My Redhill Heritage Tour

Tour Info

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Date
Every fourth Saturday and Sunday of the month
Time
8.30am to 11.30am. Please arrive at 8.15am, 15mins before the start time for registration.
language
English
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Start
Redhill MRT Station Exit B (Ticket Concourse Level).
End
Redhill Close Neighbourhood Centre, a stone’s throw from Redhill MRT Station
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Difficulty Level

0.5/5

  • Expect three hours of walking
  • It is compulsory for a parent/guardian to accompany any child of/under the age of 12
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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

Description

My Redhill Heritage Tour traces the legend of Bukit Merah from a hilly backwater to a modern HDB town. Participants will hear first-hand accounts of this transformation from residents in Bukit Merah and get up-close to stall holders in Redhill Close markets and neighbourhood centres.

Site 1: Ling Shan Temple

Ling Shan Temple lies at the foot of a hill formerly called Leng Kee Hill or Leng Kee Suah. The hill was previously a cemetery hill. The temple was built in 1879 and rebuilt in 1915, with contributions from Tan Kah Kee, a prominent Chinese businessman, community leader and philanthropist.

Site 2: Former Thye Hong Biscuit and Confectionery Factory

The former Thye Hong Biscuit and Confectionery Factory at the junction of Alexandra Road and Tiong Bahru Road was one of the oldest biscuit manufacturers in Singapore. Built at a cost of $250,000, the 40,000 square feet factory was opened in March 1935 to modernise biscuit manufacturing and expand production through automation.

The factory comprised of two fully automated plants which weighed 65 tonnes each and measured 300 feet long. In this stretch, conveyor belts would pass the carpets of dough from which the biscuits were stamped, baked, cooled and packed in tins. In the 1960s, the factory employed more than 200 workers and produced 1,500 tonnes of biscuits every month.

A wide variety of biscuits were churned from the factory each day, ranging from Marie Cream Crackers, Horlicks biscuits to Jam De Luxe cookies, a popular shortcake with pineapple jam sandwiched in between. The factory also produced the famous Torch brand sweets which were served to air travellers abroad Malaysian Airways flights. The factory exported biscuits and confectioneries to Hong Kong, Fiji, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and even Mauritius.

Tay Cheng Tar worked as an accountant at Thye Hong from 1947 to 1981. He recalled,” There were many departments within the factory – production, packaging, marketing and so on. The machines would operate through the night so as to meet the massive demand from overseas markets.”

In 1981, a British firm Huntley and Palmer bought Kuan Enterprises, which owned Thye Hong, for $12 million. The factory ceased operations on 7 January 1982. The factory was demolished and replaced with an eight-storey factory-cum-office complex, the Thye Hong Centre.

Site 3: Lengkok Bahru Estate

During its 1959 election campaign, the People’s Action Party (PAP) recognised that housing required urgent attention and pledged that it would provide low-cost housing for the poor if it was elected. When it won the elections under Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership, the newly-elected government took immediate action to solve the housing shortage.

The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), which was established by the British colonial government in 1927, transited into the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in February 1960. HDB was established to develop public housing and improve the quality of living environment for its residents.

Led by Lim Kim San, its priority during formation was to build as many low-cost housing units as possible. The housing units that were initially built was mostly meant for rental by the low-income group.

In 1962, HDB acquired a 20.3-hectare piece of land for public housing in the Jalan Tiong and Leng Kee area. In 1963, the exhumation of the graves near Ling Shan Temple were carried out. In the mid-1960s, this estate was completed.

In 1973, the area was a conglomeration of one, two and three-room flats with one-room flats comprising almost half of the estate. Today, many of these blocks, including Block 57, 58 and 59, are rental flats. Among other conditions for a Singapore family to quality for rental housing, the total household gross income must not exceed $1,500 per month.

Site 4: Enabling Village

The Enabling Village, a common space for people with disabilities and the able-bodied, was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in late 2015, the year of Singapore’s 50th birthday. He said: “As SG50 draws to a close, it is timely to reflect on the kind of society we want to build in the future… We must continue to build a more inclusive society, valuing everyone and promoting active citizenship.”

The building that Enabling Village currently occupies was formerly the Bukit Merah Vocational Institute and the Employment and Employability Institute. The Enabling Village combines retail, lifestyle and training for disabled members of the community in an all-accessible public space. It also houses several social businesses that balance commercial success with the social imperative of inclusivity.

