring water and sold it as a mineral water known as Seletaris.24 Although the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) acquired the land in 1985, it allowed F&N to continue drawing the water by piping it into a bottling plant (Semangat Ayer Factory) located next to the site of the spring. Production ceased in the mid-1980s.25 Sold to Centrepoint Properties Ltd, the site was used for another industrial project in 1992.26 In 2016, MINDEF returned the land that the hot spring is on to the State.27 The area was then developed into a park. On 4 January 2020, the Sembawang Hot Spring Park, managed by the National Parks Board, was reopened to the public after works were carried out to expand it from 0.1 ha to 1.1 ha with new features built.28
Off Sembawang Road is a two-storey house that was formerly used by the Seletar Sports Club in the mid-20th century.29 Located on Pakistan Road, which runs parallel to a part of Sembawang Road, the building was converted into a halfway house for the rehabilitation of drug addicts in the mid-1990s.30
In 1994, a golf clubhouse, modelled after a modern country club, was built at the junction of Sembawang Road and Mandai Avenue at a cost of S$4.2 million.31
Other significant landmarks along Sembawang Road include the Sembawang Community Centre, Sembawang Shopping Centre, Chong Pang Camp and Khatib Camp.32
Thulaja Naidu Ratnala
1. StreetDirectory com., Sembawang Road, map, accessed 8 September 2020
2. “Sembawang Park, National Parks Board, accessed 8 September 2020.
3. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 338–39. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. A Pictorial History of Nee Soon Community (Singapore: The grassroots organisations of Nee Soon Constituency: National Archives: Oral History Department, 1987), 127. (Call no. RSING 959.57 PIC-[HIS])
5. Pictorial History of Nee Soon Community, 127
6. Pictorial History of Nee Soon Community, 17, 22, 36.
7. Pictorial History of Nee Soon Community, 17, 22, 36, 39.
8. “500 Lose Homes in Blaze,” Straits Times, 24 March 1951, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Pictorial History of Nee Soon Community, 59–77, 162.
10. Chronicles of Remembrance: Stories of Sembawang GRC Residents for Everyone (Singapore: People’s Association, 2015), 6. (Call no. RSING 959.5705 CHR-[HIS])
11. Chin Soo Lang, “7 Families Make Up Kampong,” Straits Times, 24 April 1998, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Chronicles of Remembrance, 6.
13. Jose Raymond, “Poignant Farewell for Mihad Jetty,” Straits Times, 13 May 2000, 66. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “A Moving Maori Farewell,” Straits Times, 20 July 1989, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Yishun-Woodlands Travel Faster Now,” Straits Times, 3 August 1993, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Dominic Nathan, “Senoko Bird Sanctuary to Be Levelled Soon,” Straits Times, 11 December 1994, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Tan Sung, “URA Gives Nod for Massive Sembawang Property Project,” Straits Times, 11 January 1994, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Agnes Wee, “F&N Plans to Build 100 Houses in Sembawang,” Business Times, 30 May 1995, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Street Directory com, Sembawang Road.
20. “‘Green Lung’ Ready Soon,” New Nation, 20 April 1979, 4; “Sembawang Park Connectors,” Straits Times, 3 June 2016, 6 (From NewspaperSG); National Parks Board, “Sembawang Park.”
21. Clara Chow, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” Straits Times, 21 December 2001, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Margie Hall, “Sembawang Beach: Times Past,” Habitatnews, accessed 8 September 2020.
22. Hall, “Sembawang Beach.”
23. Chow, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.”
24. Chew Hui Min, “8 Things to Know about the Sembawang Hot Spring,” Straits Times, 23 April 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
25. Eddie Toh, “F&N to Redevelop Sembawang Site of Former Seletaris Plant,” Straits Times, 8 September 1992, 40; “Mineral Water Plant May Have to Close,” Straits Times, 3 August 1985, 21; Koh Buck Song, et al., “Land Near ‘Hot Spring’ Site May Be Redeveloped,” Straits Times, 15 March 1989, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Centrepoint Plans to Develop Sembawang Industrial Project,” Business Times, 8 September 1992, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Melissa Lin, “MINDEF to Return Sembawang Hot Spring Land to State: Ong Ye Kung,” Straits Times, 24 April 2016, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Vanessa Paige Chelvan, “Sembawang Hot Spring to Be Developed into 1-Hectare Park by 2019,” ChannelNews Asia, 25 November 2017 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Clara Chong, “Sembawang Hot Spring Park to Open to Public in January,” Straits Times, 30 August 2019; Fabian Koh, “Sembawang Hot Spring Park Reopens with New Cascading Pool and Wheelchair Ramps,” Straits Times, 4 January 2020.
29. “Seletar’s New Club House,” Straits Times, 13 March 1973, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Pertapis to Open Second Halfway House in Sembawang,” Straits Times, 18 May 1996, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Tan Yong Meng, “Luxurious New Golf Clubhouse Attracts Younger SAF Officers,” Straits Times, 18 December 1994, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Street Directory com, Sembawang Road.
The information in this article is valid as at September 2020 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.