Singapore Infopedia

by Ho, Stephanie, Koh, Jamie


Located off Changi Road at the 10th milestone, Somapah was a residential area centred on the Somapah estate, which was also known as Somapah Village.1 The area was named after Indian landowner Hunmah Somapah. Although Somapah Road still exists, the villagers have since been resettled and the area redeveloped into an industrial and commercial area comprising Changi Business Park as well as the Singapore Expo convention and exhibition centre.

Hunmah Somapah
The Somapah area was named after Hunmah Somapah, an Indian broker, commission agent and property owner in Singapore.2

After completing his studies at St Joseph’s Institution,3 Hunmah Somapah was employed by the municipality as a bill collector and cashier from 1886 to 1906.4 He then concentrated on growing the family’s property business after he left the Municipal Board. Among the properties he owned were plots of land in Punggol, Rangoon Road, Paya Lebar and Changi.5 When Somapah died in 1919, the properties he had amassed were believed to be the largest owned by a local Indian at the time.6

Somapah was one of the representatives of the Hindu delegation that lobbied the then governor and commander-in-chief of the Straits Settlements, Arthur Henderson Young, to make Deepavali a public holiday in Singapore.7 In 1914, he also started a scheme to provide free cooked meals for the poor at the Sri Krishnan Temple on Waterloo Street.8

Somapah Road
It is not known when exactly Somapah Road was constructed, but in the 1930s, it was one of the roads leading from East Coast Road to the sea.9 In 1949, a proposal was made to the government to improve and widen Somapah Road because it was the only road that gave access to the densely populated Telok Mata Ikan.10 This area was a popular spot for seaside bungalows, including holiday bungalows opened in 1950 for subordinate staff of the Singapore Municipality.11

In 1954, the Singapore Rural Board announced plans to improve and extend Somapah Road.12 In 1979, the Public Works Department started construction works that linked Somapah Road to a new network of roads connecting East Coast Road to Changi.13

Somapah Village (Changi)
Somapah lent his name to many of his properties such as the Somapah Village near the 10th milestone on Changi Road, as well as another Somapah Village located at the junction of Tampines and Upper Serangoon roads.14

General facilities and services
Somapah Village at Changi served as the gateway to the coastal villages that lay to the southeast such as Mata Ikan. According to a 1966 historical map, the village was located at the junction of Jalan Tiga Ratus and Upper Changi Road.15

The village had a bustling open-air market, medical clinic, police post, kindergarten and dairy farm.16 The dairy farm was probably Sam Dairy Cooperative, whose owners were the last household in Somapah Village to move out when the area was redeveloped in the 1990s.17

In 1961, the Somapah Wardens, a vigilante corps, was inaugurated. The corps initially comprised around 70 Chinese, Malay and Indian members who went on night patrols to reduce crime in the area.18

A government outpatient dispensary was opened on 15 September 1962 on Somapah Road to serve residents in the Changi-Bedok area.19 In 1971, the government announced plans to build a dental clinic in Somapah Village,20 while Red Cross opened a night clinic on Somapah Road in 1981. The night clinic, which served residents of the nearby islands, operated from the premises of Min Chong Public School. Medical services were previously inaccessible to residents there, especially at night.21

Other villages
Besides Somapah Village, other notable villages in the area included Kampong Harvey (along Harvey Avenue), Gulega Village (along Gulega Road), Mata Ikan Village (at the junction of Somapah and Siak Kuan roads) and Padang Terbakar Village (along Siak Kuan Road).22

In the 1930s, the Chinese villagers living along Gulega Road were mainly involved in catching prawns and growing vegetables for a living.23 By 1960, Gulega Village had an estimated 4,000 residents, many of whom were farmers and poultry-breeders. The Gulega Road Volunteer Corps was formed by the villagers during this time to combat thugs and gangsters in the area.24

Mata Ikan and Padang Terbakar villages were both coastal villages. Mata Ikan was known for its seaside holiday bungalows, while Padang Terbakar was primarily a Malay fishing village.25 In 1966, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew disclosed that people who were being smuggled into Singapore from Indonesia often landed at Padang Terbakar.26 In the 1970s, the shoreline of these two villages was extended further out to sea as part of land reclamation works to enable the construction of the East Coast Parkway.27 In the mid-1980s, the two villages were acquired by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) for industrial developments and the villagers were subsequently resettled into Housing and Development Board flats.28

Several Chinese schools were founded in Somapah after World War II. Min Chong Public School (公立民众学校), founded in 1946, was a merger of two prewar schools, Bo Wen School (博文学校) and Pei Nan School (培南学校). It was the first Chinese school in Singapore to offer English classes. Min Chong was closed down in 1980.29

Nong Min Public School (公立农民学校) catered largely to the children of farmers residing in Jalan Tiga Ratus, and was in operation from 1947 to 1977.30

