Friday 19 September 2014

The Forgotten Reservoir: Keppel Hill Reservoir

'Lost' reservoir historically significant: NHB
Much can be gleaned from materials and methods used
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 18 Sep 2014

AN ABANDONED man-made reservoir that dates back more than 100 years has been uncovered by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

Located off Telok Blangah Road and near Mount Faber, it was part of the Tanjong Pagar Dock but is not demarcated in the modern maps of Singapore.

However, while doing a study on the topographical changes in Singapore over the past 100 years, a team from the board discovered the reservoir, nestled in a densely forested area.

"We were poring over old maps of the area and saw a body of water marked out on them,'' said Dr John Kwok, 36, assistant director of research at NHB.

Following the discovery in February, Dr Kwok and four researchers spent another four months going through old maps and documents to piece together the story of the forgotten reservoir, which is about one-third the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The researchers found it was one of three small reservoirs that used to be in the area, based on a 1924 map by the former Singapore Harbour Board.

It most likely served residents of a nearby settlement. Later, it was used as a swimming pool, based on pre-war and post-war maps. Remnants of a diving board and a bathing area still stand today.

The place, which used to be referred to as Keppel Hill reservoir, made the news in 1936 and 1948 when two soldiers and a boy drowned in two separate incidents after taking a dip.

An oasis of calm amid one of the world's busiest ports, a busy bus interchange and dense residential estates, the site still has a functioning water filtration system that uses different rock types to remove sediment. There are a total of six filter beds. It also has a dam on its southern end.

The board said the land the reservoir sits on is zoned as park land.

Singapore has 17 reservoirs which are managed by the PUB.

Meanwhile, the NHB said the discovery is historically significant because of the building materials and methods used.

The bricks used to build the reservoir show the body of water was constantly in use, said Mr Alvin Tan, 42, its group director of policy. Some were handmade and dated back to the colonial period.

Mr Tan advised people to be careful about exploring the place as its terrain is slippery and overgrown with heavy foliage. He said guided tours may be organised if there is demand.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said the reservoir and its surrounding mature secondary forest are worth documenting for a closer look at the biodiversity.

"It's a nice, isolated habitat with a lot of vegetation and sufficient shade - pre-requisites for small wildlife such as birds, frogs and aquatic insects to thrive."

Abandoned reservoir near Telok Blangah Road found
By Tan Shi Wei, TODAY, 18 Sep 2014

Once a reservoir that served the Tanjong Pagar Dock in 1905, it was later abandoned and vanished from contemporary maps of Singapore — until a group of National Heritage Board (NHB) researchers stumbled upon it while poring over old maps during a routine research on the island’s history in February.

“‘How did we not know about the reservoir’ was the first thing that came to our minds.” said Dr John Kwok, assistant director (research) of NHB’s impact assessment and mitigation division.

Their curiosity sparked, the five-member research team, headed by Dr Kwok, 36, began comparing maps from different periods to piece the picture together.

“It was a long and gruelling process, as most research are,” said Dr Kwok, during a media visit to the reservoir today (Sept 17). “We had to go through a lot of records and pretty much camped in the archive room to look at them over and over again.”

Through their research, the team found that the reservoir — which is at least 2m-deep — was a water source for Tanjong Pagar Dock back in 1905. Subsequently, maps dating to the Japanese Occupation marked the water body as a swimming pool, although a map and report from a British aerial inspection in 1944 called it a reservoir.

In the intervening years, one newspaper report in 1948 referred to it as Keppel Hill Reservoir, but in the first Urban Redevelopment Authority Masterplan in 1958, it was simply an outline, without a caption. In the 1980s, maps only showed an outline, and by around 2000, it had entirely disappeared from maps.

“It was forgotten because it was a private reservoir and through time, we think that it changed owners and was subsequently abandoned as there was no use for it as a reservoir or a swimming pool.” Dr Kwok said.

Responding to media queries, the PUB said it was recently informed of the existence of the reservoir, and also visited the site with the NHB. “PUB understands that the site may have started out as a private pond used to collect rain water under the then Singapore Harbour Board. Given its relatively small size, it is not viable for tapping on as a reliable water supply source,” a spokesperson said.

Calling the finding “the first of its kind”, Dr Kwok said it was luck that enabled them to locate it so quickly. “We were ecstatic when we had found the site and spent some time there, climbing around,” he said, adding that the team were shocked at how well-preserved it was. The rusted hinges of an old diving board alongside the mould-ridden chute spillway of the dam spotted on site supported their research findings. The team trekked down the overgrown terrain— 400m off Telok Blangah Road — four more times to document the place. The site is not fenced off, although an old and battered sign hanging from a tree cautioned visitors not to swim or fish in the reservoir.

