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Abandoned reservoir near Telok Blangah Road found

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.

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 [at] nhb.gov.sg.

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