My Mount Faber Heritage Tour

Tour Info

Created with Sketch.
Every second Saturday and Sunday of the month
8:30am to 11:30pm (approximately). Please arrive at 8:15am, 15mins before the start time for registration.
ic_startendCreated with Sketch.
HarbourFront Bus Interchange (Meet at Berth A12)
Singapore Cable Car (Mount Faber Station)
ic_difficultyCreated with Sketch.
Difficulty Level


  • Expect three hours of walking
  • This heritage tour requires participants to walk for three hours long and trek some hilly terrain.

We do not recommend young children, people with disabilities and unfit individuals to participate in this tour.

ic_bagpackCreated with Sketch.
What should I bring
  • Wear comfortable clothes and suitable shoes for a three-hour-long walk
  • Bring along your headphones (compatible with headphone jack) Those without will have be charged S$2 per pair of earphones
  • Bring along insect repellent, an EZ-Link card, a bottle of water and an umbrella
  • Asthmatic individuals are encouraged to bring their inhaler


My Mount Faber Heritage Tour reveals remarkable stories of our colonial past as participants explore an original British fort, spot secret reservoirs and marvel at striking colonial buildings that show how early settlers shaped Singapore today.

Site 1: Keppel Hill Reservoir

The Keppel Hill Reservoir is a catchment area that derives its water largely from precipitation and runoff from Keppel Hill. It is located about 400 metres from Telok Blangah Road, in close proximity to Mount Faber. With a shallow depth of 2 metres and a short length of less than 20 metres, roughly a third of the size of an Olympic swimming pool, it is unsustainable as a practical water source and is largely abandoned. Nevertheless, it had a functioning but rudimentary water filtration system that uses six filter beds of different rock types to remove sediment and a modern system of pipes and pumps in working condition.

Official use
The reservoir is speculated to have started out as a private pond for rainwater collection under the Singapore Harbour Board. Although the duration which the water body was used for is unknown, it is likely relatively old as it appeared on early maps as early as 1905, labelled as a reservoir under the jurisdiction of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. Furthermore, based on 1924 surveillance maps of the area by the former Singapore Harbour Board, it was one of three small reservoirs in the area used to support the population of the small settlement living there.

However, its small size soon made it impractical for use as a reservoir and it was left out in official documentation, an outcome partially attributed to its private ownership. In the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 1958 Masterplan, the small reservoir existed merely as an unlabelled outline, and by the early 2000s, it had been removed from most maps. It then fell into obscurity until February 2014, when it was accidentally discovered by some National Heritage Board (NHB) researchers while they were conducting routine research on Singapore’s history. A research team was then put together to deduce the significance of the reservoir.

Informal use
According to the NHB’s director of policy, the bricks used to construct the reservoir demonstrate continuous use of the water body, with some bricks dating back to colonial times. Based on pre- and post-war maps, the reservoir was also used as a swimming pool. Remnants of a diving board remain today. According to one of the previous residents of 11 Keppel Hill, British seamen visiting the owner of Keppel Bungalow at 11 Keppel Hill would often swim there, which could account for the construction of the diving board. Maps from the Japanese Occupation also indicated the water body to be a swimming pool, though it was labelled a reservoir in a map and report from a 1944 British aerial inspection.

Site 2: Black and White Houses at Southern Ridges Conservation Area

Alfred John Bidwell is largely credited for initiating the black-and-white style in Singapore. Upon his arrival in Asia, the English architect joined Kuala Lumpur’s Public Works Department before moving to Singapore. While in Singapore, He worked for the long-established local architectural firm Swan & Maclaren from 1895 to 1911. The Cricket Club, Raffles Hotel and Victoria Theatre are among the edifices he designed.

The black-and-white houses of Pender Road were originally commissioned by the Eastern Extension Australasia & China Telegraph Co. in 1919, one of Swan & Maclaren’s biggest clients in the immediate post-war period.

Pender Road
Pender Road was named after Sir John Pender (1815-1896), the man who almost single-handedly masterminded the 1870s global cable telegraphy revolution. His Atlantic Telegraph Company was the first to connect Europe to America by submarine cable in 1865.

The black-and-white houses are some of the last surviving examples of the classic, tropical Tudor-style. They are all similar in essence – two-storey with an L-shape plan. Though roomy, these houses were more compact in terms of the internal arrangement of rooms compared with pre-war houses, reflecting a new post-war austerity, with fewer servants and less opulent lifestyles. The use of louvred panels as sunscreens or in place of balustrading for verandas is a distinctive feature of most post-war houses from Swan & Maclaren. Another post-war feature was the utilisation of diamond-shaped cement shingles in place of roof tiles, which have since been replaced by contemporary roofing materials at Pender Road.

