Clifford Pier – Singapore's historic waterfront gateway
by Kelvin Ang
Inaugurated on 3 June 1933, the Clifford Pier is a unique building designed in a hybrid of the Art-Deco style and complemented with a strong Neo-Classical influence.
Though the role of the pier today has changed, it remains a well-known waterfront landmark along Collyer Quay and has been adaptively reused. It was gazetted for conservation on 14 March 2007.
In view of the rising volume of shipping, Clifford Pier was built in 1933 at Collyer Quay to replace an earlier cast-iron pier that was known by the name of Johnston Pier (named after a prominent and well-respected British merchant Alexander Laurie Johnston), marking a new chapter in the progress of port and transport facilities. Collyer Quay and the adjacent Raffles Quay were considered by some to be Singapore’s Bund. It was seen as the ‘front’ door of Singapore.
Frank Dorrington Ward was the Chief Architect of the Public Works Department in the 1930s and his department was responsible for the design of the new pier. Woh Hup was the local contractor for the project and this was one of their first major public projects. The pier was completed and declared open by Governor of the Straits Settlements Sir Cecil Clementi in 1933. It was then named after Governor Sir Hugh Charles Clifford – who was the governor of Singapore and the Straits Settlements from 1927–1930.
Locals affectionately refer to the pier as the ‘Ang Teng’ or ‘Lampu Merah’ in Hokkien and Malay languages respectively, because of the red navigation lamps that used to be hung at the pier to serve as a directional sign for the incoming sea vessels. These red lamps were relocated from the older Pier in recognition of the popular affection shown to Johnston.
The decade saw Singapore’s role as a transport hub for Air, Rail and Sea transport strengthened. Thus, the Singapore (Tanjong Pagar) Railway Station (now a National Monument), and the Singapore (Kallang) Airport (now conserved) were built around the same time using the latest architectural, construction and aesthetic approaches.
Clifford Pier is located near to the mouth of Singapore River, adjacent to the key commercial and administrative buildings of the city such as the grand Fullerton Building and General Post Office. For many years, Clifford Pier established Collyer Quay as a gateway for seafarers and travellers to the island. Clifford Pier was also where many new migrants stepped onto Singapore for the first time (after a 7-day quarantine on St John’s Island) in their search for a new life.
For the local population, it was the gateway to the Southern Islands, and also for many who went on the annual pilgrimage to Kusu Island during the 9th Month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. However, when land reclamation started to set in around Marina Bay, the growth of air travel and the shift of shipping services to the west of Singapore, Clifford Pier’s role lessened as a transport hub. With the completion of the Marina Bay Barrage, the Pier ceased its operations on 1 April 2006.
After the closure of the building as a working pier, it was subsequently sold by the Government for restoration, adaptive reuse and retaining public access, as part the revitalization of the historic waterfront. In 2011, it was awarded the URA’s Architectural Heritage Award for good restoration by the present owners, the Fullerton Heritage.
Of reinforced concrete and finished externally in grey ‘Shanghai Plaster’, it can be considered an example of the Art Deco Style, with a heavy Neo-Classical influence. This style was prevalent for the period in Singapore as the settlement moved towards large scale use of reinforced concrete in both the private and public sector construction.
The pier presents an impressive symmetrical facade fronting Collyer Quay. The central portion of the facade is an arched entrance that is topped by a pediment and a flag pole at its apex. Addressing the tropical weather is a cast iron & steel canopy, suspended by tension rods, that extends beyond the facade to greet visitors to the pier. The long walls feature horizontal rustication lines that mimic classical stonework, adding to the feeling of stability and grandeur. Of note is the white plaster shield featuring the crests of the 3 ports making up the Straits Settlements.
The signature interior feature of Clifford Pier is the dramatic roof structure consisting of concrete arched trusses done in pleasing riband form. These trusses line up along the longitudinal axis of the pier, creating an evident sense of order and rhythm for one of the city’s most important architectural spaces. Arched portals can also be found around the perimeter of the pier, cleverly framing the views out to Collyer Quay and the bay.
Some interesting decorative features of note include a large steel-framed fanlight above the entrance that retains much of the original watery blue glass panes.
To the left of the porch, one can find the original cast brass plaque commemorating the opening of the pier.
Details such as brackets and even downpipes are designed with much consideration. The floor of the pier was made of hard-wearing terrazzo that was cast in-situ.
