Boon Lay

Singapore Infopedia


Alexandra broadly refers to the area adjacent to Alexandra Road that connects River Valley in central Singapore to Pasir Panjang in the southwest.1 From 1968 to 1988, Alexandra was a parliamentary constituency. The British military had a strong presence in the Alexandra area from the early 20th century until its withdrawal from Singapore in 1971. The area has also seen the development of public and private housing estates as well as commercial and industrial buildings.

Origins and changing boundaries
Completed in 1864, Alexandra Road was named after the then Princess of Wales, who later became Queen Alexandra, consort to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. The road, which connected River Valley Road and Pasir Panjang, was known as chui bo lai in Hokkien, meaning “within the water (rice) mill”.2

In the 1950s, parts of Alexandra fell under the planning district and electoral division of Queenstown.3 In 1967, the Electoral Boundaries Delineation Committee recommended the creation of a new electoral division of Alexandra to be formed from the Queenstown electoral division as the latter had grown too large.4 In 1968, University of Singapore lecturer Wong Lin Ken was elected as the member of Parliament (MP) for the Alexandra constituency.5 Tan Soo Khoon succeeded Wong as MP of the constituency from 1976 to 1988.6

In 1988, the electoral boundaries were again redrawn and Alexandra came under the Brickworks Group Representation Constituency (GRC).7 The area is currently part of the electoral boundaries of Tanjong Pagar GRC.8

Alexandra falls within the Queenstown and Bukit Merah urban planning areas designated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.9

British military presence
Alexandra was an area with a strong British presence. This is reflected in the road names, many of which were derived from places in Britain and the Commonwealth such as Berkshire, Bury, Canterbury, Cornwall, Hyderabad, Winchester and York.10

Alexandra Barracks
In the early 1900s, the British established Alexandra Barracks near Alexandra Road. The roads leading to it bear names reflecting their association with the British military.11 The barracks accommodated Indian troops such as the 99th Daccan Infantry and 3rd Brahmans.12 The most significant event related to the barracks was a deadly mutiny involving the men of the 5th Light Infantry stationed there.13 In addition to the barracks, the British Army also developed facilities such as food stores, water supply and power plants in the vicinity.14

Gillman Barracks
Gillman Barracks was established in 1936 by the British military in the Alexandra area between Telok Blangah Road and the western end of Mount Faber. The barracks was initially meant to serve as the new army headquarters of a second battalion of infantry due to be stationed in Singapore. It was named after General Webb Gillman, who had led a commission to study the island’s defences in 1927.15

The Middlesex Regiment arrived on 1 April 1936 to occupy the barracks.16 Three months, in July, a combined services athletic team championship was held at the barracks, which was equipped with its own swimming pool.17 Alexandra School, located at the barracks, was officially opened in 1939 and attended mainly by the children of military families from the surrounding areas as well as some students from civilian families.18 In 1948, the barracks became home to the Royal Engineers of the Far East Land Forces.19

Following the British military withdrawal from Singapore in 1971, the barracks was symbolically “sold” to the Singapore government for a token sum of S$1 and subsequently used by the Ministry of Defence to house various Singapore Armed Forces units.20 The barracks was renamed Gillman Village in 1996 and repurposed as an area for bars and restaurants.21 The site was then redeveloped and opened in 2012 as Gillman Barracks, a contemporary art destination then housing 13 galleries from 10 countries.22 

Alexandra Hospital
Although there was already a military hospital at the Tanglin Barracks, the build-up of troops in Singapore in the 1930s called for the development of a larger hospital to accommodate the needs of the growing garrison. Thus the British Military Hospital was constructed on a plot of land in Alexandra near the present-day Ayer Rajah Expressway. Opened in July 1940, the hospital was described by the press at the time as “the most up-to-date and one of the largest military hospitals outside Great Britain”.23 During the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942, the hospital was the site of a massacre that claimed the lives of many staff and patients.24 When the British military left Singapore in 1971, the hospital was renamed Alexandra Hospital and converted into a civilian hospital.25

