Heritage project aims to enhance appreciation of Singapore River bridges

Elgin Bridge. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Cavenagh Bridge. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Anderson Bridge looks similar to Brisbane’s Victoria Bridge which was torn down in 1969. This is because they shared the same designer, Sydney-based A.B. Brandy. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

They barely get a second glance from most people, yet five bridges crossing the Singapore River boast a wealth of little-known stories and historical details.

The fortitude of Cavenagh Bridge, for instance, was tested by a party of 120 sepoy soldiers who marched over it on its completion in 1869.

Anderson Bridge, meanwhile, bore a close resemblance to Victoria Bridge in Brisbane, Australia, until the latter was torn down in 1969. This was because they shared the same designer, Sydney-based A.B. Brandy.

These little-known facts were unearthed by researcher Ian Tan, 27, from the National Heritage Board (NHB).

Along with the Ord, Elgin and Read bridges, these structures have been conserved by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2008.

All were named after governors and officials during the island's early years as a crown colony, and are of high heritage value.

Mr Tan began piecing together the narrative over the past three months for a documentation effort with the board. The aim is to enhance Singaporeans' "historical and architectural understanding" of the grand old dames which have played witness to the ebb and flow of maritime trading and communal living along the river banks.

The structures, erected between 1869 and 1929, reflect the prosperity brought about by the establishment of the Straits Settlements as a British Crown Colony in 1867 and the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1869.

The Straits Settlements refer to the British colonies of Singapore, Penang and Malacca that were established in 1826 and dissolved in 1946.

As a result of the fact-finding exercise, and as part of its public outreach and education efforts, the NHB will be organising a public talk tomorrow at 3pm at the Peranakan Museum. About 50 people have already signed up.

"While the social history of the area is well documented, we wanted to discuss the other elements and new ways to look at the heritage in our midst," said Mr Tan.

Mr Alvin Tan, the group director of policy at the NHB, said the bridges are rich in significance to the everyday Singaporean.

"The bridges are reflective of the bridge construction trends during the 19th and early 20th century," he said.

"They serve as evidence of technology transfer from Britain to Singapore."

Conservation architect Lim Huck Chin, 49, who will be attending tomorrow's talk, said the city is fortunate to have five bridges from five different eras with very different stories to tell.

Said Mr Lim: "Bridges are a link to our past, both physical and metaphorical.

"As with all built heritage, they help strengthen our sense of history and help us to understand better the role early infrastructure played in shaping our cities."

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