A key feature of the seaward end of the pier are the four standing lamps (presently painted red) that mark the entrances into the main deck.
Today, Clifford Pier stands as the only pre-war pier found in the city and is also one of the few early buildings in Singapore that features arched trusses of reinforced concrete as well as being an early example of a column-free interior.
Projecting into the sea, the pier forms a principal component of Singapore’s waterfront and skyline. Together with the other heritage buildings found along Collyer Quay – the Fullerton Building, Waterboat House, Customs Harbour Pier and the Change Alley Aerial Plaza, it helps to define the historic edge of the existing CBD.
The Pier also remains as an important locational and social landmark for generations of Singaporeans who still use its vernacular name of ‘Red Lamp Pier’. Many can also trace their own roots of migration into Singapore via this Pier. In addition, it is a physical reminder of Singapore’s role as an important port of call and transport hub over the past century.
Did you know?
Even though the pier is formally known as Clifford Pier, even today amongst older members of the Malay-speaking community of Singapore, the historic presence of the older pier continues as they still refer to the location as ‘Johnston’.
On 3 June 2023, on the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Pier, red glass was installed in the 4 historic lampstands as a symbolic reminder of the red navigation lamps that gave the pier its well-loved vernacular name.
Māori heritage, Aotearoa New Zealand
Te Kōhatu o Ripeka: this is a wāhi tapu area, a place of deep significance for local Māori and sacred in the traditional and spiritual sense.
The original heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand is Māori heritage. Representative of a rich, nuanced culture, it takes many forms including cultural landscapes, traditional arts, crafts, and practices, and built structures.
The New Zealand government’s relationship with Māori heritage is shaped by the Treaty of Waitangi (te Tiriti o Waitangi) which in turn is based on He Whakaputenga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – the New Zealand Declaration of Independence 1835. Crucially, these documents acknowledge the right of Māori to govern their own lands and ‘taonga’ (treasures).
In all its dealings with Māori heritage, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga (HNZPT), the Government’s principal representative agency for heritage (alongside the National Museum of New Zealand/Te Papa Tongarewa ‘Te Papa’), seeks to be a good Crown Treaty partner for Māori in relation to their heritage. This involves building good relationships with iwi, hapū, and whanau (tribes, sub-tribes, and family groups) and other representatives of the Māori hāpori (communities) and doing its best to involve Māori in all decisions that impact their heritage. HNZPT is fortunate to have a shared governance arrangement enshrined by its enabling legislation, meaning it is led by a Board of Trustees and the Māori Heritage Council. The Council has produced the vision statement Tapuwae (or sacred footsteps) which sets out its aspirations and intentions for Māori heritage.
HNZPT identifies Māori heritage on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (the List) when it is the wish of the iwi, hapū, or whānau that their heritage be recognised in this way. Māori heritage is not ranked as Category 1 or 2 in the way that non-Māori heritage is on the list because to judge places in this way does not accord with a Te Ao Māori worldview. Instead, Māori heritage is identified as being ‘wāhi tapu’ (sacred place) or ‘wāhi tūpuna’ (ancestral place) as defined in the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014. The ‘wāhi tūpuna’ category was designated for the first time in the 2014 Act enabling more sites of significance to Māori to be recognised on the List. The absence of this category, together with a distrust of Crown systems historically, led to a significant imbalance in the nature of the heritage recognised via the List, something HNZPT is committed to addressing, and has made a key strategic focus. The relatively new category of wāhi tūpuna has supported this well, with some iwi and hapū now seeing the List as an important pathway to improving protection of these places.