The discovery and history of the reservoir has been made into a nearly eight-minute long documentary called Forgotten Reservoir, which can be viewed on the NHB website from tomorrow.

Asked about the future of the reservoir, NHB’s Group Director (Policy) Alvin Tan said the land has been zoned for park use and he did not foresee any developments. “We would advise members of the public with children, elderly and those with certain handicaps to avoid to coming to the site itself, because it is inaccessible due to the dense jungle grove and possibly slippery roads.” he said, adding that they might look into organising guided tours.

The board would also like to encourage those who have more information about the reservoir to email them

Forgotten reservoir back in public eye
Tomb hunter who stumbled on it in 2005 engaged to conduct free tours
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2014

"GHOST hunter" Charles Goh was trying to find the tomb of a Japanese naval officer at Mount Faber in 2005 when he stumbled on a century-old body of water that had vanished from the maps of modern Singapore.

Not that he knew it then.

"I was seeking out rarely explored, historical and haunted places to take tour groups to," said Mr Goh, 46, a specialised tour guide and co-founder of Asia Paranormal Investigators.

He thought it was a swimming pool, going by the remains of a diving board, and left it to continue his hunt for the 1943 tomb.

Separately, a team of National Heritage Board (NHB) researchers doing a topographical study of Singapore earlier this year spotted the reservoir in a 1905 Tanjong Pagar Dock Arbitration map.

Consulting other maps, they noticed how cartographers and planners later labelled it as a swimming pool in 1938. By 1958, just the contours of the water body were demarcated. In 2000, it was not even on the map.

This intrigued NHB assistant researcher John Kwok, 36. After ploughing through more than 50 maps and old newspaper articles, he headed to densely forested Mount Faber, past 350 Telok Blangah Road, to try to find it.

"I felt a rush after finding the reservoir which had long been forgotten by most people here and was not part of the public domain of information," he said.

The team then put together a documentary on the forgotten Keppel Hill Reservoir, which is about one-third the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool and about 2m deep.

Since its launch on the board's site last Thursday, the documentary has been viewed more than 45,000 times. NHB's other YouTube videos usually get a thousand or so views on average.

The team's findings will be provided to Mr Goh, whom NHB has engaged to conduct free one- hour tours of the reservoir.

Members of the public can follow NHB's Facebook page to receive updates on tour dates. NHB said it has started sharing its findings with other government agencies, including the Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Parks Board and Singapore Land Authority. The land the reservoir sits on is zoned as park land.

Shopkeepers near the abandoned Keppel Hill Reservoir said dozens of people have visited the area since news of the discovery broke last week. The Straits Times saw signs of increased traffic when it visited the place yesterday. Litter was strewn around the site, and some tree branches had been hacked away.

Said Mr Kwok: "It's a beautiful, wonderful and peaceful pocket of space in Singapore... We urge the public to stay safe if they choose to explore the area and not to upset nature's balance."

He sneaked out for a dip in pool when his grandfather was caretaker
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2014

WHENEVER his caretaker grandfather took an afternoon nap, a young Sulaiman Bakar would sneak out of their attap house, down a dirt path and through a drain, for a dip with friends in a pool, known by some as Keppel Hill Reservoir.

The retired marine engine driver, now 69, described it as his personal playground. "We kampung boys would dive into the pool, climb onto the rafts left behind by the British and spend hours swimming, fishing and birdspotting."

He shared his stories after reading news reports published last week, about the discovery of the abandoned reservoir.

He told The Straits Times that his grandfather had been hired by the Singapore Harbour Board to look after the maintenance of about 20 colonial bungalows in the area. By the 1950s, his father, Mr Bakar Marjani, 94, and his uncle took over as caretakers, each earning about $7 a week.

The family lived at 9B Keppel Hill and were part of the Bukit Nong kampung, which had just 20 residents in all.

NHB said Mr Sulaiman's account represents a repository of memories spanning three generations. "This is a good example of how crowd-sourcing can encourage community participation and enrich NHB's historical research," said group director of policy Alvin Tan.

1 comment:

  1. just saw this post.
    This pool of water was a delight to the boys from Morse Road. Many lived in the nearby housing estate. The residents were known as Morse Road Residents. The men worked in the then S'pore Harbour Board as port workers. This was our swimming hole and we spent hours of fun in it. It was well kept then, though we did not even find out who took care of it. We just had our time off here in the midst of the hill and the quietness all around. Not many people came except for the swimmers. we used to wash ourselves after swimming in the algae rich water at a spring. This spring provided water, clean enough for washing. we dared not drink from it. It was a fact amongst the swimmers.
    But now looking at this place, it is truly unrecognisable. we stopped swimming because someone released all the water. I think the sluice gates were left open so that any water was not retained. our swimming days came to an end.
    i think someone drowned there.