Bukit Timah

Singapore Infopedia


Bukit Timah Estate is located in Singapore’s Central Region. The name Bukit Timah originated from a corruption of the name of the Temak tree, which grows in the area.1 Bukit is Malay for “hill”, while Timah is Malay for “tin” – thus the mistaken belief that tin can be found on the hill.2

Bukit Timah, which comprises eight sub-zones, covers an area of 1,732 ha.3 Bukit Timah Hill is the highest hill in Singapore, and the area also holds Singapore’s primary rainforest reserve – Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.4 Many premier residential estates designated as Good Class Bungalow Areas are located in Bukit Timah, making the area one of the most sought-after places to live in in Singapore.5

John Prince, acting resident of the Incorporated Settlement, first explored Bukit Timah on 28 June 1827 in preparation for the construction of Bukit Timah Road. He discovered an area of dense jungle infested with tigers, and Indian convicts were deployed to kill the animals.6

In March 1843, a road leading to the top of Bukit Timah Hill (519 ft) was completed. By 1845, Bukit Timah Road had extended beyond Bukit Timah to as far as Kranji.7 Two tigers were shot in the Bukit Timah area in 1896.8 By the turn of the century, the area had been cleared although it remained rural with a spread of old kampong (village) housing and a few inhabitants. In the 1900s, the sparsely populated land was famed for large industries such as the Cold Storage Dairy Farm, Ford Assembly Plant and Eveready Batteries, as well as premier schools such as the University of Singapore (later the National University of Singapore), Chinese High School, Singapore Chinese Girls' School and Anglo-Chinese School.9 Other developments such as the railway route, Hindhede Granite Quarry and Bukit Timah Turf Club were also located in the area.10

During World War II, the Japanese army's onslaught culminated in their victory with the conquest of Bukit Timah Hill. When Lieutenant-General Percival surrendered at the Ford Factory off Bukit Timah Road, the Japanese army displayed its victory by marching down this road.11

In the early 1960s, the Public Works Department first converted Bukit Timah Road into a dual-carriageway road. Both Bukit Timah Road and Dunearn Road were subsequently widened, and flyovers were built at important junctions. These are at Adam Road/Farrer Road, Newton Circus and Whitley Road.12

Variant names
Old English: The British originally spelt it “Bookit Timah”.13


(1) In Hokkien, be cha lo boi means “end of the horse carriage road”, referring to the halting place for the change of horses at Kranji.
(2) In Hokkien, Sin Swa Lo means “the Johore Road” (Sin Swa means Johore, or literally “new mountain”).14

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks: Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 34. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
2. Susan Long, “Room with a Hill View,” Straits Times, 1 November 1998, 8 (From NewspaperSG); “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail,” National Heritage Board, accessed 15 October 2019.
3. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Timah Planning Area: Planning Report 1993 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1993), 7. (Call no. RSING 711.409.95957 SIN); National Heritage Board, “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail.”
4. Long, “Room with a Hill View”; Ilsa Sharp, Time-Trek at Bukit Timah,” Singapore Monitor, 22 July 1984, 30. (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail.”
5. “Govt Sets Aside 39 Areas Just for Bungalows,” Straits Times, 22 June 1980, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 210 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Timah Planning Area, 8; Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 370 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Long, “Room with a Hill View”; National Heritage Board, “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail.”
7. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 589; Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks: Past and Present, 34–35; Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 430 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); National Heritage Board, “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail.”
8. “Two Tigers Shot,” Straits Times, 30 June 1896, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks: Past and Present, 35; Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Timah Planning Area, 8; National Heritage Board, “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail.”
10. Long, “Room with a Hill View”; “Singapore Railway,” Straits Times, 27 January 1928, 8; “5,000 at Brilliant Turf Club Opening,” Straits Times, 16 April 1933, 9 (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail.”
11. “Ford’s Part in Singapore Surrender,” Straits Times, 15 July 1980, 7 (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Bukit Timah: A Heritage Trail.”
12. “Easing the Lifeline Traffic in S’pore,” Straits Times, 21 September 1962, 10; Harold Soh, “Plan to Ease Traffic Flow and Reduce Accidents,” Straits Times, 24 August 1963, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “The Free Press Singapore, Thursday, 25th June 1846,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 25 June 1846, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks: Past and Present, 34–35; “Singapore Street Names: More Quaint Tales of Their Origin,” Straits Times, 9 July 1933, 13. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at October 2019 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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