Sleepy neighbourhood in Telok Blangah area wakes up to curious find

Despite being just a stone’s throw from HarbourFront and VivoCity, an air of sleepy tranquillity hangs over the Wishart Road neighbourhood.

Few people, apart from regulars, step into the area, home to the likes of Shipmart, a store which sells concoctions such as crocodile oil for the skin, San Laksa Steamboat, ReEvolution bike shop and coffee shop Lakshmi Vilas.

Bounded by Henderson Road and Telok Blangah Road, and sitting in between Mount Faber and Labrador Nature Reserve, the estate takes about 15 minutes for you to walk through it.

It also houses offices, places of worship, landed homes and The Foresta at Mount Faber condominium.

This serene area has had more people trickling in though, since it was reported last month that the National Heritage Board (NHB) had rediscovered a 2m-deep, century-old reservoir off Wishart Road.

Mr Gowtham Manoharan, 25, third-generation owner of Lakshmi Vilas Restaurant at Block 16, Morse Road, said he had been approached by about 15 curious visitors who were hoping to see the mysterious, emerald green body of water for themselves.

“They came here with their cameras to seek out an adventure of their own,” he said.

Called Keppel Hill Reservoir, it first appeared in a 1905 Tanjong Pagar Dock Arbitration map.

Based on a 1924 Singapore Harbour Board map, it was the largest of three reservoirs in the area and most likely served residents of a nearby settlement. Later, it was used as a swimming pool.

There has been keen public interest in the forgotten reservoir – an NHB documentary on it has got almost 60,000 views since its launch on Sept 16.

The board will also be conducting eight tours of the area on Oct 18 and 25.

But some, such as architect Chang Yong Ter, 45, who has a studio in Wishart Road, said the reservoir’s surroundings are also worthy of a closer look and study.

For instance, Block 16, Morse Road is one of 16 two-storey blocks that used to stand in the area.

They had served as the living quarters for staff of the former Port of Singapore Authority, said Mr Chang. Now, Block 16 is the only one left standing.

He added: “I’ve heard stories of how it used to be a very lively neighbourhood, with pullcarts selling noodles often going by.

“It also used to be a popular hang-out for children and teenagers from the Telok Blangah and Pasir Panjang region to come and play.”

Up till the 1970s, Wishart Road was a self-sufficient community, recalled retired marine engine driver Sulaiman Bakar, 69, grandson of the reservoir’s caretaker.

Mr Sulaiman’s grandfather had been employed by the former Singapore Harbour Board to look after the maintenance of about 20 colonial bungalows in the area.

The development of an affluent neighbourhood meant jobs for Singaporeans, who were hired as gardeners, cooks and servants, said Dr John Kwok, assistant director of research at NHB.

Mr Sulaiman also remembers a police station and a market at the end of Morse Road. The market is marked out on the 1924 map.

The area was named after Mr Charles Wishart, who had come to Singapore in 1860 and worked as manager of New Harbour Dock.

Some accounts described him as a “great character” – he was reportedly a man of big stature who supervised work at the dock round the clock, with a big umbrella in hand.

But as Singapore began its fight for independence, the British residents there started leaving and the Singaporeans who had set up home there also began moving out of the area, said Dr Kwok.

The 1970s to the early 1980s marked a new chapter for the place when churches such as Pasir Panjang Tamil Methodist Church as well as a branch of the Singapore Soka Association, a Japanese Buddhist group, moved in.

The Tamil church, which has 163 worshippers today, is one of three Methodist churches in the area, along with Grace Methodist Church and the second branch of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.

The Christian Community Chapel is also located there.

Being in close proximity to its sister churches is a perk because it allows them to share resources, said Reverend Isaac Raju, 52, of the Tamil church.

Pastors sometimes preach and conduct Bible studies across the different church congregations, he said.

Worshippers bring life to the neighbourhood on weekends, said Rev Isaac. He added: “We really treasure the serenity and quietness of Wishart Road.”

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