Singapore Infopedia


The name Cairnhill originated from Charles Carnie, whose residence was built on Carnie Hill around 1840. It was later renamed as Cairn Hill. The names Cairnhill Circle, Cairnhill Rise and Cairnhill Road were inspired by Carnie’s house.1 Cairnhill broadly refers to the areas surrounding Cairnhill Road, which connects Scotts Road and Orchard Road.2 Landmarks in the Cairnhill area include the Tan Chin Tuan Mansion, Cairnhill Arts Centre, two-storey terrace houses and Al-Falah Mosque.

During the late 1830s and early 1840s, nutmeg plantations flourished in the Tanglin and Claymore areas, where it was fashionable to name the hills after the owners of large plantations who built their lavish bungalows on them. These included names like Oxley, Carnie, Montgomerie, Prinsep, Cuppage and Scott.3

The name Cairnhill originated from Charles Carnie who built his residence around 1840 on what was named Carnie Hill. It was 34 m above sea level and later renamed as Cairn Hill.4 Carnie was reputed to have been the first European to take up permanent residence in the Tanglin area.5 In 1848, Carnie’s house was surrounded by an estate of 4,370 nutmeg trees.6 According to J. T. Thomson, who was the Government Surveyor of the Straits Settlements from 1841 to 1853, Cairnhill had an area of 68 acres, of which 16 acres were low-lying swamp.7 The nutmeg plantations thrived until the 1850s when a blight wiped them out. Many plantation owners turned their former plantation plots into residential areas, by building houses and then renting or selling them.8

Carnie retired to Scotland in 1859.9 His house had been the first to be erected in that area but was later pulled down in 1884 when Chartered Bank bought over the property and built a bungalow as its manager’s residence.10 The building boom after World War II resulted in the land being subdivided into smaller plots. The bungalow was demolished in 1959, and at the hill peak where Carnie’s house once stood, one of the first of many high-rise, high-density apartment complexes, named Hilltops Apartments, was built.11 In its immediate surroundings, the housing development company Kebun Serasi built a 41-unit terrace house estate, known as Kebun Serasi estate, around 1960.12 Hilltops Apartments was collectively sold in 2006 and relaunched as a luxury apartment with the same name in 2007.13

Today, the Cairnhill area of Cairnhill Circle, Cairnhill Rise and Cairnhill Road has more than 20 luxury condominiums and apartments.14 The hotel Ascott Orchard Singapore is also located along Cairnhill Road.

The Char Yong (Dabu) Association used to own a property at 30 Cairnhill Road.15 The clan association set up its headquarters at Cairnhill in 1947 and also ran Khee Fatt School, which it set up in 1906.16 The primary school was closed in 1984 because of declining enrolment, and the association eventually sold the Cairnhill Road property.17 The school was taken over by the Ministry of Education, renamed as Qifa Primary School, and relocated to West Coast Avenue in 1985.18

The Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) expanded its school campus to Cairnhill when the building was completed in 1928 by Swan and Maclaren. In 1949, the school moved out of the building and relocated to Barker Road.19 In 1985, the Anglo-Chinese Junior School was resited to Cairnhill, taking over the premises of Cairnhill Primary School.20 The school occupied the site until 2008 when it moved to its current location at 16 Winstedt Road.21

Tan Chin Tuan Mansion
Built in the 1920s, the mansion at 42 Cairnhill Rd was home to Tan Kah Kee, who sold the house to Tan Chin Tuan in 1939. It is built in an eclectic style with European and Asian influences. Such an architectural design was popular among local Chinese businessmen during that time. The house was taken over by Japanese generals during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45). The house underwent major renovations in 1969, and in 2007, it was restored and redeveloped into a condominium. Four of the 16 condominium units have been retained by the family of the late Tan Chin Tuan.22 The mansion was one of the winners of the 2008 Architectural Heritage Awards by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).23

Cairnhill Arts Centre
The building was originally designed by Swan & Maclaren for the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), which occupied the building from 1928 to 1950. The three-storey building incorporated elements of Chinese architecture, like upturned eaves, and used geometrical motifs on its beams and wall surfaces. After the ACS was relocated, the building became the Teachers’ Training College, the Vocational Instructor Training Centre, the headquarters for Adult Education Board and the Centre for Music and Dance for the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.24 It was restored and reopened as Cairnhill Arts Centre in 1992.

