Gillman Barracks

Singapore Infopedia


Gillman Barracks is located at Lock Road off Alexandra Road. It used to house the British army, and subsequently various units of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) such as the School of Combat Engineers and the SAF 3rd Transport Battalion.1 After the army vacated the camp in the 1990s, the area developed into a cluster of restaurants, bars and furniture shops frequented by office workers and expatriate families from nearby areas.2 These tenants, however, had moved out by end of February 2011 to make way for the government’s remaking of Gillman Barracks into an arts hub.3 On 15 September 2012, Gillman Barracks was relaunched as an arts cluster, with a total of 13 art galleries from 10 countries.4

Webb Gillman
Gillman Barracks was named after Webb Gillman (Sir), a distinguished Royal Artillery officer of the British army who rose to the rank of General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command in 1931.5 He died in 1933 and was accorded a military funeral held at St Peter’s Church in London.6

Sent by the War Office in London, Gillman came to Singapore in April 1927 for three months as head of a commission to prepare a report on the defence requirements of the new naval base in Singapore.7

Gillman Barracks was completed in 1936 on a site that was once jungle and swamp. It was specially built to accommodate the 1st Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment, which was sent to double the British army’s infantry strength in Singapore.8 The barracks included barrack buildings, married quarters, mess halls, regimental institutes and sports facilities.9 The camp later became home to the 2nd Battalion, the Loyal Regiment. During World War II, Gillman Barracks was the site of a fierce battle between the regiment and the Japanese during the three days before Singapore surrendered in February 1942. It was one of the last British posts in Singapore to fall to the Japanese.10

In August 1971, Gillman Barracks was handed over to the Singapore government for a token sum of S$1, as part of the British military’s withdrawal from Singapore.11 The SAF moved in and held a passing-out parade there two months later.12 The camp’s swimming pool, tennis court, three sports fields and two badminton courts were transferred to the National Sports Promotion Board, which opened the facilities to the public.13 After the SAF vacated the camp in the 1990s, the government allowed the buildings to be used for commercial purposes. In 1996, Gillman Barracks was renamed Gillman Village.14

Key developments after 2000
In 2002, Gillman Village was included in an Identity Plan unveiled by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) that sought to not only preserve the distinctive character of 15 areas in Singapore, but also enhance them.15 Under the proposed plan for Gillman Village, new commercial uses would be introduced. New buildings and car parks would also be built while retaining the area’s old-world colonial charm, so as to attract more visitors to the area.16

An exhibition on the URA’s plan was held and feedback was gathered from the public. The response turned out positive, with 72 percent of survey respondents agreeing that it was a good idea to introduce new buildings and more activities in the area.17 Respondents also rated restaurants and cafes, and arts-related activities as their two most preferred activities there.18 The final proposals were then incorporated into the Master Plan – the government’s medium-term plan – to guide the physical development of Singapore.19

Although Gillman Village did not become as popular as other lifestyle enclaves like Dempsey Road, it attracted a following for its tranquil ambience and colonial feel.20 In 2010, Gillman Village reverted to its original name of Gillman Barracks21 and in February 2010, the government announced its plan to develop the area into a hub for arts-related activities and businesses such as art galleries and art research centres.22 The proposal was among the recommendations submitted by the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) established in 2009 to look into Singapore’s long-term economic development.23

Consequently, the existing tenants moved out of Gillman Barracks by early 2011, and the government commenced work on transforming the area shortly thereafter.24

On 15 September 2012, Gillman Barracks was officially launched as Singapore’s art district after a S$10 million makeover.25 It opened with 13 art galleries from 10 different countries, featuring art works by foreign artists such as Yoshitomo Nara and Sebastiao Salgado.26 It had, however, encountered some setbacks as some renowned international art galleries like Kaikai Kiki Gallery decided not to open at Gillman Barracks, with the former alluding that it had decided to re-strategise its plans.27

During Gillman Barracks’ second anniversary in 2014, the Economic Development Board (EDB), Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) and National Arts Council – the joint management of the Gillman Barracks arts cluster – announced that there would be more eateries and covered walkways to increase traffic to Gillman Barracks.28 Then in 2015, 5 out of the 17 art galleries at Gillman Barracks decided against renewing their leases, citing poor sales and low visitorship as reasons for their closure.29

In 2016, the number of visitors to Gillman Barracks surged. This could be attributed to high quality art shows held at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (NTU CCA) Singapore, which had opened there in October 2013. Strategies such as working with the Singapore Tourism Board to promote Gillman Barracks as a tourist attraction have also helped to increase visitorship.30 In April 2016, a dedicated Programme Office was opened to help integrate and coordinate the activities of the arts cluster and advertise them.31 Gillman Barracks also expanded its mix of tenants by including lifestyle store Supermama, as well as two art organisations, Playeum and Art Outreach, to increase its appeal.32

Apr 1936:
1st Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment, moves into Gillman Barracks soon after the camp’s completion.33