Alexandra Park
Located near Alexandra Barracks and Alexandra Hospital, Alexandra Park was a colonial residential estate for British military staff and their families. Although most houses in the estate were completed between 1935 and 1940, there were several that were built much earlier.26 For example, the house named Bukit Damai was constructed in 1906 for the commanding officer of the Alexandra Barracks.27 Subsequently, a number of houses were built for senior staff of the Royal Army Medical Corps who were stationed at the British Military Hospital.28 After the British military withdrawal, some of the houses in Alexandra Park were converted into hostels for nurses and doctors, or rented out to senior doctors working in Alexandra Hospital.29

Besides the British military installations, there were also kampong (villages) and plantations in the Alexandra area. Medic Will Brand, who worked in the Alexandra Military Hospital in the early 1940s, recalled the existence of rubber, coconut and papaya plantations in the area, as well as kampong predominantly occupied by Chinese families but with some Malays and Indians.30 A former Alexandra resident, Tan Kim Ock, remembered many attap houses in the area during the 1930s. He also recounted that the people who lived there mainly worked as boatmen, lorry drivers or small-scale farmers.31

As early as 1926, the colonial government began to develop the Alexandra Road area by acquiring 750 ac for improvements and extensions to the town. Part of this land was later acquired by the military for the construction of barracks and a military stores depot.32

In 1959, Alexandra was one of several areas included in the Singapore Improvement Trust’s building programme to create homes for the masses.33 In 1961, the SIT announced plans to build one-room flats in the Alexandra estate to cater to people in the lower-income group.34 A new public housing estate was also constructed on Alexandra Hill, which included a market, shopping area, school, carparks and playground.35 In the 1970s, Kampung Alexandra, a piece of land bounded by Jalan Bukit Merah and Alexandra Road, was developed into a housing and industrial site by the Housing and Development Board.36

The 1980s saw the development of Gillman Heights, a middle-income housing estate developed by the Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) on a site bounded by Alexandra and Depot roads. Completed in 1985, the estate comprised 244 apartments and 152 maisonettes.37 Half of the apartments were set aside for expatriate staff of the National University of Singapore.38 In 2007, the HUDC estate was sold to CapitaLand and a condominium known as The Interlace now occupies the site.39

Another prominent private housing project in the area is The Anchorage, launched in 1994. Built on the site of the former Anchor Brewery, this was the first condominium project managed by Centrepoint Properties.40

Industrial and commercial buildings
Industrial buildings began to spring up in Alexandra from the 1930s onwards. One of the earliest was Malayan Breweries, the first modern brewery in Singapore when it opened in 1932.41 This brewery was situated behind Alexandra Brickworks, west of Alexandra Road.42 Also known as the Tiger brewery for its main product,43 the brewery was later relocated and the site sold in 1990.44 On the site now stand an industrial park and the Alexandra Point commercial building.45
In 1933, Archipelago Brewery Company (ABC) opened Singapore’s second brewery, which was also situated along Alexandra Road.46 Its main brew was Anchor beer and thus the factory was known as Anchor Brewery.47 The brewmaster’s office, a two-storey Arts and Crafts-style bungalow, was gazetted for conservation in 1993.48

The choice of Alexandra for these breweries was strategic as the area was close to the breweries’ main clientele: the British military personnel stationed at Alexandra, Ayer Rajah and Tanglin.49

Certain areas in Alexandra were zoned for industrial use from 1948 onwards.50 Industrialisation escalated in the 1960s with the government announcing plans to set up small industrial estates in areas such as Alexandra.51 The Alexandra industrial estate attracted companies like Mizarahie and Co Ltd, the first pharmaceutical company to set up a manufacturing plant in Singapore.52  German camera manufacturer Rollei also set up its office on Alexandra Road.53

In 1978, work started on Alexandra Village, Singapore’s first motor repair “village”. Built on the site of a former kampong once frequented by British servicemen, the redeveloped village had workshops and shophouses selling motor accessories as well as three- and four-room flats, eating houses and food stalls for residents and workers.54