Two-storey terrace houses
Located in a residential historic district identified by the URA, a row of two-storey terrace houses built before World War II along Cairnhill Road has been conserved.25 The terrace houses were built in the Late Shophouse and Art Deco styles. The stretch of 28 terrace houses among numbers 68 to 124, and another row of nine terrace houses from units 128 to 128H were awarded conservation status in 1989.26

Al-Falah Mosque
Located on the first two floors of Cairnhill Place at the junction of Cairnhill and Bideford roads, Al-Falah Mosque is Singapore's first mosque in a high-rise building without the characteristic dome and minaret. It opened on 25 January 1987 and underwent renovation in 2015. It is the only mosque in the Orchard Road area.27

Ang Seow Leng

1. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 60. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV)
2. Mighty Minds Singapore Street Directory (Singapore: Mighty Minds Pub., 2019), map 110. (Call no. RSING 912.5957 MMSSD)
3. Barbara Ann Walsh, Forty Good Men: The Story of the Tanglin Club in the Island of Singapore 1865–1990 (Singapore: Tanglin Club, 1991), 17–18. (Call no. RSING 367.95957 WAL); Ray K. Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 162, 170, 176. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE); Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 65–66). (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE)
4. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 245. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW)
5. “The Late Mr Charles Carnie,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 9 May 1901, 290 (From NewspaperSG); Lee Kip Lin, The Singapore House, 1819–1942 (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions; National Library Board, 2015), 153. (Call no. RSING 728.095957 LEE)
6. Gormsby Giggle, “Notes of the Day,” Straits Times, 3 June 1936, 10; Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 60.
7. Lee, “Singapore House,” 107.
8. “Hills and the City,” Straits Times, 27 June 2004, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Sharon Siddique, Nutmeg, and a Touch of Spice: The Story of Cairnhill Road (Singapore: Sembawang Properties, 2000), 12. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SID)
10. “The Old Homes Of Singapore,” Straits Times, 23 April 1936, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Cairnhill,” National Heritage Board, last updated 20 October 2020.
11. Siddique, Nutmeg, and a Touch of Spice, 21, 23.
12. Jenny Lam, “Cairnhill Circle Redevelopments Face Glitch,” Business Times, 8 October 1997, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Lee, “Singapore House,” 153.
13. Joyce Teo, “SC Global Pays $294m for Hilltops Apartments in Cairnhill,” Straits Times, 21 April 2006, 28; Uma Shankari, “SC Global to Launch Hilltops in Q2/Q3 2007,” Business Times, 13 March 2007, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Yunita Ong, “Cairnhill Mansions en Bloc: It's a 'Go',” Business Times, 5 October 2018. (Microfilm NL34602)
15. Yang Delian 杨德炼, ed., Xinjiapo Chayang Dabu hui guan yi bai si shi zhou nian: 1858–1998新加坡茶阳大埔会馆一百四十周年: 1858–1998 [The 140th Anniversary of Char Yong (Dabu) Association, Singapore: 1858–1998] (Singapore: Char Yong (Dabu) Association, 1998), 130–31. (Call no. Chinese RSING q369.25957 XJP)
16. Trudy Lim, “Clan Association Invites Tenders for Cairnhill Land,” Straits Times, 9 February 1988, 23 (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Timesdollar,” Straits Times, 9 February 1988, 2. (From NewspaperSG).
18. “School History,” Qifa Primary School, 2019.
19. Betty L. Khoo, “Oldest Surviving Methodist Schoolhouse Here,” New Nation, 29 September 1972, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Director Confirms ACJS Move to Cairnhill,” Straits Times, 30 May 1980, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “School History,” Anglo-Chinese School (Junior), 2021.
22. Radha Basu, “This Grande Dame Is Ready to Shine Again,” Straits Times, 18 January 2008, 74; Arthur Sim, “Tan Chin Tuan Mansion Adds a Luxury Condo,” Business Times, 1 June 2007, 2; Geoffrey Eu, “Preserving a Legacy,” Business Times, 16 June 2007, 19; Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, A Heritage Building in the City: The Tan Chin Tuan Mansion (Singapore: Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, 2011), 6–7. (Call no. RSING 720.95957 HER)
23. Lily Kong, Conserving the Past, Creating the Future: Urban Heritage in Singapore (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2011), 207. (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 KON)
24. “Cairnhill Arts Centre,” National Heritage Board, last updated July 2016.
25. “Conservation Areas,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, last updated 12 November 2021.
26. Cecilia Chow, “Conservation Terraced House at Cairnhill Road for Sale at $10.8 Mil,” EdgeProp, 29 January 2021.
27. “Mosque in Highrise Building to Open Soon,” Straits Times, 13 January 1987, 12 (From NewspaperSG); “History,” Masjid Al-Falah, accessed 8 November 2021.

The information in this article is valid as at June 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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