Connecting Dots Across Asia's Tech and Urban Landscape
Connecting Dots Across Asia's Tech and Urban Landscape

Singapore River Bridges And The Padang To Be Gazetted As National Monuments

Singapore will welcome two new National Monuments – the Singapore River Bridges (Cavenagh, Anderson and Elgin Bridges) and the Padang. With the upcoming gazettes, the bridges and the Padang will be accorded the highest level of preservation in view of their national significance. The National Heritage Board’s (NHB) intention to gazette the National Monuments was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat last 3 August 2019. The announcement was made to commemorate Singapore’s Bicentennial this year, in light of the significance that the Singapore River Bridges and the Padang have to our growth and development as a nation.

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Cavenagh Bridge, one of the three Singapore River Bridges that will be collectively gazetted. Credit line: Photo courtesy of National Heritage Board

Ms Jean Wee, Director of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments division, NHB, said, “The Padang and the Singapore River Bridges have been pivotal to Singapore’s early years. Cavenagh bridge is the oldest bridge to still span the river. The gazette of Cavenagh, Anderson and Elgin Bridges as an ensemble gives recognition to the technological advancements in early bridge construction. Functionally, they supported Singapore’s expanding trade interests, as well as physically linked the commercial and government quarters. The Padang, an open space in the heart of the civic district, was the de facto town square of sorts. People would gather there for milestone events throughout the course of our nation’s history – witnessing the surrender of the Japanese at City Hall, and responding to the political declarations as they were rallied by founders of our nation. It was really spontaneous public engagement on a mass scale!”

She added, “Today, the Padang continues to be relevant in a broad range of uses. This year’s National Day Parade is very aptly held at the Padang, in commemoration of our Bicentennial, as well as our very first National Day Parade back in 1966. Both these impending gazettes will contribute to the architectural and cultural diversity of our nation’s built heritage, and together with our 72 other National Monuments, preserve and celebrate the many places and stories that define Singapore and our people.”

Significance of the Singapore River Bridges

The Cavenagh, Anderson and Elgin Bridges are the three most historic and architecturally impressive bridges spanning the Singapore River. Collectively, they illustrate Singapore’s growth as a trading port and city. Located at the historic mouth of the Singapore River, the bridges symbolically connected Singapore with the world as they facilitated trade and transport links that were necessary for the growth of Singapore in the 19th century. Together, the bridges eliminated the need for boatmen to ferry passengers across the river by linking the south bank of the river with the north – serving the critical function of connecting the mercantile and commercial side with government offices located on the north bank of the river.

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The Padang in 1966 where the first National Day Parade was held.

Apart from the vital role they played in Singapore’s growth as a trading port and city, the Singapore River Bridges represent the progression of engineering technology in bridge construction from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. From Cavenagh Bridge’s use of cast iron in 1869, to Anderson Bridge’s use of steel in 1909 and the use of reinforced concrete for Elgin Bridge in 1929, the three bridges illustrate the rapid development in new materials, industrial technology and shipping trade. They are also testament to how Singapore was part of the larger, global story of industrial revolution and technological advancement.

The Singapore River Bridges collectively highlight the relationship of trade and collaboration between Great Britain and her colonies. The structures of all three were manufactured in Britain before being shipped to Singapore, and two of the three (i.e., Cavenagh and Anderson) were designed by prominent British engineers in consultation with their counterparts here.

Cavenagh Bridge, Anderson Bridge and Elgin Bridge will be collectively gazetted as a National Monument as they are the most architecturally significant of the bridges along the Singapore River, bear unique ornamental features, and carry greater impact as a group rather than as individual structures. Following their gazette, the bridges will continue to be used for daily business, even as they are protected from future redevelopment. (Please refer to Annex A for more details on the Singapore River Bridges.)

Significance of the Padang

The Padang is one of the oldest open spaces in Singapore for public recreation, and has been a commemorative space for people to gather and participate in witnessing the key milestones of Singapore’s history. Fronting the Former Supreme Court and City Hall building, the Padang is a key landmark in Singapore, with its open green space standing out amidst the builtup colonial buildings immediately ahead of it, and the larger commercial core of the city centre looming to its south-west.

Throughout Singapore’s development, the Padang’s open field has been respected as part of the urban setting. It is bordered by several National Monuments – the Cenotaph, Lim Bo Seng Memorial, Tan Kim Seng fountain on one side, flanked by the Former City Hall and Former Supreme Court on the other, and has the Civilian War Memorial and Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall across the road at either end respectively.

The Padang has borne witness to key events throughout Singapore’s history. It was where significant events during pre- and post-independent Singapore took place, such as the victory parade celebrating the formal surrender of the Japanese in Singapore in 1945; swearing-in of Yusof Ishak as head-of-state in December 1959; announcement of the merger with Malaysia in September 1963; and the first National Day Parade in August 1966. It also hosted dignitaries such as the Prince of Wales and had also been used by the British and Japanese for events in conjunction with the birthdays of Queen Elizabeth II and Emperor Hirohito from 1952 to 1959 and 1942 to 1945 respectively.

In view of its strong national, historical and social significance, the Padang is intended to be gazetted as a National Monument. With this, the character and appearance of the Padang, as a key green area and open space within the city, will be preserved for future generations. The gazette will not change the Padang’s current use, whether for sports and recreation, or as part of national events such as the National Day Parade.

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