21 Aug 1971: Barracks are sold to Singapore government for S$1.34
10 Oct 1971: SAF holds passing-out parade at the camp.35
1984: SAF units in the camp start moving to other locations.36
1996: Name of the camp is changed to Gillman Village.37
23 Jul 2002: URA launches its Identity Plan for Gillman Village and various other areas of Singapore.38
Feb 2010: The ESC proposes turning Gillman Village into an arts and creative cluster.39
2010: Gillman Village reverts to its original name, Gillman Barracks.40
Jan–Feb 2011: Existing tenants move out of the area.41
14 Jun 2011: EDB calls for expressions of interest to establish art galleries in Gillman Barracks.42
4 Jul 2011: JTC, the site’s master tenant, invites tenders for the refurbishment of existing buildings, improvement works to surrounding facilities and the construction of ancillary buildings at the site.43
15 Sep 2012: New art district in Singapore with 13 galleries from 10 countries opens at Gillman Barracks.44
Oct 2013: NTU CCA Singapore opens at Gillman Barracks.45
Apr 2015: Five art galleries close down at Gillman Barracks.46
Apr 2016: Opening of Gillman Barracks Programme Office to coordinate activities at Gillman Barracks and promote the arts cluster.47

Valerie Chew

1. Wyna Tan, Barracks Turned Seafood Paradise,” Today, 3 April 2004, 26; Lee Han Shih, “Gillman Site Worth More than $1B If Condos Are Built,” Business Times, 26 October 1993, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Lim Wei Chean, “Sleepy Nook Now a Quiet, Little Bohemia,” Straits Times, 1 April 2006, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Jessica Lim, “Gillman Village Takes a Break,” Straits Times, 16 January 2011, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Contemporary Art Destination Officially Opens,” New Paper, 15 September 2012, 8–9. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “General Sir Webb Gillman,” Straits Times, 8 August 1927, 10; “New Barracks for Singapore,” Straits Times, 3 June 1935, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Nations’ Homage to Shakespeare,” Straits Times, 27 May 1933, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
7. W. David McIntyre, The Rise and Fall of the Singapore Naval Base, 1919–1942  (London: Macmillan, 1979), 81 (Call no. RSING 359.7 MAC); “Singapore Defences and the Base,” Straits Times, 26 April 1927, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “‘Die-Hard’ Machine-Gunners Arrive Tomorrow,” Straits Times, 30 March 1936, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “New Army Headquarters in Singapore,” Straits Times, 2 June 1935, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Plaque Honours the Loyals for Their Last Stand,” Straits Times, 22 December 1958, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Barracks ‘Sold’ to S’pore Govt for a Dollar,” Straits Times, 21 August 1971, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Passing-Out Parade at Gillman,” Straits Times, 8 October 1971, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Public Can Now Use Takeover Sports Facilities,” Straits Times, 29 August 1971, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Rachel Tan, “From Barracks to Food Court,” New Paper, 7 June 1996, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Neo Hui Min, “Giving 15 Areas a New Lease of Life,” Straits Times, 24 July 2002, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Scenic Walks for Nature Lovers,” Business Times, 24 July 2002, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Parks & Waterbodies Plan and Identity Plan (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, November 2002)
18. “Summary of Key Public Feedback,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 10 November 2016.
19. “Introduction to Master Plan,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 10 November 2016.
20. Mak Man Sun, “Out of This World,” Straits Times, 16 September 2007, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Our Favourite Place – Gillman Barracks,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 20 June 2017.  
22. “A Thriving Arts Cluster,” Straits Times, 5 February 2010, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Sue-Ann Chia, “Panel to Prepare for Long-Term Growth,” Straits Times, 28 May 2009, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Lim, “Gillman Village Takes a Break.” 
25. Deepika Shetty, “S’pore Arts District Launched,” Straits Times, 15 September 2012, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Contemporary Art Destination Officially Opens.”
27. Huang Lijie, “Murakami Not Opening Gallery Here,” Straits Times, 2 July 2013, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Rachel Loi, “Gillman Barracks Has New Lease of Life.” Business Times, 26 September 2014, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Deepika Shetty, “Setback for Arts Cluster?” Straits Times, 11 April 2015, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Helmi Yusof, “Has Gillman Barracks Turned the Corner?” Business Times, 24 June 2016, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Huang Lijie, “Gillman Barracks Is Four,” Straits Times, 20 September 2016, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Helmi Yusof, “Gillman Redefines Role at Its Four-Year Mark,” Business Times, 16 September 2016, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Second Infantry Regiment in Their New Home,” Straits Times, 1 April 1936, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Benny Ortega, “Colonel Who ‘Sold’ Gillman Barracks for Just One Dollar,” Singapore Monitor, 2 November 1984, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “Passing-Out Parade at Gillman.”
36. Ortega, “Colonel Who ‘Sold’ Gillman Barracks.”
37. Miranda Yeo, “New Life for Old Barracks,” Straits Times, 15 May 2015, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “30 Years of Conservation in Singapore since 1989: Focusing on Identity,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 10 November 2016.
39. Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore, Report of the Economic Strategies Committee (Singapore: Ministry of Trade and Industry, February 2010), 97
40. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Our Favourite Place.”
41. Lim, “Gillman Village Takes a Break.” 
42. “Singapore Economic Development Board Calls for Expressions of Interests (EOI) for Galleries to Set Up in Gillman Barracks,” Singapore Government News, 14 June 2011. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
43. Lim, “Gillman Village Takes a Break.” 
44. Helmi Yusof, “Big Guns, Big Bang at Barracks,” Business Times, 15 September 2012, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
45. “International Curator and MIT Associate Professor Ute Meta Bauer to Lead NTU’s Centre for Contemporary Art,” National Technogical University, accessed 20 June 2017.
46. Shetty, “Setback for Arts Cluster?” 
47. Huang, “Gillman Barracks Is Four.”

The information in this article is valid as of July 2017 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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