Raffles and the arrival of the British

This time of year holds important links to Singapore’s history. In late January 1819 Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore. He anchored off St John’s Island and this landing site is today marked with a statue of raffles, located by the Singapore river, behind parliament house. In early February the Malay Sultan, who was thought to have rights over the island, agreed to a treaty and thereafter the British flag was planted on Singapore shores. This meant that the British East India Company had the right to set up a trading post in Singapore and it became a British settlement. A second statue of Raffles stands proudly outside the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, an apt backdrop of Victorian British architecture.

With January heralding the arrival of the British to Singapore, I thought I’d a take look at some heritage, as well as some more recent additions, with links to my homeland.

 Cafe Colbar – It’s hard not to fall in love with Café Colbar despite the lack of luxury. It’s the history of the place that grabs your attention and draws you into the past. In 1953 this was a canteen serving up comfort food for British Soldiers. In 2003 the road where Colbar stood was being widened and with its imminent destruction there was outcry and numerous petitions set up to save it. Fortunately the authorities listened and they relocated the cafe just a short distance from the original site. Every brick and plank was moved and what couldn’t be moved was replicated exactly. You can still enjoy traditional British fare here as well as the addition of Singaporean style food.

Central Fire Station – This is Singapore’s oldest surviving fire station. Singapore did not have a proper fire brigade until the late 1800s and the early brigades were made up of policemen, soldiers, volunteers and even convicts. The brigade was a little inadequate and it wasn’t until the arrival of Montague William Prett from England in 1904 that significant improvements were made. Prett was Singapore’s first professional firefighter and he was instrumental in modernising Singapore’s fire brigade and implementing changes to strengthen the force.

Gardens By the Bay – Although this might not be obvious British architecture did you know that two UK based firms designed these stunning gardens? The gardens were conceptualised in 2003 as a key component of the governments ‘City in a Garden’ vision. Singapore’s NParks envisioned a garden that would rival iconic green spaces like Central Park and Kew Gardens and they wanted to evolve Singapore’s reputation as a garden city. In 2006 NParks launched a competition for the master plan and design of the gardens. This drew in more than 70 entries by 170 firms from 24 countries. An 11-member international jury chose British landscape consultancy Gran Associates to design Bay South and Bay East was to be designed by London based firm Gustafson Porter. In November 2007 the groundbreaking ceremony was held and the gardens opened their doors to the public in June 2012.

Former Supreme Court – The Former Supreme Court building is currently undergoing a large renovation and will be re-opened in 2015 as the National Gallery of Singapore.  Tucked back off the river it can be easy to overlook this handsome piece of architecture, with the riverside buildings of the civic district drawing your attention instead. Modelled on the Old Baily in London this building is going to make a stunning addition to the Singapore Art scene.

Red Post Box – Standing outside the Philatelic Museum, this is the last functioning red pillar box in Singapore (one still exists in the Fullerton but it is not a functioning public post box).

MICA Building – Now dressed in multi-coloured shutters this is currently the home of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. Originally however, it was the Hill Street Police Station and Barracks. It was designed by the British architect Frank Dorrington Ward and was the only police station in the pre-war years to have its own living quarters.


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