Singapore Infopedia


Tanglin is an area whose hilly terrain includes Leonie, Cluny, Emerald, Mount Elizabeth, Claymore, Nassim and Goodwood hills.1

The name Tanglin is believed to be derived from the name of William Napier’s house, Tang Leng, which was constructed in 1854. The house was likely named after the area’s Chinese name twa tang leng, meaning “great east hill peaks”, a reference to the many hills in the area.2


Tanglin has many established residences, luxury apartments and condominiums. Five-star hotels, embassies, consulates and high commissions of various countries are also located there. The area is bounded by Bukit Timah Road to the north, Balmoral Road, Tanglin Road, Grange Road and Zion Road to the east, Alexandra Canal, Kay Siang Road and Ridout Road to the south, as well as Queensway and Farrer Road to the west. The total land area with four subzones – Nassim, Chatsworth, Ridout and Tyersall – is approximately 760 ha.3

The land, with its fertile and well-drained slopes, had been used for large plantations of sirehgambier, nutmeg and pepper since the 17th century, and this continued into the 19th century.4 A popular place of residence and plantation start-ups amongst the Europeans and Teochews, the estate took on the names of some notables who resided there. These included Europeans such as:

• Thomas Oxley, a senior surgeon in Singapore between 1840 and 1845. He built a large house called The Grange, which gave Grange Road its name. In 1842, he built Killiney House.
• William Napier, Singapore’s first lawyer. He named his house Tang Leng on his 67-acre estate.
• Captain William Scott, a retired Harbour Master who owned the house known as Claymore. 5
• Charles Carnie built the first house in Tanglin in 1840. It was called “Cairn Hill”.6
• A. L. MacDonald, one of the original partners of law firm Donaldson & Burkinshaw, built the house, Orange Grove.

Several roads in Tanglin were named after famous personalities and place names with a Scottish background. Examples include Balmoral (named after Queen Victoria’s favourite residence in Scotland), Edinburgh, Tyersall, Cluny, Claymore and Scott.

Europeans and wealthy Chinese settlers built large villas on Nassim Hill, particularly in the 1900s.7 According to S. Ramachandra (1961), the rearing of pigs, poultry and horses at that time attracted big cats such as tigers, leopards and panthers in the vicinity. Thus, when the European tuans and mems (“sir” and “madam”, respectively) left their Tanglin estates to shop or party in town, they engaged their daytime Tamil plantation workers as escort runners who would carry flaming torchers and run beside their buggies and gharries to keep wild animals away.8

The Teochews also left their mark with sites such as the Ngee Ann Building, which took on the name of a former Teochew cemetery managed by the Ngee Ann Kongsi.9 The site is presently occupied by Ngee Ann City, with its twin towers.10

Other landmarks in Tanglin include the Singapore Botanic GardensTanglin Club, the former Tanglin BarracksSt George’s Church,11 Gleneagles Hospital and Medical Centre, Tanglin Shopping Centre and Tanglin Police Station.12

In 1980, Tanglin was designated as a Good Class Bungalow area, where many exclusive and elaborate houses can be found.13

Tanglin Village, previously known as the Dempsey Road area, was well known for being the hub for teak furniture. In 2006, the opening of a S$6 million, 110,000 sq ft alfresco bar and restaurant transformed Tanglin Village into a “lifestyle hub” that now houses a cluster of food and beverage and retail establishments.14 Two public tenders for two pre-war buildings were also launched for adaptive re-use in November 2006. In May 2018, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) announced a two-year plan “to rejuvenate Tanglin Village” as a new lifestyle hub. Plans include improving accessibility, way finding, traffic flow and space planning between the clusters.15


Vernon Cornelius

1. S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 17 (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 372. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
2. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 17; Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 372.
3. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Tanglin Planning Area: Planning Report 1994 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1994), 4, 6. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
4. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Tanglin Planning Area, 8.
5. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 17–18.
6. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 60; View of the Entrance to Cairnhill,” National Heritage Board, accessed 5 December 2018.  
7. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 17–18; Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 372.
8. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 17.
9. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 17.
10. Singapore Land Authority, OneMap, accessed 14 June 2017.
11. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Tanglin Planning Area, 8.
12. Singapore Land Authority, OneMap.
13. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Tanglin Planning Area, 6, 8.
14. Cheah Ui-Hoon, “Life on the Fringe,” Business Times, 22 September 2006, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Tiffany Fumiko Tay, “Two-Year Plan to Spruce up Dempsey Area,” Straits Times, 28 May 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

The information in this article is valid as at 5 December 2018 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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