At the Art Faculty, visitors can purchase artwork and merchandise designed by students with autism from Pathlight School. One of its most popular pieces is the dinosaur-motif pouch that Madam Ho Ching carried when she visited the White House in 2016.

The Fairprice store is known as ‘The Enabled Store’ as it was designed to support elderly customers and those with disabilities. There are features such as the call buttons at the entrance and store aisles so that shoppers can ask for help; magnifying glasses at every aisle to help customers read product labels; and shelves that are built so that products are within easy reach. There are also wheelchair friendly trolleys which are kept inside, benches for rest and even a water cooler.

Site 5: Redhill Market

Redhill Marker is popularly known as ang sua pasat. Before a purpose-built hawker centre was erected on the site, the area had informal hawkers who would prepare and sell food in the 1960s. They served residents of the nearby Redhill Close estate, who shifted in in 1955.

The market and hawker centre allowed residents to purchase fresh groceries and purchase meals. When the area was still an informal hawker point, gang activity was rife. Gangs would collect protection fees from the peddlers and hawkers. Secret societies actively operated in the area.

According to anecdotal accounts, people gambled openly in the area. Some also tried to gamble discretely by using bottle caps as wagers instead of real cash. Parangs were also often seen at the market. Police would confiscate the dice and betting wagers. In retaliation, the gamblers would puncture the police car tyres. One resident also shared that they used to call this market the second turf club, due to the gambling activities – some involving betting on horse races.

Some residents would climb to the seventh storey of the adjacent Block 21 to watch fights that took place in the market, as people flung bottles at each other. The situation improved since the 1990s.

The market gained some fame when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was spotted purchasing food from Yan Fried Bee Hoon and Fried Chicken Wings.

Site 6: Redhill Close Estate

The blocks in the Redhill Close Estate were the first public housing built by Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), which also constructed the flats at Dakota Crescent and Tiong Bahru. Between 1927 and 1959, SIT built a total of 23,000 housing units. In comparison, the Housing and Development Board built 54,000 housing units within a five-year span, between 1960 and 1965.

SIT architects were conscious of Singapore’s proximity to the equator, with warm temperatures and high humidity. The SIT flats were hence built for tropical living, often featuring high ceilings and open balconies. Land scarcity was also less of a pressing issue back in first half of the 20th century, reflected in the low-rise design of the walk-up blocks. None of them were taller than ten storeys.

Distinctive features here in the estate included its buildings’ trapezoid roofs and their uniform seven-storey height.
In 2011, it was announced that the 21 blocks in the estate had been identified for redevelopment under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS). Residents from these blocks comprising 878 housing units were moved to the new replacement flats built by the HDB at Henderson Road.

The 1,200 new units of 2-room, 3-room, 4-room and 5-room flats are within walking distance from Redhill and Tiong Bahru MRT stations, and the blocks are as high as 48 storeys.

Although there was no known collective conservationist movement for the Redhill Close estate, there were a few ground-up efforts to celebrate the estate before its redevelopment. One of the events was a photography exhibition organised by a resident from Block 20. The exhibition showcased A1-sized family photos from various units from this estate.

Site 7: Bukit Merah Town Centre

The area in which the town centre sits began its development in the late 1960s when a two-storey hawker centre and 968 flats and shops were completed. The town centre itself commenced development in April 1979. Bukit Merah Town Centre serves as the commercial hub of the satellite town. It has a food centre, numerous shops, a supermarket and fast food outlets like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Oriental Emporium also formally operated in the town centre.

The town centre is in close proximity to a library, a swimming complex, a sports complex and a bus interchange. In 1987, a $69 million complex of shops and offices was constructed in Bukit Merah Town Centre to house the headquarters of the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

ーSite 7A: Bukit Merah Public Library

Having been a fixture in Bukit Merah since 1982, the library closed down on 30 November 2018, and was reopened at VivoCity in 2019. An online petition to stop the move was signed by almost 1,000 people, but failed in its effort.

ーSite 7B: Bukit Merah Bus Interchange

The bus interchange was opened in 1981, and connected Bukit Merah residents to Bukit Permei and Telok Blangah. It is one of the last remaining bus interchanges that is not linked to an MRT station.

ーSite 7C: Former HDB Centre

Many married couples in would visit the HDB headquarters to apply for their Build-To-Order flats. The headquarters have since been relocated to Toa Payoh in June 2002.