National Monuments Of Singapore: The Padang
What is a National Monument? Who gazettes them? How many national monuments are there in Singapore? To date, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division of National Heritage Board, has identified and gazetted 75 buildings, structures and sites of national significance as an integral part of Singapore’s built heritage.
And we're here to tell you all about them - one National Monument at a time!
Here they all are on a Google Map we specially created. Every Wonderwall.sg logo, or "W", indicates a spot where a National Monument of Singapore is located:
You've probably passed by or stepped into more than a few of them without realising they were National Monuments: Al-Abrar Mosque, Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), the Civilian War Memorial, Saint Andrew's Cathedral, the Esplanade Park Memorials, Fort Siloso on Sentosa - no need to plan an itinerary for friends visiting from overseas; just show them this article ✌️
In this edition, we throw the spotlight on an iconic site where the Republic's first National Day Parade was held in 1966: the Padang.
The 75th National Monument is surrounded by other National Monuments, which include Saint Andrew's Cathedral, the Former City Hall, and the Former Supreme Court. The nearest MRT station is City Hall MRT.
📅 Significant dates
- 1820s: The Plain
- 1890: Enlarged to its current size through land reclamation
- 1820s: The Plain
- 1907: The Padang
- 9 Aug 2022
In Munshi Abdullah’s account of the 1819 landing, an “open space” was described where The Arts House presently stands. The open space was recorded as a settlement that included the Temenggong’s house; it may also have been the same “open space” where Sultan Hussein Shah and Stamford Raffles later signed the 1819 treaty.
The open space was subsequently cleared and artificially flattened to meet the needs of the colonial settlement. Raffles intended for the open space to be reserved for public use, but his absence between 1819 and 1822 saw the construction of private houses around the area. In the town plan drawn by Lieutenant Philip Jackson and published in 1828, the Padang was labelled as an open square. This area was also called The Plain or Raffles Plain, and subsequently the Esplanade for some time until 1907 when it became known as the Padang (Malay for “field”).
Around 1890, the Padang was enlarged to twice the original size through reclamation, and a road called New Esplanade Road was constructed between the sea and the field. In 1907, the road was renamed Connaught Drive by the Municipal Council in commemoration of a visit in 1906 by the Duke of Connaught, the brother of King Edward VII. Similarly, St Andrew’s Road on the north side of the field was originally known as Esplanade Road.
IMAGE: NG KAI
A 2.4-metre bronze statue of Sir Stamford Raffles used to stand on the field facing the sea. It was installed on 27 Jun 1887 in celebration of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. The statue was removed from the Padang and relocated to the front of the Victoria Memorial Hall at Empress Place in 1919, when Singapore commemorated the centenary of its founding by Raffles.
The Singapore Recreation Club (left) and Singapore Cricket Club. | IMAGES: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@CDGUZMAN (LEFT) AND @TONY HISGETT
On opposite ends of the Padang are the Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) and the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC). Around the area where the SRC stands was once a small hill that was flattened for the installation of a battery of 12-pounder guns in defence against ship attacks. The site came to be known as Scandal Point, as people congregated there to gossip. Both club houses have been a feature of the Padang for more than a hundred years.
There were suggestions for the redevelopment of the Padang as early as the 1830s, when then-Governor Robert Fullerton contemplated putting the area up for sale to developers. In the 1850s, the centre section of the Padang was considered as a viable site for the relocation of St Andrew’s Cathedral. In the 1930s, the Government proposed turning the Padang into a plaza, but was forced to back down after the public rejected the idea. The Padang has thus remained an open public space.
Singapore's first National Day Parade on 9 Aug 1966
The Republic celebrated its first NDP featuring a massive parade that saw the involvement of some 23,000 men, women and children, according to an article dated 10 Aug 1966 in The Straits Times. Thousands lined the streets to watch the grand affair, which saw Ministers and Members of Parliament turning up in uniform. The march-past took 90 minutes.
The Great Singapore Workout
Find this scene familiar? If you recognise it, chances are you're a Gen-Xer or Millennial. During the Great Singapore Workout in 1993, a crowd of 26,107 participated in a 15-minute workout at the Padang. The workout made it into the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest mass aerobic session held at one location at the time.
In 2003, a brief excavation in a corner of the Padang unearthed treasure. The artefacts recovered from the 14th-century “layer” of earth there included Chinese coins which had been partially melted by heat, and fragments of stone which might have been used in recycling the copper from these coins. Another two digs were carried out at the Padang in 2009 and 2019, respectively.
IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/@TERENCE ONG
📐 Design and architecture
Since the construction of private European houses around its perimeter in the 1820s, the Padang’s surroundings have been marked by distinctly neo-Classical buildings, some of which have since been demolished. These include John A. Maxwell’s house (1827, later renovated and now known as The Arts House), the old Saint Andrew’s Cathedral (1836), the Singapore Cricket Club (1884), the Former City Hall (1929), and the Former Supreme Court (1939).
The Padang used to border on the sea. Successive land reclamations have since pushed the sea line to its present position at Queen Elizabeth Walk. It is presently bordered by Connaught Drive, Saint Andrew’s Road, and Stamford Road. The SCC and SRC sit on opposite ends of the Padang.