Editor’s Note: All photos in this post are taken with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 by Jacqueline Teo unless stated otherwise.
Last weekend, both Jacqueline and I were invited to embark on the “Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour” which is part of “My Queenstown Heritage Trail” and we explored Queenstown’s colonial history in an unforgettable adventure through Dawson and Alexandra neighbourhoods.
To be honest, the western part of Singapore is rather foreign and alien to us because it is an area that we seldom frequent. However, having embarked on the “Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour”, it has given us some really interesting snippets and insights about Queenstown that not many people [including local Singaporeans] would know about.
The story of Queenstown began on 27 September 1953 [way before Singapore gained her independence in 1965] when British officials from the Singapore Improvement Trust [SIT] named the new town after Queen Elizabeth II to mark her coronation a year ago. The colony suburb was the most ambitious project initiated by SIT to tackle the overcrowding woes in Chinatown. Bounded by Ridout Road, Tanglin Road, Alexandra Road, Holland Road and the Malayan Railway, the self-contained estate would comprise of 11,000 apartment flats housing 70,000 people, and cost some SGD$80,000,000.
Princess House, a seven-storey building along Alexandra Road which was designated as the new office for the SIT and later, as the first dedicated headquarters for the HDB. Today, the conservation of Princess House serves as a lasting reminder of Queenstown’s history.
Construction of the new satellite town began at the former Buller Camp in Princess Estate. The former burial ground and farmland at Boh Beh Kang [Hokkien for No Tail River] village were later cleared to make way for public housing. When the Housing and Development Board [HDB] took over from the colonial government’s SIT in February 1960, work has begun in three out of the five planned neighbourhoods in Queenstown, namely Neighbourhood 1 [Princess Estate], Neighbourhood 2 [Duchess Estate] and Neighbourhood 5 [Queens’ Crescent].
Tiong Ghee Temple, Queenstown’s oldest Taoist temple that was built in 1973 to replace the old village temple at Boh Beh Kang village which was demolished in 1968 for the development of Mei Ling estate. Today, the temple remains a gathering point for former Boh Beh Kang villagers.
There were seven neighbourhoods with distinct identity in Queenstown. As a satellite estate, each neighbourhood came with its own amenities while larger facilities such as the library and sports complex were shared by the entire town.
A myriad of social institutions were pioneered in Singapore’s first satellite town. In 1956, the first technical school was opened to equip future generations of Singaporeans with technical knowledge and skills to ride Singapore through industrialisation. In 1963, Singapore’s first polyclinic was built along Margaret Drive to provide access to subsidised healthcare. In 1970, the first branch library and sports complex were ushered in the estate. By 1980, Queenstown’s oldest flats were 30 years old.
Demolition works in the aging residential estate commenced in the 1990s and 2000s and many iconic landmarks such as Tah Chung Emporium, Queenstown Japanese Gardens, Queenstown Remand Prison, and Margaret Drive Hawker Centre were torn down.
Today, rejuvenation in Queenstown takes place in the form of Selective Enbloc Redevelopment Scheme where high-density precincts are inserted in Queenstown’s older neighbourhoods. With this, Queenstown has once again become a desirable address for Singaporeans.
Truly, there is so much to uncover at Queenstown and if you are a history buff like us, we are pretty sure you will enjoy the “Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour” as much as we did. Participants to the guided tour can look forward to many impressive landmarks such as Alexandra Hospital, Princess House, the former Archipelago Brewery Company and the first HDB Point Blocks.
The former Archipelago Brewery Company at Alexandra Road, Singapore’s second brewery to produce the well-known Anchor Beer. Today, the brew master house has since been gazetted for conservation in 1993.
We were also very privileged to see for ourselves a British military structure [which looks like a storage area/bunker] that was probably built before the Japanese Occupation in Singapore. To get to the site, one must venture deep into the thick vegetation and overcome the steep and slippery terrain.
Organised by civic groups, “My Community” and “The Other Sites of Singapore”, and supported by the National Heritage Board and Queenstown Citizens’ Consultative Committee, the Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail uncovers the colourful stories of generations of residents who lived, worked and played in the estate.
Just so you know, all 900 tickets for both the upcoming monthly Dawson & Alexandra and Tanglin Halt & Duchess tours in 2015 are currently snapped up and the next available tour is in 2016. However, if you are really interested to sign up for the trails and do not mind being put on the waiting list, you can drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, contact number, 3 preferred dates and number of tickets.