‘Forgotten’ reservoir discovered near Mount Faber

Jessica Yeo and Tan Shi Wei Channel NewsAsia 17 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: The National Heritage Board (NHB) has uncovered a “forgotten” reservoir near Mount Faber that dates back to more than a century ago.

The size of three badminton courts, the water body which survived two World Wars is located on land zoned for park use, less than 400m away from Telok Blangah Road.

NHB chanced upon the oval-shaped reservoir while researching on the history about the island, cross-referencing modern and historical maps.

Further research showed that it was first mentioned as a private reservoir that was used as a water source for the Tanjong Pagar Dockyard and subsequently mentioned as a swimming pool during the Japanese Occupation. By the year 2000, the image of the water source completely disappeared from local maps.

A group of five NHB researchers made a total of five site visits starting this February, and found features of a reservoir including chute spillways of a dam, filter beds that supported their previous inferences.

Dr John Kwok, 36, assistant director of research at NHB’s impact assessment and mitigation division, who headed the research team, said that the water source was subsequently not marked on the maps as it was not a municipal reservoir.

"The reservoir was built sometime in 1905 and we know that because of the colonial bricks that we found on the reservoir wall. But once we advanced to another part of the reservoir, we found that the bricks were from a different time period. So it showed this reservoir was in constant use for a long period of time," he said. “It was forgotten because it was a private reservoir and through time, we think that it changed owners and subsequently abandoned as there was no use for it as a reservoir or a swimming pool.”

The reservoir was discovered by a group of NHB researchers who were looking at old maps of Singapore to trace the country's developments. Said Mr Alvin Tan, Group Director (Policy) for NHB: "Our research team was looking at maps from the early days all the way until Independence and they noticed a discrepancy, that there was a body of water in the older maps that actually disappeared when they looked at the maps in the 1980s. Because of that we actually came down on a few recce visits, bashed through the dense jungle vegetation and eventually located the reservoir."

In light of the new discovery, NHB has made a documentary on the forgotten reservoir and the almost eight minute long clip will be live on the NHB website on Thursday (Sep 18).

However, NHB would like to discourage the public, especially families with young children and elderly, from making their way to the reservoir on their own due to the “challenging terrain”.

Those with more information about this “forgotten” reservoir can send their feedback to NHB_feedback@nhb.gov.sg .

- CNA/TODAY/cy/xy

Abandoned reservoir near Telok Blangah Road found
Tan Shi Wei Today Online 17 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — 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 at nhb_feedback@nhb.gov.sg.

Forgotten reservoir found by Heritage Board
Melody Zaccheus My Paper AsiaOne 18 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE - An abandoned reservoir that dates back to 1905 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 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 of the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

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

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 which 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 showed that the body of water was constantly in use, said Alvin Tan, 42, its group director of policy. Some were handmade and date back to the colonial period.

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

Nature Society's (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said the reservoir, together with its surrounding mature secondary forest, is 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."