It was also in the 1970s that the first modern shopping centre, Queensway Shopping Centre, was built in Alexandra. Located at the junction of Queensway and Alexandra Road, the complex comprised shopping arcades, office space, a basement carpark and an apartment tower.55

In 1995, Swedish furniture giant Ikea opened its flagship store and warehouse diagonally opposite Queensway Shopping Centre. It targeted customers living in the nearby public housing estates.56 More recent commercial buildings include Alexandra Central, a mixed-use development; and Alexandra Precinct, a business hub that includes Alexandra Retail Centre and the PSA Building.57

Alexandra Arch
The 80-metre-long Alexandra Arch pedestrian bridge across Alexandra Road opened on 10 May 1998. The bridge is a part of the Southern Ridges chain of greenery consisting of three large hill parks: Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill and Kent Ridge Park.58

Stephanie Ho

1. Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd., Singapore Island & City Map ([Hong Kong]: Periplus Editions, 2009). (Call no. RSING 912.5957 PER)
2. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 14 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); “News of the Week,” Straits Times, 19 November 1864, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. New Towns Working Party Singapore, Queenstown, Singapore: Final Report of the New Towns Working Party on the Plan for Queenstown (Singapore: New Towns Working Party, 1958), 9 (Call no. RCLOS 711.4095951 SIN); Singapore. Parliament, White Paper on the Report of the Electoral Boundaries Delineation Committee on the Review of the Boundaries of the Present Fifty-One Parliament Electoral Divisions (Singapore: Parliament, 1967), ii, 4. (Call no. RSING 324.5957 SIN)
4. Singapore. Parliament, White Paper on the Report of the Electoral Boundaries, 11, 4; “8 Seats More for Assembly after Polls,” Straits Times, 1 November 1967, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Former Minister Prof Wong, 51, Dies,” Straits Times, 17 February 1983, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Richard Ho, “MP Tan Gets Down to Work,” New Nation, 28 December 1976, 4 (From NewspaperSG). See also results for parliamentary elections in 1980 and 1984: “Parliamentary Elections Results,” Elections Department Singapore, accessed 19 May 2016.
7. Loh Hui Yin, “Why Boundaries Have to Be Redrawn,” Business Times, 15 June 1988, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Elections Department Singapore, White Paper on the Report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, 2015,” 24 July 2015, 14. (cmd 7 of 2015)
9. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Queenstown Planning Area: Planning Report 1994 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1994), 4 (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN); Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area: Planning Report 1993 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1993), 4. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
10. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 14.
11. Tommy Koh, et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, 2006), 27. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
12. “The Third Brahmans,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 January 1911, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “The Mutiny,” Straits Times, 3 March 1915, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 14.
14. Jeff Partridge, Alexandra Hospital: From British Military to Civilian Institution 1938–1998 (Singapore: Alexandra Hospital, 1998), 18. (Call no. RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
15. “New Army Headquarters in Singapore,” Straits Times, 2 June 1935, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Vision,” Gillman Barracks, 2016.  
16. “Second Infantry Regiment in Their New Home,” Straits Times, 1 April 1936, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Services’ Championship Meeting,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 July 1936, 7; “Good Performances at Command Aquatics,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 31 August 1938, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “General Opens New Garrison School,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 6 January 1939, 3; “School Spots at Gillman,” Straits Times, 3 August 1939, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Barracks ‘Sold’ to Singapore Govt for a Dollar,” Straits Times, 21 August 1971, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Barracks ‘Sold’ to Singapore Govt for a Dollar”; Lee Han Shih, “Gillman Site Worth More Than $1B if Condos Are Built,” Business Times, 26 October 1993, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Lim Wei Chean, “Sleepy Nook Now a Quiet, Little Bohemia,” Straits Times, 1 April 2006, 13. (From NewspaperSG.)
