Established in 1899, Alexandra Brickworks was the first brickyard in Singapore to produce bricks using modern machinery on a large scale. Owned by the Borneo Company Ltd, the bricks were made by the best-known methods at the time, where machinery and steam power were used for treating the clay and moulding them into form. These bricks were used to construct numerous iconic public buildings including the former National Library at Stamford Road, Tiong Bahru SIT flats and Gillman Barracks.
Located at the junction of Alexandra Road and Pasir Panjang Road, Alexandra Brickworks produced bricks using clay and other raw materials from its five-acre reserves of hilly land adjacent to the brickyard and a clay mine at Sungei Perpat in Johor. With a capacity of fifty million bricks a year, Alexandra Brickworks produced a range of bricks including pressed bricks, pressed wire cut bricks, hollow bricks, facing bricks, paving bricks, paving tiles, fire bricks, fire blocks and fire clay. A scientific test conducted by an independent laboratory in England showed that bricks from Alexandra Brickworks had a crushing strength higher than cement bricks.
Growing demand for multi-coloured sand faced bricks and hollow flooring tiles in the 1920s and 1930s and the construction of Tiong Bahru estate by the Singapore Improvement Trust to provide subsidised public housing in the 1930s had accelerated the expansion of Alexandra Brickworks. In 1928, Alexandra Brickworks was incorporated with the Borneo Company retaining a majority shareholding. In the 1930s, branches were opened in Butterworth, Ipoh and Johor.
Nonetheless, the growth of Alexandra Brickworks and other brickyards was severely halted after World War II in the 1950s as low-cost housing schemes started a big demand for the cheaper, concrete alternatives. Cement bricks cost 25 cents each whereas clay bricks were more expensive at 35 cents apiece. Furthermore, concrete blocks could be prefabricated and bought in various sizes. This saved construction companies time and labour for transporting the bricks. The crisis was further exacerbated by competition from cheaper clay bricks produced in Southern Johor brickyards and a decline in public works project in the 1950s. According to Mr EM Telford, general manager of Alexandra Brickworks, several policies implemented in the 1950s discouraged the public from building new houses. Firstly, high assessment rates were imposed on landed properties. Secondly, a $3000 deposit was initiated on new construction projects before electricity and water supplies were installed. Thirdly, drastic pay-cuts on civil servants had reduced their propensity to purchase new houses. In 1954, brick manufacturers could only sell half of the five million clay bricks produced every monthly. By 1959, production of clay bricks had declined to 38 million.
In 1960, the Housing and Development Board proposed an acquisition for Alexandra Brickworks land for public housing. In November 1972, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) purchased Alexandra Brickworks Company’s freehold land for $13.5m. A year later, Alexandra Brickworks ceased production. The former Brickworks constituency and ABC Brickworks wet market and hawker centre were named in commemoration of the brick kilns along Alexandra Road.