McNair Road

Singapore Infopedia


McNair Road is a short stretch of road that lies adjacent to Towner Road, and is accessible via Balestier Road and Serangoon Road. It was named after Major John Federick Adolphus McNair (1828–1910),Singapore’s first Colonial Engineer.

McNair was responsible for the supervision of the construction of Government House (now known as the Istana),the original part of Empress Place Building4 and was also involved in the building of St Andrew’s Cathedral.5

In addition, he was a pioneer in prison management in Singapore.6 He also served as a Comptroller of Convicts between 1857 and 18777 and wrote a book Prisoners Their Own Warders in 1899.8 Outram Prison, which was established on 6 February 1847, was further extended in 1879 with design inputs by McNair.9 It remained Singapore’s largest prison facility until 1936, when Changi Prison was built.10 

Key features
Townerville, an estate with six blocks of 84 two-storey terrace houses, is a prominent landmark along McNair Road. The houses, bounded by McNair Road, Towner Road and May Road, were built in the early 1920s and were once used as government quarters. The houses feature a mix of Chinese, Malay and European architectural styles. 24 units on McNair Road feature an European architectural style with arched entrances; behind them are 26 units with Malay-style pitched roofs and rows of louvre vents; and at the junction of Towner and May Roads are 34 units with Chinese architectural features of low parapet walls and unique column heads. Due to its unique architectural mix, the houses were preserved and restored by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for $12.4 million in 1990. This was URA’s first residential restoration project. The houses were put up for sale and received nearly 1,000 bids. They were eventually sold to Ng Teng Fong’s Far East Organisation for $39 million.11

McNair Road was also previously home to several schools, such as McNair School, Balestier Girls’ School, Balestier Boys’ School and Whampoa School in the 1960s; and McNair Vocational Institution, Balestier Primary School and Towner Primary School in the 1980s.12

Makeswary Periasamy

1. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 252. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
2. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 282. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
3. G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 32. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
4. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 24–25, 32.
5. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 252.
6. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 282.
7. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 208.
8. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 282.
9. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 85.
10. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 85.
11. “Back to the Past for McNair Road,” New Paper, 16 January 1990, 10; Angeline Song, “Townerville Is Up for Sale,” New Paper, 29 March 1990, 9. Lee Han Shih, “Townerville Goes to Far East Group,” Business Times, 8 June 1990, 2; “Unique Features Retained,” Straits Times, 24 November 2001, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
12. One Historical Map, One Historical Map, map, n.d.

The information in this article is valid as at April 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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