The whitewashed walls and dark timber beams were covered in tar to obviate insect infestation, resulting in the term ‘Black and White’, which described the appearance of the buildings. The houses were adapted for tropical living, with features like pitched roofs allowing heavy rain to drain away and huge roof overhands shielding the house from harsh sunlight. High ceilings and windows opposite each other enabled cross ventilation, maintaining relatively cool indoor temperatures.

Other distinctive aspects of black-and-white house like broad verandas, high ceilings, tall jalousie windows and widely overhanging eaves came from India, where the British had been since the early seventeenth century. The unique British style of domestic architecture evolved there. British settlers in Singapore first began building houses for themselves in the style that they had been familiar with in India, but started including several local features not otherwise found on the subcontinent.

One significant contrast between the Singapore bungalow and its Anglo-Indian forebears is that the Singapore variations were elevated several feet off the ground on brick piers, allowing the circulation of air underneath the building. This ventilated the wooden floors and alleviated humidity within the house. It also prevented termite infestations on a largely timber structure and was convenient in cases of inundation, which were common in Singapore’s damp and rainy monsoon climate. This innovation was most likely inspired by Malay architecture, in which houses are raised up on stilts.

Site 3: Danish Seamen’s Church

The Golden Bell Mansion was built in 1909. It is located on a hill formerly known as Mount Washington. The mansion’s owner and resident was Tan Boo Liat, a Straits Chinese businessman. The building was named after Tan Kim Ching, Tan Boo Liat’s grandfather, whose name means Golden Bell. The building had a billiard room, four bedrooms, and a smoking room. Quarters for the servants were built at the back of the house.

After Tan Boo Liat’s death in 1934, the house was sold. Today it is currently occupied by the Danish Seaman’s Church. The Golden Bell Mansion was gazetted in 2005 as part of the Southern Ridges Conservation area.

Tan Boo Liat (1874-1934)
Tan Boo Liat was a prominent Chinese businessman and community leader. He was the grandson of Tan Kim Ching (陈金钟), and the great-grandson of Tan Tock Seng (陈笃生). All three men were philanthropists. Tan Boo Liat was married to Kwok Kim Neo and had a daughter, Polly Tan Poh Li.

Tan Boo Liat was active in the community, and was a pioneer member of the Straits Chinese British Association and Chairman of the Pok Chek Kiong Temple’s Committee of Management. As a descendent of the Tan Tock Seng family, he was head of the Hokkien Chinese community in Singapore. He was highly invested in education, and was the founder of the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and a trustee of the Anglo-Chinese Boarding School. Tan Boo Liat himself was educated at Raffles Institution.

He was a member of the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance who contributed funds to Sun Yat Sen, even hosting him when he stopped over in Singapore en route to China. He headed the Fukien Protection Fund with Tan Kah Kee. Together they collected $130,000 during a nine-month campaign.

Historical and Social Significance
One of the most famous visitors to the house was Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen. Sun Yat Sen stayed in the Golden Bell Mansion on 15 December 1911, after the success of his revolution, of which Tan Boo Liat was a strong supporter. Sun was joined by his wife and three daughters during his stay in February 1912. They had come from China and were on the way to Penang.

The architecture of the Golden Bell Mansion largely follows late Victorian era aesthetics, but is also punctuated with Buddhist influence. The Golden Bell Mansion stands out due to its red-and-white stripes. These white and red layered bricks are known in architecture as the ‘blood and bandages’ style, common in the late Victorian era. Furthermore, the numerous balconies and verandas of the mansion were built to take advantage of the cooling sea breezes around the area. This was common in colonial architecture. The stupa, which sits atop the mansion’s tower, was a homage to Tan’s ties with Thailand.

Site 4: Fort Faber and Faber Plotting Room

A fortress plotting room was a place where information about naval targets were obtained from the observation posts, plotted and extracted, and then acted on. There were two such rooms in Singapore: Faber Fire Command Fortress Plotting Room and Changi Fire Command Fortress Plotting Room.

The Faber Fire Command Fortress Plotting Room consisted of several structures, including the Flagstaff and Signal Station, and Faber Fortress and Fire Command.