Located on Somapah Road, the Red Swastika School, founded in 1951 by the World Red Swastika Society, was built on 3 ac of land that had been donated by Quek Shin, who was then the society’s president. Originally known as Wan Tzu School, it was housed in a single-storey wooden building with six classrooms.31 By 1961, the school had been renamed Red Swastika School and was providing free education for children in the area.32

The government schools found in the area were Changkat Changi primary and secondary schools. The secondary school was an integrated school that was opened in 1966.33 It is not known when the primary school was started, but the school was in existence by 1968.34

In 1976, the Singapore Bus Service (SBS) announced plans to build a bus depot in Somapah.35 Subsequently, the relocation of bus services from Upper Changi Road to Somapah caused inconvenience for many commuters residing in Bedok.36 In 1981, Somapah became the designated bus interchange for bus services to Changi Airport as it was then the closest interchange to the airport and had a sizeable number of bus services.37

As Changi Airport was being built in the 1970s, it was predicted that residents in parts of Changi, including Somapah, would be affected by higher noise levels caused by planes once the airport was opened.38 After the airport became operational in 1981, a group of residents living in the area wrote to the press complaining about the noise from the planes flying overhead and petitioned for a quick resettlement.39

As residents gradually moved out of the Somapah area, the schools and amenities located there were similarly relocated. In 1981, Red Swastika School moved to new premises at Bedok North Avenue 3.40 The Somapah police post located at Jalan Somapah Timor was closed down in 1984,41 and the Somapah outpatient clinic was closed down in 1990 following the opening of the Tampines Polyclinic.42 Changkat Changi Primary School (now known as Changkat Primary School) moved to Simei in 1988,43 while the secondary school relocated to the Simei estate in 2001.44

The area close to Somapah Road is currently used for industrial and commercial projects. In 1996, the JTC commenced work on redeveloping the Somapah area into the S$1.5-billion, 66-hectare Changi Business Park, which targeted mostly logistics and high-tech manufacturing companies.45 Parts of the development were opened in 1997.46 Since its launch, the business park has attracted multinational companies such as IBM and Invensys to locate their headquarters there.47

The nearby Singapore Expo convention and exhibition centre was opened in 1999. The centre offered 60,000 sq m of exhibition space after just the first phase of development, making it the largest exhibition venue in Southeast Asia then.48

The newest addition to the Somapah area is the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), which was officially inaugurated on 7 May 2012.49 The campus is located at 8 Somapah Road.50

MRT station

“Somapah” was originally the name given to the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station that was located close to Upper Changi as part of the Changi Airport extension of the East-West line.51 The station was eventually renamed “Expo” after Singapore Expo, which it services.52

In 2011, “Somapah” was one of the names suggested for a new MRT station located near Upper Changi as part of the Downtown Line. Again, “Somapah” was passed over and “Upper Changi” was selected as the name of the new station.53


