British government bungalows
There were several British Government bungalows built in the 19th and early 20th centuries for use by colonial officials in Singapore. The bungalows were rustic and located in the rural areas of Singapore. Providing bungalows for government officials' recreation has continued into present day Singapore; now there are holiday bungalows that could be rented out by civil servants. Both Government and holiday bungalows have been providing relief from the fast-paced urban life, the tranquility further enhanced by the proximity of these bungalows to nature.
Government bungalows in colonial Singapore symbolised the island's inhabitants trend of escaping into the country as economic and urban development intensified in the later half of the 19th century. By 1890, there were three Government bungalows built at the public expense; the Changi Bungalow, the Bukit Timah Bungalow and the Seletar Bungalow. Then, according to some, the Changi Bungalow was the best as it faced the sea and was about 15 miles from the Johnston's Pier by road. The Bukit Timah Bungalow was built at the summit of Bukit Timah, seven-and-a-half miles from the Pier, while the Seletar Bungalow was set in the thick forest, nine miles from the Pier. Priority to use the bungalows was given first to Government Officers (i.e. European Officers) followed my Military Officers and then private individuals.
In early Singapore, the Government built these bungalows for the East India Company officials. These were necessary as travelling through the island was slow and difficult. The bungalows were used by officials on duty in rural districts though they were also opened to others.
Apart from bungalows owned by the Government, there were others that belonged to private individuals who let out their premises to residents and others wishing to enjoy a brief period of country life. By 1868, these resorts or sanitaria numbered 14 in the island's directory, including those in Dunman Ville (Tanjong Katong).
The Government and the private bungalows were usually furnished and were rented out for about $25 to $30 a month. The Seletar Bungalow though because of its inferior location and surrounding was let out at a cheaper rate, $12.50 per month. However, some viewed the Seletar Bungalow as the finest because it had a good swimming bath attached to it. These bungalows became a fashionable place for picnic parties for the Europeans.
The Seletar Bungalow
One of the finest Government bungalows was at Seletar, situated deep in the old forest. The road to the bungalow was shady, flanked by lofty trees with fat trunks and branches reaching 40 m above. The bungalow was a simple wooden structure with an attap roof. Impenetrable forest stood about 45 m behind the bungalow, and out of it a stream gushed out clear cold water that passed the back of the bungalow. This became a favourite bathing place and picnic spot. The attap roof stretched over part of the water to shield the bathers and picnickers from the sun. The surrounding forest provided a rich source of wildlife. In the 1860s, animals like hogs, deer, crocodiles, pythons and even tigers roamed the thick forest. By the 1920s, the rubber boom that led to the clearing of much of the island's interior had wiped out this pristine scenery. The tall shady trees had given way to rows of very tired-looking rubber trees.
The Changi Bungalow
By the 20th century, there were two holiday bungalows for Government officers at Changi. An old resident, Marjorie Binnie, recalled the soothing times staying at the Changi bungalow in the early 20th century:
It was an adventure to cross the Island on Sunday, picnicking at the Woodlands or crossing over to Johore Bahru. Expeditions to one of the seaside Government bungalows were very popular. Changi, the loveliest, with its garden to the sea, the traveller palms and shady trees, was often filled to overflowing and lucky the tenant staying there for a fortnight or longer, for it seemed the most perfect journey's end in those days. To escape from the turmoil&to this shady verandah, these lofty cool rooms, looking over calm waters to green islands, was indeed journey's end.
Other government bungalows or rest houses that had emerged by first the two decades of the 20th century were Ponggol, Tanah Merah (a few brown wooden bungalows standing on almost a cliff), and Pasir Ris which faced Pulau Ubin and allowed for crocodile shooting, wild-pig hunts and fishing.
In the tradition of the British colonial government, the Singapore Government also provides recreational or holiday bungalows for civil servants. The first holiday bungalows were built in 1963 at Changi. The target was holidaying civil servants and the objective was to provide basic leisure amenities as a form of employment benefit.
As holiday bungalows were few at that time, they caught on very well with civil servants. More bungalows were built at Changi and Loyang. In the 1980s, the private sector joined in the business of providing holiday bungalows. This together with the rising affluence of Singaporeans, which in turn spurred the trend of holidaying overseas, caused the demand for government holiday bungalows to dwindle. In the 1990s, the occupancy rate for these bungalows was 60-65%, a 20% drop from that in the 1970s.
The government holiday premises range from bungalows and chalets to modern apartments, mostly in Singapore, with a few units in Malaysia. Since the main target is for holidaying civil servants, the rental rate is cheaper for them compared to non-civil servants.
Marsita Omar & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman
Falconer, J. (1987). A vision of the past: A history of early photography in Singapore and Malaya. The photographs of G.R. Lambert & Co., 1880-1910 (p. 176). Singapore: Times Edition.
(Call no.: SING 779.995957 FAL).
Liu, G. (Ed.). (1987). Nineteenth century prints of Singapore (pp. 70, 89, 91). Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 769.4995957 TEO).
Makepeace, W., Brooke, G.E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 514-515). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)
Shennan, M. (2000). Out in the midday sun: The British in Malaya 1880-1960 (pp. 57-58). London: John Murray.
(Call no.: RSING 959.500421 SHE)
Singh, A. R. (1995). A journey through Singapore (pp. 90-92). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959 57 REE).
National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN), Malaysia. (1998). A walk through the files. Retrieved June 7, 2005, from dls.intan.my/accsm/a_walk_through_the_files.htm
National Library Board. (2003). First impressions matter. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from www.nlb.gov.sg
List of images
Falconer, J. (1987). A vision of the past: A history of early photography in Singapore and Malaya. The photographs of G.R. Lambert & Co., 1880-1910 (p. 98). Singapore: Times Edition. (Call no.: SING 779.995957 FAL)
The information in this article is valid as at 2005 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.