A diverse and changing landscape

The story of Brickfields is also the story of Kuala Lumpur. It came into existence over a century ago because of its proximity to the old city of KL located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers.

Its name, Brickfields, is meant to be taken literally.

But before it was called Brickfields, it was known as Batu Limabelas, or Milestone 15, because the 15th milestone - a marker indicating the distance along the road from the Damansara village to KL - was located here.

This was the road used by the tin miners who travelled on horseback and by boat on the river from Klang to KL where the tin-mining activities were centred.

In 1881, KL burned down as its wooden attap buildings caught fire.

The British resident general Frank Swettenham ordered the buildings to be rebuilt in brick.

The first brick kilns were set up by Mr Yap Ah Loy, a Chinese Kapitan or representative of the Chinese community in KL, at Milestone 15.

There were more than 15 kilns, and the name Brickfields eventually took hold. 

The brickworks vanished when Brickfields became the railway hub in the early 1900s to transport tin from KL to Port Klang.

The population of the place boomed with the influx of municipal labourers and railway workers, who were mostly Tamil migrants, as well as junior-ranked clerks from Ceylon, the old name for Sri Lanka.

Villages sprung up to provide the population with housing as shops, places of worship and schools opened.

Ms Elizabeth Cardosa, executive director of the Malaysian Heritage Trust, said the community here has always been diverse, with different religions and communities living side by side.

It has a mosque, Hindu and Buddhist temples, a Chinese temple and churches tucked into a small area.

It is also rich with social institutions like the YMCA, Malaysian Association for the Blind, the Temple of Fine Arts, Vivekananda Ashram, the Girl Guides Association, and many old schools.

The development of KL Sentral in the mid-1990s brought in glitzy condominiums and high-rise offices, and a major transport hub.

Old Brickfields is also changing organically as more migrants move in.

From brick kilns to a railway hub to an eclectic neighbourhood: what next for Brickfields?

Carolyn Hong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'A diverse and changing landscape'. Print Edition | Subscribe