Site 4A: Flagstaff and Signal Station

A signal station is a maritime station with multiple functions. Its primary role is to observe ship arrivals, record shipping movements, and direct ships into Singapore’s harbour. The station also arranges the supply of fresh water for ships anchored off the coast, and responds to SOS calls in the off-chance that an emergency occurred.

The signal station and flagstaff on Mount Faber was first constructed in 1845 by Indian convict labourers. Originally called Telok Blangah Hill, the hill was renamed in the same year after Charles Edward Faber of the Madras Engineers, who built a narrow winding road to the summit for the new signal station and flagstaff.

The signal station was relocated from Pulau Blaking Mati (now Sentosa) in 1845 but the reason for the shift is unclear. A contemporary article by the Singapore Free Press claims that the main reason for the shift was concerns that the pineapples grown near the signal station would prove harmful to the men working at the station when their leaves decayed. Unfortunately, the new station at Tulloh Blangah (Telok Blangah) suffered from the same issue, with the surrounding lands owned by the Temenggong also cultivating pineapples.

This signal station stayed in place for over 90 years, until it was shifted once more in 1936. The station was moved about 300 yards to the south, further away from the hilltop. The flagstaff was repainted and re-erected there, and the original wooden signal station replaced with a modern concrete station. The move made way for the construction of Faber Fire Command. The signal station continued to play an important role in managing Singapore’s shipping lanes well into the post-war years. An article from The Straits Times in 1960 described the role of the signal station in depth:

“[…] A nine-man staff keeps a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week watch at [the signal station] to handle all kinds of messages, including the occasional SOS call. Each year the station receives an average of about 2000 messages on the arrival of ships and 1620 messages of departure.
About 70 shipping firms in Singapore use the facilities provided by the station. Each pays an annual subscription of $300 [approximately $1200 today] to the Marine Department, which runs the station.

Silent contact between ships and the station is made through flag signals by day and Morse lamp by night. […]”
The functions of the signal station were eventually transferred to Jardine Steps at the former World Trade Centre in 1974. Unfortunately, the signal station and flagstaff were eventually demolished in 1994 due to the unstable condition of the structures.

Site 5: Singapore Cable Car

The Singapore Cable Car Sky Network was formally opened in 15 February 1974 by then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee. It was the first cable system to span a major harbour and the first to implement an intermediary station within a skyscraper. The Singapore Cable Car is a gondola lift providing an aerial link from Mount Faber (Faber Peak Singapore) on the main island of Singapore to the resort island of Sentosa across the Keppel Harbour.

As Sentosa is an offshore island, the cable car and ferry were the only modes of transport to the popular tourist attraction up until December 1986 when developmental plans were made to build the Sentosa Causeway.

The Cable Car Sky Network was first proposed by the Singapore government in 1968 as part of its masterplan for tourism projects in the country. The 5.8 million-dollar project was undertaken by Austrian ropeway experts, Doppelmayr, and took about 4 years to complete. The original Cable Car Sky Network consisted of Mount Faber Station at the peak of Mount Faber, Jardine Steps Station at HarbourFront (renamed HarbourFront Station) and the Sentosa Station at Imbiah, Sentosa. This older line was later renamed the Mount Faber Line.

A S$36 million rebuild of the entire system as a modern mono-cable detachable gondola began on 14 September 2009, and it re-opened on 21 July 2010. All the cabins are now metallic black cars with chrome trimming. Other modifications to the cabins included seating capacity, which increased to eight passengers per cabin from six, new flip-up seats and a new music system.

On 14 July 2015, an extension to the Cable Car Sky Network, the Sentosa Line, was opened by Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran and Austrian Ambassador to Singapore Dr Andreas Karabaczek. The Sentosa Line consists of the Merlion station, Imbiah Lookout station and Siloso Point station. The two lines are not physically linked, and visitors changing from the Mount Faber Line to the Sentosa Line are hence required to walk three to five minutes from the original Sentosa station to the Imbiah Lookout station. The S$78 million line has 51 multi-coloured eight-seater cabins and can move about 2,200 people per hour in one direction.

Cable Car Tragedy, 29 January 1983
On 29 January 1983, seven passengers died when two Sentosa cable cars plunged into the sea after the cableway was struck by the derrick of an oil drilling vessel, Eniwetok. It was the worst civil disaster in Singapore at the time, only second to Hotel New World building’s collapse in 1986, which claimed 33 lives. It was the first and only time fatalities were incurred on the Singapore Cable Car Sky Network.