Singapore Infopedia


Woodlands is a planning area in the north of Singapore. During the early colonial period, Woodlands was an agricultural area with plantation estates. It then became a major transport link between Singapore and Johor, and in the 1970s, the area was developed as a public housing and industrial estate.1 Woodlands is known for the Causeway bridge to Johor Bahru.2 Woodlands Road, a section of road leading from Bukit Panjang to the Causeway, was renamed from Bukit Timah Road in 1929 by the Rural Board.3

Woodlands consists of the subzones of Greenwood Park, Midview, North Coast, Senoko West, Woodgrove, Woodlands East, Woodlands Regional Centre, Woodlands South and Woodlands West.4 The Woodlands planning area is bounded by Sungei Kadut to the west, the Strait of Johor to the north, Sembawang to the east, and Mandai to the south.5

Colonial era
During the colonial period, Woodlands was known as Mandai and Sembawang.6 A swampy flood-prone area, Woodlands began to transform into an agricultural area with plantation estates in the mid-19th century, with the earliest written evidence dating from 1854.7 Lau Chu Kang (along Sungai Mandai Besar) and Tan Chu Kang (along Sungai Mandai Kecil) were the first settlements in the area; they appeared in official maps of Singapore between 1839 and 1894.8

The plantation estates in Woodlands grew products such as pineapple, rubber, gambier and nutmeg.9 The most short-lived of these crops was nutmeg: 100 young nutmeg trees were grown in Lau Chu Kang but had not yet borne fruit in 1855, and nutmeg cultivation ended in Singapore because of disease in the 1860s.10

Later, during the 1915 Singapore mutiny, mutineers hid in the Woodlands plantation estates.11 As Woodlands developed, villages were established and the plantation estates continued to exist until the 1960s, when the area was redeveloped into a public housing and industrial estate.12 The 1958 master plan shows that the Sungai Mandai, Mandai, Marsiling and Woodlands villages existed along with the Marsiling, Bukit Sembawang and Teck Chong plantation estates.13

Transport link
Woodlands is also known for being a transport link. The earliest evidence is from 1875, when the Johor Steam Ferry Boat Company began ferry services between Johor and Woodlands, transporting plantation goods from Johor into Singapore for further export.14 As the volume of trade and movement of people between Johor and Singapore grew, the Singapore railway expanded and the Woodlands Station opened for service in April 1903.15 Since the railway was an important transportation link between Johor and the town of Singapore in the south of the island, important dignitaries would pass through the Woodlands station.16

By 1911, the demand for ferry services had become so high that they had to be operated around the clock, and the British government presented plans for the Causeway to alleviate congestion in 1918. The Causeway began construction the following year.17 The ferry service ended in September 1923, when the Causeway rail link opened to goods trains.18 In 1924, the Causeway between Johor and Singapore was completed, and it was widened between the 1960s and 1980s to help with traffic congestion.19

Self-rule, merger and imposition of movement controls
As the political authority over Woodlands changed, so did border controls. When the Federation of Malaya declared independence in August 1957, immigration regulations were enforced for the Causeway; these regulations were relaxed when Singapore merged with the Federation of Malaya.20 During the communal riots of 1964, troops guarded the Shell lubricating oil plant at Woodlands and no one from Johor Bahru was allowed to cross the Causeway.21

After Singapore separated from Malaysia and became a sovereign state, immigration controls with Malaysia were introduced again in 1966, with full passport requirements required in 1967, the same year the checkpoints were completed.22 The current Woodlands Checkpoint was upgraded from the previous checkpoint and was open to traffic in July 1999.23

Woodlands New Town
Built in the 1970s, Woodlands New Town was the first public housing estate in the area.24 A frontier centre for tourists coming from West Malaysia by the Causeway and a frontier town centre for residents, Woodlands has not only had a housing estate area but also industries.25

The Woodlands MRT, completed in 1996, enhanced transport for the area.26  According to the master plan by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2013, Woodlands would be served by the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line and be a part of the Northern Agri-Tech and Food Corridor.27

