Selegie Road is a continuation of Dhoby Ghaut that joins Serangoon Road.1 Selegie in Malay refers to a wooden spear sharpened and hardened by fire.2 Another variant spelling for selegie is seligi, which is the nibong palm used in flooring and fishing stakes. The area was probably named after a Bugis pirate, whose people were known as Orang Selegie.3 They were said to have lived on a hill4 that was located near Selegie Road during Singapore’s early years.5 The hill was known to be Mount Sophia, which was called “Bukit Selegi” during Raffles’ time.6
According to legend, Selegie Road was the site of many battles fought during Singapore in the 14th century.7 During the sacking of Temasekin 1377, the king was believed to have fled via this road, then merely a track carved out by trade. He made his way to Seletar and escaped by boat.8 The area was also known to be rich in spice trees and bamboos in the 1850s. Today, these bamboos are no longer visible.9 Selegie Road also formed part of a nutmeg estate belonging to Charles Robert Prinsep.10 Later as Singapore developed, Indians became new residents in the area.11 After all, located not far from Selegie Road was the beginnings of Little India, a distinct area for the local Indian community. It was also an enclave for the Chitty Melaka or Indian Peranakans, many of whom came in the 1930s looking for jobs.12
Many of the shophouses at Selegie were built by Indian convicts. These included the unique two-storey shophouses built with timber beams with base-relief moulding used as decoration on the windows.13 The first Chinese YMCA was built along Selegie in February 1948.14
At the junction between Selegie Road and Bukit Timah Road stood the two-storey Ellison building,15 named after the owner Isaac Ellison.16 The building was constructed for his wife, Flora Ellison, in 1924.17 The Colonial governors would sit at the roof of this building to catch races at Race Course Road held each Sunday.18
David Elias Building
The David Elias Building is located at the corner where Short Street and Middle Road meet Selegie Road.19 Built by a prominent Jewish settler in 1928,20 the 3-storey building was used mainly for commercial activities. Its architectural design is characteristic of the late 1920s, featuring cantilevered bay windows with Italianate balconies and a corniced roof. The building also featured the six-pointed Star of David.21
Unfortunately, many of the old buildings were torn down to make way for new development. They are replaced with shopping malls, offices and residential complexes such as Paradiz Centre, Peace Centre and Selegie Complex.22
Selegie Primary School
Standing along Selegie Road is the former Selegie Primary School. It was one of the tallest school in Asia23 and the first high-rise school building in Singapore.24 The 10-storey school building is located at the junction of Selegie Road and Short Street.
Chinese name: Known as Tek Kia Kha, “The foot of the small bamboos”.25 The name was derived from the presence of bamboo clumps in the neighbourhood. Sometimes the name extended to Tek Kha tit koi, or “foot of the bamboos, straight street”.26
Tamil name: It was referred to as Nagappenn Than, meaning “Nagappenn’s water tank”.27 Nagappenn refers to a man who used to sell water to the public.28
Heirwin Mohd Nasir
1. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 287. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
2. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 71. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
3. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 337. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 274. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
5. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 337.
6. “About Mount Sophia,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2016.
7. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 71.
8. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 274.
9. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 337.
10. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About Mount Sophia.”
11. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 71.
12. “The Other Babas,” Straits Times, 28 June 1992, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 71.
14. “A Past Fraught with Mishaps, a Future Full of Big Dreams,” Straits Times, 20 October 1996, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 260.
16. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 January 1924, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Ellison Building, Selegie Road: General view, 15 October 1978, photograph, Lee Kip Lin Collection, National Library Board.
18. “Save These Buildings,” Straits Times, 3 January 2007, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 260.
20. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 71.
21. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 261.
22. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 71.
23. “Government to Build Tallest School in Asia,” Singapore Free Press, 29 December 1960, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “About Mount Sophia.”
25. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 274.
26. H. W. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42 (February 1905): 126–7. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
27. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 274.
28. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 337.
The information in this article is valid as of 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.
Streets and Places