When Anglo-Chinese School Commandeered land occupied by the Masonic Hall Board and the Eventual Outc
This paper arose from the discovery of a file named ‘Masonic Hall Building Fund from 1882 to 1948’ lying discarded at the bottom of the cupboard containing the files of the Masonic Hall Board treasurer. This find was rather unexpected as earlier reports made to Lodge St Michael (the record keeper of the District), stated that all the records held in the Masonic Hall had been destroyed at the time of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.
The file contains a collection of various papers. The earliest document being a hand-written letter dated 10 November 1892 from the Land Office requesting J.P Joaquim, as the secretary of the Masonic Hall Board Building Fund, to pick up the new land grant for Masonic Hall.
Apart from the contents of the file relating to this paper, there are a number of other historical documents concerning the Masonic Hall Board Trustees and the land at 23A Coleman Street that warrant further investigation.
The whole episode that is discussed in this paper was not recorded previously in the Masonic history of Singapore and fills in a gap in our history concerning the land utilised by the Masonic Hall in Coleman Street. The research for this paper has also uncovered other areas of research that need to be undertaken in respect of the land and building.
As W Bro EF Mullen wrote in 2002: “A number of papers and articles and papers have been written about Freemasons’ Hall, but a fully comprehensive paper covering the Hall, its predecessors and its own historical nature have yet to be fully recorded”.
On 29th January 1906 the Trustees of the Masonic Hall received a letter from the Singapore Land Office stating: “I am instructed to inform you that the annual permit hither to issued to you since 1893 for a piece of land adjoining the Masonic Hall will not be renewed for 1906 as the land is required for other purposes”.
It was clear that this letter came out of the blue and caused consternation to the freemasons at that time. This paper looks at the circumstances behind the loss of the land and how part of it was eventually recovered.
The Land at Freemasons Hall
First Land Grant 1878
A Land Grant no 797 for 10,000 square feet was made on 27 September 1878 for space in Coleman Street. This was issued by His Excellency Sir W.C.F. Robinson in favour of R.W. Bro. William Henry Macleod Read, District Grand Master, and his successors in office for the use of Masons under the United Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of England. There was an express condition that a building, to be used as a Lodge, should be erected within two years of the issue of the Grant. The area of 10,000 square feet was 100 feet from the road and the plot was in the form of a square (Ed Mullan, Pentagram Vol 56).
At a meeting of Freemasons held on 14 December 1878 it was agreed that a new Masonic Hall should be erected and promises had been made to subscribe for 240 shares at $25 each ($6,000). A building was designed by Thomas Cargill, a civil engineer, who was Worshipful Master of Zetland, 1879-80 and of St George 1884-85.
The foundation stone for the masonic building was laid on 14 April 1879 and the Masonic Hall was consecrated on 27 December 1879. According to W Bro Colin Macdonald in his book ‘Freemason’s Hall, Singapore’, the Freemason Hall was built as a single-storey building in the English Renaissance style, which was then commonly used in England for government and public buildings. Unfortunately, there are no surviving pictures or plans available for the original building.
Macdonald states in his book that the second storey was added to the building in 1888. As to whether Freemasons’ Hall was previously a single-storey building and if
(National Archives photo dated 1880 to 1889)
so, the date the additional storey was added is subject to locating records to confirm the fact.
The National Archives, Singapore put the date on the photograph on the left as 1880 to 1889, which shows a fully completed two storey building.
F. A. Rickard, who in 1906 published the first detailed account of Freemasonry in Singapore mentions in the foreword to his book. “In 1879 the Masonic Hall in Coleman Street was consecrated, and from that date has been the meeting place of the various lodges and bodies. The building as it stood in 1879, consisted of a hall with adjoining rooms, but has at different times been built onto, until it stands as at present. It undoubtedly does not meet the requirements of the Craft, and it may be prophesied that in a few years a more substantial building with better accommodation will be required”.
Ricard’s comment that it only consisted of a hall with adjoining meeting rooms, does indicate that the first building may have been single-storey. Furthermore, construction of the building was carried out in less than 8 months. This would seem too short a time to construct a two-storey building and a basement.
There does exist in the National Archives, Singapore the building plan of the two-storey building. Interestingly it is headed: ‘Masonic Hall, Singapore Proposed Alterations and Additions’. This would mean that there must have been an existing building. The National Archives have dated the plan as 1890, but the picture above taken before 1890 shows the completed building.
At the bottom of the plan is marked: ‘23A Coleman Street inspected by V.S.R.. 24…82’.
The Straits Times reports, in July 1891: “it was originally intended amongst the members of the Masonic Club that a social dance should be given as a sort of house warming for the extensive improvements made to the Club building in Coleman Street”. This means that it is possible that there was work carried out on the building in 1890.