Foo Shu Tieng  

1. National Archives of India, Map of Singapore Island and Its Dependencies, , 4 January 1849, survey map (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. SP007229); “S’pore Satellite Towns for 200,000 Are Named,” Straits Times, 30 December 1955, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “The Causeway: A Great Engineering Work Completed,” Straits Times, 27 June 1924, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Rural Board: Defining Factory Areas – Control of New Buildings,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 12 December 1929, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Population Trends, 2019,” Department of Statistics Singapore, 25 September 2019. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
5. “URA Space: Master Plan,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, last revised 10 September 2021.
6. Survey Department, Singapore, Map of the Island of Singapore and Its Dependencies, c1860s–1870s, topographic map. (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. TM000013)
7. “Record Rainfall,” Malaya Tribune, 15 January 1917, 14; “Work Begins on First Phase of a New Satellite Town,” Straits Times, 28 January 1966, 4; “Municipal Committee,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 26 December 1854, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Wahid Khan, Map of the Island of Singapore and Its Dependencies, 1839, topographic map, Survey Department, Singapore (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. TM00001); National Archives of India, Map of Singapore Island and Its Dependencies; Harry Lake, “Johore,” Geographical Journal 3, no. 4 (April 1849): 281–97. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
9. “Fatal Dispute Over a Pineapple,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 30 April 1930, 16; Hall Romney, “Singapore Buys $1m. Estate,” Straits Times, 10 January 1956, 1; “Singapore Municipal Committee: 28th April 1855,” Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce, 15 May 1855, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Singapore Municipal Committee: 28th April 1855”; “Cultivation of Nutmegs and Cloves,” Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, 15 May 1834, 1 (From NewspaperSG); C. Collingwood, “On Nutmeg and Other Cultivation in Singapore,” Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 10, no. 41 (September 1867): 45–54.
11. “The Mutiny: Official Reports of Military Operations,” Straits Times, 2 March 1915, 7; “The Court Trial: Men of Malay States Guides on Trial,” Straits Times, 11 March 1915, 7; “The Mutiny Trials,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 7 April 1915, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Assure Us, Farmers Ask Government,” Straits Times, 20 January 1956, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
13. D. H. Komlosky, Master Plan for Singapore: Master Plan 1958, November 1956, survey map, sheet 2. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
14. The Colonial Directory of the Straits Settlements including Sarawak, Labuan, Bangkok and Saigon (Singapore: Mission Press, 1875), J5. (From BookSG); Patricia Pui Huen Lim, Johor, 1855–1957: Local History, Local Landscapes (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 2009), 27–35, 60. (Call no. RSING 959.5103 LIM); Carl A. Trocki, “The Johor Archives and the ‘Kang Chu’ System,” Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 48, no. 1 (227) (1975): 1–46. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
15. “Singapore-Johore Railway Opened to ‘Woodlands’ Yesterday,” Straits Times, 11 April 1903, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Lord Kitchener Arrives in Singapore This Afternoon,” Straits Times, 20 September 1909, 7; “Royal Visitors,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 1 May 1911, 4; “The Royal Visit: Prince and Princess to Arrive This Evening,” Straits Times, 20 November 1911, 7; “Siam Commissioner’s Railway Tour,” Straits Times, 25 August 1917, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Yap Yok Foo, The Wild Days of the Causeway,” Today, 8 January 2001, 21 (From NewspaperSG); G. Alphonso et al. eds., The Causeway (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, 2011), 54, 58, 62–63. (Call no. RSING 388.132095957 CAU)
18. Alphonso et al., Causeway, 46–53, 94; “Johore Causeway: First Passenger Train Crosses,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 3 October 1923, 16; “Johore Steam Ferry: Trial Trip of New Steamer for Railway System,” Straits Times, 12 June 1909, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Alphonso et al., Causeway, 134, 138.
20. “A Big Clamp on the Causeway,” Singapore Free Press, 8 August 1957, 1; “Causeway Clamp,” Straits Times, 4 October 1958, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Market and Provision Shops Besieged as Curfew is Lifted: Soaring Prices Shock for Housewives,” Straits Times, 24 July 1964, 9; “Dr. Goh Opens Shell Oil Plant,” Straits Times, 19 January 1963, 24 (From NewspaperSG); Shell at Woodlands (Singapore: Straits Times Press (Malaya) Ltd., 1963). (From PublicationSG)
22. “New Causeway Clamp,” Straits Times, 20 April 1966, 1; “Passports a ‘Must’ Now for Two-Way Travel,” Straits Times,19 March 1967, 1; “Causeway Checkpoint Ready by Next Week,” Straits Times, 20 June 1967, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Alphonso et al., Causeway, 147.
24. “Woodlands Project: Squatters Must Go,” Singapore Standard, 28 March 1958, 9; “Work Begins on Satellite Town in Woodlands,” Straits Times, 17 July 1971, 5; “Frontier Town of the Seventies,” Our Home (Singapore: Housing and Development Board, March–April 1973), 14–15. (From BookSG)
25. Chia Poteik, “The Final Push Is Now Planned,” Straits Times, 23 July 1965, 2; “Work Begins on First Phase of a New Satellite Town,” Straits Times, 28 January 1966, 4; “Factory-a-Week,” Straits Times, 28 October 1964, 1; “$307m to Be Invested in High-Skill Industries,” Straits Times, 6 March 1974, 11; “Joint Venture Tape Plant in Woodlands,” Business Times, 25 October 1976, 1; Salma Khalik, “3M Sets Up Microflex Plant,” Straits Times, 10 June 1998, 1; Grace Ng, “Seagate to Build S$1.3b Electronics Plant Here,” Straits Times, 29 September 2006, 3; “‘Terrace Factories’ Go Up in a New Town,” Straits Times, 21 July 1975, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
26. S. M. Muthu, “Pirate Taxis Cash In at New Towns,” Straits Times, 20 August 1975, 5; “Big Blow to ‘Pirates’ – That’s Service 180,” New Nation, 26 January 1976, 4; “MRT Is Needed – Finding of Study,” New Nation, 30 August 1976, 2; Leong Chan Teik, “Woodlands MRT Line to Open Next Month,” Straits Times, 14 January 1996, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Ong Chor Hao, “Khaw Unveils Woodlands Regional Hub Plans,” Business Times, 25 February 2013, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Woodlands Regional Centre: A Nexus of New Possibilities,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, last updated 27 October 2021.

