Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church

The Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (PSPC) at 77 Prinsep Street was built in 1843 by Reverend Benjamin Peach Keasberry, a Protestant minister from the London Missionary Society.1 Apart from being the first Straits Chinese church, it was also the birthplace of the first company of the Singapore Boys’ Brigade, which was established on 12 January 1930. The church was gazetted as a national monument on 12 January 2000.2

History
Malay Chapel
PSPC was built on a plot of land on Prinsep Street, then known as Kampong Bencoolen. It was initially called the Malay Chapel.3

The church was popularly known as Greja Keasberry (Keasberry’s Church). When the London Missionary Society closed its Malaya mission in 1847, Keasberry stayed behind as an independent missionary to continue his work with the Malays. He did so until his sudden death in 1875. Although the church was intended to serve a Malay congregation, over time, the Malay Chapel became associated with the Malay-speaking Peranakan Chinese community.4

By the latter half of the 19th century, the Malay Chapel had become the place of worship for many illustrious Straits Chinese, such as Foo Teng Quee, Tan Boon Chin, Song Ong Siang, and was renamed the Straits Chinese Church in 1886.5

Prinsep Street Church
Until 1885, the church was still the legal property of the London Missionary Society.6 Reverend J. A. B. Cook, under the auspices of the English Presbyterian Mission, initiated the purchase of the church from the society using funds from Singapore Presbyterian merchants living in London. The church was renamed the Prinsep Street Church after it was bought over. Groups such as the Teochew Tek Kha (Kandang Kerbau Market) group used the church for their services.7


In 1901, a building fund was set up for the construction of a new church building. With the old church demolished in 1930, the foundation stone for the new building was laid by Song Ong Siang, a well-respected Straits Chinese lawyer, scholar and community leader, on 5 March that same year. The new church building, which cost $55,000, was opened on 4 February 1931.8

Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church
In 1930, the original chapel was demolished; the following year, the church joined the Synod of the English Presbytery and was renamed Straits Chinese Presbyterian Church. It was again renamed Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church in 1955. The Chinese characters “磐石” were chosen because they sounded like “Prinsep” and their meaning of a rock was deemed significant based on the church’s long history. With a surge in the non-Straits Chinese congregation by the mid-1980s, a new four-storey block was added to accommodate the expanding assembly.9


Architecture
The church was designed by C. J. Stephens of architectural firm Swan and Maclaren10 in a modern fresco style. Inspired by Spanish architecture, the style was very popular in the 1930s in the United States.11 The church’s most notable features are its deep-red bricks and the raised brickwork on the tower and belfry.12

In 2013, PSPC was registered as a society. Reverend Darryl Chan was the first member of PSPC to become Senior Minister. PSPC received in-principle approval for the extension of the lease beyond 2022.13

Pioneers

Song Hoot Kiam was one of the first local elders of the church, and he was succeeded by his son, Song Ong Siang, in 1900.14 The younger Song was a prominent figure in local history, and became the first Malayan Chinese to receive a knighthood when he was conferred the Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1936.15 Song donated the proceeds of the sale of his monumental book, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore (1923), to the church building fund.16

Landmark
The church has been part of the National Heritage Board’s guided heritage tours since 2012, while its sanctuary’s red-brick facade is a landmark and has given the street an identity of its own.17



Author

Gracie Lee



References
1. “Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church,” National Heritage Board, 2021.
2. Leong Weng Kam, “Prinsep Street Church Will Be a National Monument,” Straits Times, 11 January 2000, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
3. National Heritage Board, “Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.”
4. National Heritage Board, “Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.”
5. National Heritage Board, “Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church”; Leong, “Prinsep Street Church Will Be a National Monument.”
6. National Heritage Board, “Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.”
7. Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore), Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (1843–2013): Celebrating 170 Years of God’s Faithfulness (Singapore: Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, 2013), 15. (Call no. RSING 285.25957 PRI)
8. Prinsep St. Presbyterian Church, 1930–1980 (Singapore: The Church, 1981), 3, 5. (Call no. RSING 285.25957 PRI); Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore), Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (1843–2013), 15.
9. National Heritage Board, “Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church”; Nathasha Lee,
174-Year-Old Church Keeps Up with the Times,” Straits Times, 8 June 2017, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore), Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (1843–2013), 15.
11. Leong, “Prinsep Street Church Will Be a National Monument.”
12. Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore), Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (1843–2013), 15.
13. National Heritage Board, “Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.”14. Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore), Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (1843–2013), 19.
15. Prinsep St. Presbyterian Church, 1930–1980, 9; “Knighthood for Song Ong Siang,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 January 1936, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Prinsep St. Presbyterian Church, 1930–1980, 5.
17. Melody Zaccheus, “Church Chronicles 170 Years of History,” Straits Times, 14 September 2013, 10. (From NewspaperSG)



Further resource
Anne Johnson, The Burning Bush (Singapore: Dawn Publications, 1988). (Call no. RSING 285.25957 JOH)

Bobby E. K. Sng, In His Good Time: The Story of the Church in Singapore, 1819–1992 (Singapore: Graduates' Christian Fellowship, 1993). (Call no. RCLOS 280.4095957 SNG)

G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press: National Heritage Board, 2002), 44–45. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])

Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church: 150 Years of Faithfulness 1843–1993
, ([Singapore: Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church], 1993). (Call no. RDLKL Call no.: 285.25957 PRI)

Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church 160th Anniversary: The Recent Years (1993–2003), (Singapore: The Church, 2004). (Call no. RSING 285.25957 PRI)

Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 136–41. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at January 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.

 

Subject
Historic buildings--Singapore
Religious buildings
National monuments
Monuments--Singapore
Presbyterian church buildings--Singapore