Stephanie Ho & Jaime Koh

1. “Co-operator’s Picnic,” Straits Times, 21 May 1936, 13; “Vigilant Corps Day,” Straits Times, 27 May 1962, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 352–53 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 29 January 1919, 6; “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 18 April 1924, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “The Family’s Roots,” The Basapas of Singapore, accessed 13 September 2016.
4. “Municipal Board,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 16 June 1906, 3; “A Question of Responsibility,” (1906, September 1).Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 September 1906, 12 (From NewspaperSG); “Photo Gallery,” The Basapas of Singapore, accessed 13 September 2016.
5. “Somapah’s Place in Singapore History,” The Basapas of Singapore, accessed 13 September 2016.
6. “Untitled”; “The Late Somapah’s Estate,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 19 November 1919, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Taipusum or Deepavali,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 30 January 1914, 7; “Deepavali or Taipusam,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 21 February 1914, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), j8 December 1914, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Notes of the Day,” Straits Times, 16 September 1936, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Councillor Wants Ban on Luxury Houses Lifted,” Straits Times, 17 August 1949, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Holiday Homes Opened,” Straits Times, 22 May 1950, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Rural Board Plans $78,000 Brush Up,” Straits Times, 26 March 1954, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “New E. Coast Roads,” Business Times, 3 March 1979, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Co-operator’s Picnic”; “Vigilant Corps Day”; “Singapore Rural Board Meeting,” (1932, January 14). Straits Times, 14 January 1932, 6; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 31 August 1939, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Singapore Land Authority, One Historical Map, accessed 12 October 2016.
16. Jerome Lim, “Memories of the Lost World That Was Somapah Village,” Blog, 6 December 2010.
17. Irene Ng, “Urban Cowboys,” New Paper, 22 January 1992, p. 20. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “Another Vigilante Corps Launched: Patrols Bring Fall in Crime Rate,” (1961, June 1). Singapore Free Press, 1 June 1961, 4; “Telling the People,” Singapore Free Press, 5 June 1961, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Byrne Opens New Clinic,” Straits Times, 16 September 1962, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Two Dental Clinics to Serve the Rural Folk,” New Nation, 10 November 1971, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Red Cross Opens Night Clinic in Somapah Road,” Straits Times, 8 December 1981, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Singapore Land Authority, One Historical Map.
23. Mohinder Singh, oral history interview by Pitt Kuan Wah, 16 September 1985, transcript and MP3 audio, 26:59, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000546), 581.
24. “Kampong Corps Put an End to Gangsterism in Their Area,” Singapore Free Press, 8 September 1960, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Holiday Homes Opened”; “Fishermen Told to Organize,” Straits Times, 23 October 1950, 7; “He Plans a ‘Go Malay’ Outing,” Singapore Free Press, 16 November 1961, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “People Being Smuggled into S’pore: Lee,” Straits Times, 7 December 1966, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “How S’pore Will Grow Another Two Sq-Miles,” Straits Times, 2 March 1971, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Goh Sui Noi, “End of a CC and a Way of Life,” Straits Times, 5 February 1985, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Pan Xinghua 潘星华, ed., Xiaoshi de hua xiao: Guojia yongyuan de zichan消失的华校: 国家永远的资产 [Disappeared Chinese schools: The country’s lasting resource] (Singapore: Federation of Chinese School Alumni Associations, 2014), 158–59. (Call no. Chinese RSING 371.82995105957 XSD)
30. Pan Xinghua, Xiaoshi de hua xiao, 174; Li Long 李龙, Jiao feng ye yu hua gan bang wushi 蕉风椰雨话甘榜五十 [Fifty tales of kampongs] (Singapore: Asia Pacific Book Press, 2015), 63.
31. “Our History,” Red Swastika School, accessed 11 September 2016.
32. “More Than 1,000 Get Free Education at This School,” Straits Times, 20 July 1961, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Maureen Peters, “Where Three Streams Make One ‘Whole’ School,” Straits Times, 22 October 1970, 6 (From NewspaperSG); “History,” Changkat Changi Secondary, accessed 11 September 2016.  
34. “School’s Second Donation,” Straits Times, 15 April 1968, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “Work Begins on Toa Payoh Bus Depot,” Straits Times, 25 July 1976, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “Resiting of Bus Terminus Causes Misery,” Straits Times, 28 July 1980, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “And SBS to Provide Six Services,” Straits Times, 29 April 1981, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Higher Noise Levels from Planes Likely,” Straits Times, 14 March 1978, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
39. “Zhang yi shitiao shi jumin xi jin su qian wang ta chu” 樟宜十条石居民希尽速迁往他处 [Changi Tenjo Rock residents hope to move elsewhere as soon as possible], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商报, 11 November 1981, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Chong Wing Hong, “$3.6 M School with a TV in Every Classroom,” Straits Times, 1 August 1981, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
41. “Somapah and Bedok Police Posts to Close,” Straits Times, 28 December 1984, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Tampines Polyclinic First to Offer X-Ray Services,” Straits Times, 5 March 1990, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “Changkat Primary School,” Changkat Primary School, accessed 11 September 2016.
44. Changkat Changi Secondary, “History.”
45. Jurong Town Corporation, Annual Report 1996/97 (Singapore: Jurong Town Corporation, 1997), 31. (Call no. RCLOS 352.0072 JTCAR-[AR])
46. “JTC Launches Changi Business Park,” Straits Times, 26 June 1997, 58. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Vladimir Guevarra, “Some Big firms Heading for the Suburbs,” Straits Times, 23 September 2002, 14; Denesh Divyanathan, “Britain's Invensys Sets Up $70M Changi Plant,” Straits Times, 28 November 2002, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
48. Rav Dhaliwal, “New $150M Exhibition Centre Being Built,” Straits Times, 31 May 1997, 30; Kalpana Rishiwala, “Carrefour Fails to Clinch Expo Space,” Straits Times, 4 March 1999, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
49. Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), “President Tony Tan Officiates at Celebrations at the Inauguration Ceremony,” press release, 7 May 2012.
50. “Contact Us,” Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), accessed 13 September 2016.
51. Tan Hseuh Yun, “MRT Line to Be Extended to Changi Airport,” Straits Times, 16 November 1996, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
52. Karamjit Kaur, “Changi Airport MRT Station Designed for Travellers,” Straits Times, 11 February 1998, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
53. “You Can Now Vote on the Names of Downtown Line 3 Stations,” Today, 2 June 2011, 28; Janice Tai, “Downtown Line 3 Stations Named,” Straits Times, 20 August 2011, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 18 October 2016 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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