The picture on the left is from 1890 to 1899. The large tree that was in front of the building in the 1880’s has been removed and the road
(National archives photo dated 1890 to1899)
moved closer to Freemasons’ Hall.
On the left is a further picture from the 1890’s but showing the back of the building. There is a small building to the right of the main building. At that time that part of the land was not under the lease of the Trustees for Masonic Hall.
Also, the fire station had not been built.
Second Land Grant 1892
In 1892 the trustees of the Masonic Hall Board wished to extend the building and they applied for an additional 10,000 square feet of land. This additional land was approved by the Government and they were granted in total 20,220 square feet under grant 2426 on 16 November January 1892.
The additional land most likely comprised the land each side of the building, currently the grass patch and car park and part of the piece of land where the annexe is now built. The land was, however, an odd shape as only about 2/3 of the land of the existing car park side was included in the grant.
It is not exactly known why the land was required but it is possible that outhouses were constructed at that time on the land that is now occupied by the current annexe. In 1894 there were plans approved by the authorities for: ‘Lavatory and boys quarters proposed alterations to passed plans’.
Temporary Occupation Licence 1893
On 1 January 1893, the Masonic Hall Board trustees entered into a Temporary Occupation Licence (‘TOL’) for a piece of land of 6,470 sq. ft., comprising that part at the far end of the existing car park on which the new annexe is built and the strip of land adjacent to the existing postal museum.
It is most likely the land was obtained with the purpose of straightening out the odd shape of existing boundary to gain a bit more space.
The Licence clearly stated that it was for TOL of Reserved Crown Land and it was not under a statutory land grant like the 20,220 sq. ft. of land granted in 1892.
Being TOL land, it was rented at $1 for a period of one year and “under the Crown Ordinance 1886, it does not authorise beyond the period herein specified and is not transferable”. On this basis the TOL was renewable on an annual basis and the land could be taken back by the Government if the TOL was not renewed.
On the other hand, the 1892 land was granted under a statutory land grant with no time limit, except the Government could reacquire the land at anytime under the State Land laws. The only other condition was that: “the land should be used for a masonic lodge, and further that so soon as the said land and buildings thereon shall have ceased for the period of two years to be used for the authorised purposes of mason’s lodges under the authority of the constituted Masonic Authorities of England, the land and any buildings thereon shall ipso facto revert to Her Majesty, Her Heirs and successors without claim of any kind therefor”.
The amalgamated piece of land at 1893, taking the existing Land Grant and that under TOL, amounted to 26,690 sq. ft.
That part under the TOL extended to the existing postal museum, and marked in red on the map to the right, was 6,470 sq. ft. and that under the land grant and marked in blue, was 20,220 sq. ft.
It was on this piece of land held under the TOL that the Land Office advised on 29th January 1906 that the lease would not be renewed.
The District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago at that time was Walter Napier.
The land that was taken from the Masonic Hall Board was granted to the Anglo Chinese Mission for use by the Anglo Chinese School.
The founder of the school was Bishop William Oldham, being also at that time the Bishop of the Methodist church in Singapore.
The Anglo- Chinese School and Bishop Oldham
William Fitzjames Oldham arrived in Singapore on 7 February 1885 and became an elder in the Presbyterian church, as there was no Methodist church in Singapore then.
On 22 February 1885, a Methodist church was established in Singapore and Oldham was appointed a pastor. Meetings were held at the town hall and the Christian Institute on the corner of Waterloo Street and Middle Road.
On 1st March 1886 Oldham founded the Anglo-Chinese School in an old shophouse at 70, Amoy Street. He started with 13 students, but that number quickly grew.
Oldham subsequently succeeded in securing a site at Coleman Street for the first Methodist Episcopal Church, which he designed and dedicated on 15 December 1886, coincidentally, also his 32nd birthday. In due time, it became known as the Wesley Methodist Church.
A new school building was erected for ACS in 1892 on a piece of land next to the Methodist Church. Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, Governor of the Straits Settlements, laid the foundation stone. The school was declared open by Chief Justice John Winfield Bonser in 1893. The building was extended in 1895 and a new wing added in 1911.
Unfortunately, the ceaseless work soon took its toll on Oldham , who was advised by his doctors to take a year’s rest, and in 1889 he left Singapore and moved back to the USA, where he became pastor of the Butler Street Church in Pittsburg.
In 1904, Oldham was appointed missionary bishop of Southern Asia, and was officially welcomed back to Singapore as bishop in 1905. Oldham's term as missionary bishop of Southern Asia came to an end in 1912 when he was appointed missionary secretary to the Methodist Board of Foreign Missions in New York. He passed away at the age of 83 in Pasadena, California, on 27 March 1937.