22. “Contemporary Art Destination Officially Opens,” New Paper, 15 September 2012, 8–9. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Partridge, Alexandra Hospital, 20; “New Military Hospital Now Open,” Straits Times, 28 July 1940, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “‘Japanese Massacred 400 in Singapore Hospital’,” Straits Times, 17 July 1984, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Partridge, Alexandra Hospital, 100; “Ministry Takes Over Army Hospital,” Straits Times, 31 August 1971, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Editions, 1988), 317. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
27. Julian Davison, Black and White: The Singapore House, 1898–1941 (Singapore: Talisman, 2006), 133. (Call no. RSING q728.37095957 DAV)
28. Davison, Black and White, 123; Partridge, Alexandra Hospital, 22.
29. Dolly Lee, oral history interview by Patricia Lee, 30 October 2001, transcript and MP3 audio 28:45, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 002574), 81–83.
30. Partridge, Alexandra Hospital, 28–29, 36.
31. Tan Kim Ock, oral history interview with Tan Beng Luan, 25 January 1983, transcript and MP3 audio 27:44, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 00247), 6.
32. “Renovating Singapore,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 October 1926, 11 (From NewspaperSG); New Towns Working Party Singapore, Queenstown, Singapore, 9.
33. “Homes for the People,” Straits Times, 19 September 1959, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “$20 One-Room Flats to House 20,000 People,” Straits Times, 25 March 1961, p. 4. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “$7M. Skyscraper Estate Goes Up on Hill-Top,” Singapore Free Press, 2 October 1961, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “New HDB Estate at Kampung Alexandra,” Straits Times, 17 September 1975, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “This Is Phase Three,” New Nation, 9 July 1979, 1; Seah Mei Kiang, “Gillman Heights Flats Will Be ready by the End of the Year,” Singapore Monitor, 29 August 1984, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Varsity Expats Shift to Gillman,” Straits Times, 23 May 1985, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Tan Hui Leng, “The Interlace Replaces Gillman Heights,” Today, 5 September 2009, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Sylvia Wong, “Condo Expected to Help Double Centrepoint Profit,” Business Times, 21 December 1993, 21; Sylvia Wong, “Centrepoint Nets $375M with 80pc of the Anchorage Sold,” Business Times, 10 March 1994, 2. (From NewspaperSG) 
41. “A New Industry for Malaya,” Straits Times, 5 April 1932, 7; “A Wonderful Achievement,” Straits Times, 30 September 1932, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Two Breweries for Singapore,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 2 January 1932, 22. (From NewspaperSG) 
43. “Free Beer!” Straits Times, 3 October 1932, 6. (From NewspaperSG) 
44. Conrad Raj, “Asia-Pacific Breweries to Sell Alexandra Road Sites,” Business Times, 3 July 1990, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
45. Magdalene Ng, “F&N Group Plans Corporate Headquarters at Alexandra Site,” Business Times, 3 February 1990, 4; “F&N Industrial Park Expected to Fetch $35M in Rentals a Year,” Straits Times, 25 October 1991, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
46. “Million Dollar Brewery Opened Today,” Straits Times, 4 November 1933, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
47. “Tiger’s Rival,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 6 Novemebr 1933, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
48. “Alexandra Road No. 366,” Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore, accessed 19 May 2016.
49. “Alexandra,” Singapore Monitor, 6 January 1985, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
50. New Towns Working Party Singapore, Queenstown, Singapore, 18.
51. “$45M Industrial Town Plan for S’pore,” Straits Times, 4 July 1960, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
52. Anthony Oei, “New Plant for Singapore,” Straits Times, 16 June 1961, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
53. “Locally-Made Cameras for World Mart,” New Nation, 22 April 1972, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
54. “Alexandra to Get First Motor Repair ‘Village’,” Straits Times, 22 November 1978, 24. (From NewspaperSG); Partridge, Alexandra Hospital, 36.
55. Mok Sin Pin, “New Landmark in Alexandra,” Straits Times, 10 January 1972, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
56. “Ikea Targets Market in HDB Heartland,” Straits Times, 23 August 1995, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
57. “Alexandra Precint,” MapleTree Investments Pte Ltd, accessed 16 June 2016; “Alexandra Central,” Alexandra Central, accessed 16 June 2016.
58. Teo Cheng Wee, “Two New Bridges = 9 km Scenic Walk,” Straits Times, 11 May 2008, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 20 June 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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