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August 26, 2008

Kallang Riverside Park: Gas Works and Sculpture

Kallang Riverside Park Photograph

Kallang Riverside Park: Gas Works and Sculpture

If you visit Kallang Riverside Park, you cannot miss two distinctive structures that bring memories to this area of Singapore. They are the blue steel pillars of what remains as the gas holder of Kallang Gas Works and an abstract sculpture called the Spirit of Kallang.

Kallang Gas Works
Tall blue pillars are the gas holders that remain of Kallang Gas Works. These pillars that stand next to a carpark at Kallang Riverside Park are a reminder of the men and machines that gave life to street lighting in Singapore and cooking fires in homes of the past. Built in 1862, Kallang Gas Works was the town’s main supplier of gas that enabled streets to be lit after dark and helped residents to enjoy home-cooked hot meals in the comfort of their apartments.

Kallang Riverside Park: Kallang Gas Works

History of Kallang Gas Works
According to the National Library Board’s Infopedia http://infopedia.nlb.gov.sg/articles/SIP_750_2005-01-11.html:

The Gas Works, initially formed as the Singapore Gas Company was the predecessor to the Public Utilities Board which primarily supplied utilities to the Singapore public. The Singapore Gas Company was formed in 1861 to provide gas lighting for the Town. This company built the Kallang Gas Works in 1862 (at the location of Kallang Riverside Park) to supply the first piped gas in Singapore to enable street lighting. It was given the Hokkien nickname huay sia or "fire city" because of superstitious fears that it might just blow up.

Photo Credit: Kallang Gas Works National Archives of Singapore

Four tanks were built in total and operated in the Kallang Gas Works. Nos. 1 and 2 tanks were built with the original plant in 1862 and were in use until they were demolished in 1957. No.3 tank was built before 1900 whilst No. 4 tank was built between 1908 to 1909.

As electricity took over street lighting in 1906, the use of town gas for street lighting declined until the last gas lamp in 1956.

Modern Kallang Gas Works
On 1 May 1963, the Public Utilities Board was constituted, taking over the responsibilities of the former City Council, for gas, electricity and water supply. Plans to develop the Riverwalk Park along Kallang Basin led to announcements in January 1987 that the Kallang Gas Works would be removed.

In July 1997, piped gas production operation was relocated to the S$240 million Senoko Gasworks. Singapore Power also opened a S$30 million gasholder at Toh Tuck at end March 1998 which serves as a contingency store of between 6 to 8 hrs gas supply should the Senoko operation face problems.Gas production continued uninterruptedly for 137 years at the Kallang Gasworks except for short breaks during the world wars. It opened to the public for the first time on 26 March 1998 before it would finally be demolished.

Present Time At Kallang Riverside Park
Nowadays, the remaining pillars of the Kallang Gas Works stick out like ancient monoliths as if plucked from a by-gone era and transplanted into the greenery of Kallang Riverside Park. If you do not notice the information boards placed at the foot of this structure, you might have thought that some contractor went bust and could not afford to put a roof over this tent-like scaffolding in the middle of Kallang Riverside Park.

Spirit of Kallang sculpture at Kallang Riverside Park

Spirit of Kallang Sculpture
A short stroll away along the Kallang Riverside, the Spirit of Kallang stands tall in this park. Its inscription about the Kallang Gasworks (1861 – 1998) reads:

“The Spirit of Kallang incorporates materials from Kallang Gasworks. Its design symbolizes the hardworking ethos and enduring spirit of the early pioneers of Singapore who worked hard to establish a better life for future generations.” The sculpture was commissioned by Singapore Power Ltd and created by Mr Lim Leong Seng.

If you walk around the Kallang Riverside Park on a late afternoon visit, gatherings of workers and friends who come from the surrounding suburb for an afternoon of picnics, leisure and siesta, can be seen. Elsewhere on the beaches of Kallang River, groups of water sports participants busy themselves at the park for an afternoon of recreational fun. Occasionally, you may witness dragon boats plying along the Kallang River while water skis jet about the river to compete for your attention.

Read about history in Singapore Parks in Seen This Scene That:

1. Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park

2. Tan Kim Seng Fountain, Esplanade Park

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Lam Chun See said...

When my kids were young (primary school) we used to bring them to Kallang River park frequently. While they play by the beach, I would jog. I often stopped at the end of the track just next to the Kallang Gasworks and the bridge and do some exercise. Too bad I did not take any photos of the building itself.

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