Further resources
Austin Coates, “The Singapore Market Phenomenon 1906–1921,” The Commerce in Rubber: The First 250 Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987). (Call no. RSING 338.1738952 COA)

G. H. Lim, “Gambier and Early Development of Singapore,” in Kwa Chong Guan and Kua Bak Lim, eds., A General History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, 2019), 35–72. (Call no. RSING 305.895105957 GEN)

James C. Jackson, Planters and Speculators: Chinese and European Agricultural Enterprise in Malaya 1786–1921 (Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1968). (Call no. RSING 338.109595 JAC)

K. F. Tang, ed., Kampong Days: Village Life and Times in Singapore Revisited (Singapore: National Archives, 1993). (Call no. RSING 959.57 KAM)

K. T. Lim, “The Early Days of Rubber in Singapore,” Singapore Rubber Centenar1877–1977 (Singapore: Rubber Centenary Committee, 1977), 49–62. (Call no. RSING 338.1738952 SIN)

Planning Department, Singapore, Singapore Master Plan 1977 (Singapore: Planning Department, Ministry of National Development, 1977). (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)

Rodolphe De Koninck, Farmers of a City State: The Chinese Smallholders of Singapore (Quebec: Universite Laval, 1973). (Call no. RSING 301.35095957 DEK)

Rodolphe De Koninck, Julie Drolet and Marc Girard, Singapore: An Atlas of Perpetual Territorial Transformation (Singapore: NUS Press, 2008). (Call no. RSING 912.5957 KON)

The National Archives, United Kingdom, Singapore Sheet No. 2: Mukim Number XI Kranji, Mukim Number XII Lim Chu Kang, and Mukim Number XIII Sembawang, map, 1924. (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. D2019_000028_TNA)

Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Woodlands Planning Area: Planning Report 1997 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1997). (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)

Woodlands Citizens’ Consultative Committee, Heart Choices: Woodlands Celebrates SG50 (Singapore: Woodlands Citizens’ Consultative Committee, 2015). (From PublicationSG)

The information in this article is valid as at February 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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