05 November 2012

Old Singapore Quiz (25) - Old Road in 1930s - Answers

24-year-old n.i.C first got the answer to the main question Q1 correct. Pastimes got 3 out of 4 answers correct (for Q1 to Q3). FL who put in a last-minute entry concurred with Pastimes. FL also remembered an air-conditioned cafe which he believed was called Les Bistro located near the piano shop. He had visited this cafe with his NS friends in the early 1970s.

Q1. What is the name of the road in the photo?
Ans: Orchard Road. (This is the end of the road which is near the Cathay Building.)

Q2. What is name of the building shown on the left side of the photo?
Ans: Amber Mansions.

Q3. From 1930s - 1970s, what goods was sold in the 2-storey building which is partially shown near the right edge of the photo?
Ans: Pianos.

Q4. What is the name of the road (where the premises of Peter's father was located) that runs to the right of the photo?
Ans: Dhoby Ghaut. (This road name is no longer in existence today but there is an MRT station with this name.)

More Information / Further Reading:

Comparing the old photo (top) with one that is taken recently (bottom), one realises the extent of transformation this area of Orchard Road has undergone in the last few decades. Only 3 or 4 buildings on the right of the old photo still remain today.

1963 street map of the area (top). The red arrow shows the direction in which the old photo was taken. Compare it with a 2007 street map of the area (bottom).

1. Similar photo circa 1928 taken from the book "Singapore - 500 Early Postcards".

The book was published by Editions Didier Millet in 2006 and was written by Cheah Jin Seng. The photo in the postcard provided the answers to Q2 and Q3.

2. Amber Mansions was built between 1922 and 1928 by renowned colonial architectural firm Swan & Maclaren and was one of Singapore's first shopping centres. Owned by Joseph Elias, a prominent Jewish businessman, it was demolished in 1984 to make way for the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

2a. My blogger friend Andy's post about his 1960s experience in performing at tea dances with the Silver Strings in the Celestial Room located on one of the upper floors of Amber Mansions.

2b. Daisy Flower Shop in Amber Mansions. Straits Times advertisement dated 3 Aug 1934 taken from National Library's newspaper archive. Note that Amber Mansions' address was 15 Orchard Road and the telephone number had only 4 digits then. (The SMA House, where Morris Motor Vehicle shop was located in the olden days and where MDIS is now, has the address of 14 Orchard Road.)

2c. National Library's article about Amber Mansions in its picture archive.

2d. Infopedia's article on Amber Mansions.

3. Photos from the National Archives showing Keller Piano Co Pte Ltd. The company, founded by the late Chiu Seck Joo in 1944, occupied the 2-storey building till the 1980s. Besides pianos, the company also sold other music instruments, music scores and records. (The company is now operating at 176 Orchard Road #04-01 Centrepoint, Singapore 238843.)

4. Aerial photo from the National Archives showing the same row of shophouses in the 2nd street level photo in Para 3 above.

Two of shophouses (circled red), at 2 to 4 Orchard Road, are likely to have been occupied by Radio Service Malaya Co where Peter Howard's father James Howard worked as a electrical/radio engineer in the 1930s.

James sailed from England for Singapore in 1934. Peter believed that his father worked for the British Government. During the years leading to World War I, his work involved checking the houses of people under suspicion by the British to see if their premises had transmitters capable of sending information to Japan. (Such interesting work! The modern-day term for this kind of work is called electronic countermeasure.)

29 October 2012

Old Singapore Quiz (25) - Old Road in 1930s

I received this email on 24 Oct 2012 from a UK gentleman by the name of Mr Peter Howard:
Hi Victor,

I stumbled across your blog when looking for old photos of Singapore. My father went to work in Singapore in the thirties before the Second World War, for the British government I believe.

I have found a post card, which I have attached [above], that he sent to my grandmother of [place name deleted by blog author] Singapore, and on the back he has written, "This photo is of [place name deleted by blog author] our premise (sic) are unfortunately around the corner on the right hand side of the picture."

Do you recognise this from the photograph and do you know the name of the street to which he refers?

While I am asking you all these questions, can you tell me if there is anyone or any organisation I can contact who would hold records of this period and enable me to find out more information concerning his stay in Singapore?

He loved living there and had to return to England when he contracted Yellow Fever.

I would really appreciate you sending me an email with any information you might have.

Best wishes
Peter Howard
I did a bit of research and found the answers to Peter's question quite easily. However, I suggested to Peter to put up his questions as an Old Singapore Quiz. I am confident that this quiz is easy and senior persons old-timers will have no problem providing the correct answers.

Q1.   What is the name of the road in the photo?

Q2.   What is name of the building shown on the left side of the photo?

Q3.   From 1930s - 1970s, what goods was sold in the 2-storey building which is partially shown near the right edge of the photo?

Q4.   What is the name of the road (where the premises of Peter's father was located) that runs to the right of the photo?

As usual, complete answers to the above quiz will be revealed in a week's time.

21 May 2012

Old Grange Road Bungalow (Circa 1920s) - Julian Davidson's Comments

One rewarding experience about having a blog is that you may get interesting comments long after a blog post has been written. Exactly this happened when Julian Davidson pleasantly surprised me recently with an email which provided fascinating insights about the old Grange Road bungalow, a post which I wrote almost 2 years ago on 6 June 2010.

For the uninitiated (like myself), Julian is an angmoh who spent his childhood years in Singapore back in the days when she was still part of British Malaya. In his book One for the Road and Other Stories: Recollections of Singapore & Malaya, Julian describes his experiences of bygone days, for example, the Cantonese amah who took care of him when he was young and the seafront in Singapore before it was reclaimed.

Julian's email

I don't know how to leave a posting on your blog – I'm a bit bodoh in that department – so I thought I'd contact you direct ...

Re-the Grange Road bungalow that a gentleman by the name of Sean was enquiring about in June 2010, the house was almost certainly built between 1910 and before the end of the First World War.

The architect would have been Scotsman David McLeod Craik – the little brick arches set in the basement or stereobate of the house were a signature feature of his, and though copied once or twice by other people are seldom seen outside his work. Craik came to Singapore to work for the Municipality as a Government Architect – he was one of the earliest (but not the first) members of the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to practice in Singapore. During his time with as a government employee he deigned the Jinrickshaw Station at the junction of Neil and Tanjong Pagar Roads.

He left the Municipality in 1907 and went into private practice during which time he designed three or four bungalows in the Grange Road area (including Rochalie Drive) which were all very similar to the house in Sean's photo: single storey affairs, but raised on a basement or stereobate with those brick-arches for ventilation, plus generous verandahs and half-timbered (black and white) gables.

Here's an illustration of one of them – designed for A. W. Cashin in 1913. I've compared Sean's photos with the plans that I have, but none of them seems to fit – the verandahs in my drawings all have slender timber columns (see below), rather than the robust brick piers that you see in Sean's photos.

In the 1913 Craik joined the British architectural firm of Swan & Maclaren, which was the leading architectural practice of its day. He volunteered for the Royal Engineers during the First World War – he was in his forties when war broke out – and was wounded in France in 1917. After the war he returned to Singapore and rejoined Swan & Maclaren. In 1921 Craik was posted to Penang to head their office in Georgetown and he lived there until he died in 1938.

That's all I can say for now; if Sean has any other photos of the house, I might be able to help.

Best wishes,


PS my father was also born in Singapore in 1920 but at the General Hospital!

Thank you so much for the email, Julian.

Over to you. Sean.