The conservation of built Māori heritage places is another crucially important service that HNZPT offers to Māori communities, undertaking half a dozen projects a year with iwi and hapū to conserve wharenui (meeting houses), pātaka (storage structures), waharoa (entrance archways), tohu maharamatanga (remembrance arches), pou (posts), and other built Māori heritage structures. These places frequently showcase stunning whakairo (carving) and tukutuku (woven panels) which support the oral history and mātauranga (knowledge) of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world). When an orator speaks on a marae, they can often be seen using an elaborately carved stick – these are taonga often handed down through generations and hold depictions of ancestry and history which aid the speaker’s recollection when called on for whaikōrero (formal speechmaking). Similarly, wharenui are built to represent the body of an ancestor or deity and include carved representations of ancestors, atua (gods), and allies. Their interpretation is a powerful expression of identity for the people they belong to, laden with meaning and connection they are magnificent places creating unity and belonging for their communities and visitors alike.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the government sought to strengthen and support New Zealanders by investing in a Mātauranga Māori programme to reconnect Māori with their traditional knowledge. HNZPT contributed to this by creating two streams of wānanga (learning), one concerning ancestral landscapes, and the other built Māori heritage. These streams involved seminars with Māori experts to pass on mātauranga together with grants for iwi, hapū and hāpori projects to increase or reconnect mātauranga. These have been tremendously successful in rebuilding people’s understanding of their places and securing built heritage for the future but perhaps most importantly in building greater connection and respect between the government and Māori. The rigours of a post-pandemic, cyclone-ravaged economy and society have already presented challenges to these gains, but withstanding these is to be hoped for, and fervently worked towards.
Left: Mātaatua – this elegantly carved whare located in Whakatāne has a rich history. The area at the front of the house is where pōwhiri (welcomes) and whaikōrero (formal speaking) takes place. Right: An example of ancestral landscapes wānanga (learning) on mahi kōwhatu (stonework) which included practical learning and the history of trade trails across Aotearoa New Zealand.
by Chief Michael Grizzle, Chief of The Trelawny Town/Flagstaff Maroons
There are many sides to a story and our story is no diﬀerent, as we Africans who later became known as Maroons, struggled for our true identity and to preserve our rich heritage and ancestral legacy within the context of this modern era. For now, I focus on the two sides from history written about us and the ancestral oral stories passed down through generations which today have been somewhat lost. Between these stories, we look for common denominators.
I have always begun telling our story starting from the Nile Valley wherein we created ancient Egypt to Mali and Timbuktu setting the pace for what is the establishment of structured civilization; we who arrived in the Americas centuries before any Europeans came; we who also came through the Sahara Desert and ruled Spain, then named Andalusia, for eight hundred years.
With the arrival of Columbus in the Americas, namely Jamaica, in 1494 oral stories say that he underwent a mutiny and never set foot on the island, wherein it was his son Diego Columbus who came and established the first town called New Seville named after the Moorish Town in Spain, Seville De Nueva. We can also say that on these explorations of both Christopher and Diego they were accompanied by Moorish Navigators, who were educated in celestial navigation. Oral stories say that these Africans knew of the Americas and sailed the Spanish ships while Columbus thought he was lost, as noted in his journals.
As a result of the Spanish Insurrection most African Muslim and Euro Christians were imprisoned. The Spaniards used those Africans in Spain to crew the first Columbus expedition, wherein these Africans practiced permanent or temporary Maronage, some would go to the mountains or interior and never return to Spanish rule while some returned. This was the foundation of the free communities, later known as Maroon communities.
As the Spaniards settled on the island they saw the natives, now called the Tainos, a meandering group of people who traversed between central America and the Caribe islands, who, according to history, became extinct plagued by diseases and slavery. Our oral stories seems to diﬀer as our ancestors claim that Africans were here centuries before the Spaniards and intermarried with the Tainos.
By 1513 to 1523, the Aciento was granted by Spain to Portugal to import enslaved peoples directly from the west coast of Africa to Jamaica and by 1609 the census taken by the Spaniards clearly states that there were 109 free Blacks on the island. The Spaniards settled the island and further developed the first capital city Villa De La Vaga now called Spanish Town and would employ the Africans to defend the island from foreign invasion.
These Africans were further employed when the British invaded the island in 1655. A five year war ensued and even when the Spaniards left the island, these Africans continued to fight. The war ended in 1660 with a treaty with Juan De Bolos, an African who was later killed by his brother Juan De Sierras. These Africans had their own communities and army. The British then initiated the Atlantic slave trade to the Island.
There was much resistance from these Africans towards the British – they would often band together and harass the British by burning plantations, plundering their homesteads and freeing the enslaved from their slave ships. At this time we were only known to the British as the Rebellious Negros.
In the aftermath of a grand uprising on the Suttons plantation in Clarendon, two figures of African descent, Captian Elijemo Kojo and Queen Nanny emerged. They banded all the established African communities together, forming what is known today as the Leeward and Windward Maroons. It was in the aftermath of the Suttons uprising that the British began to brand us as Maroons, meaning “Wild And Untamed” originating from a Spanish word, Cimarron. It was said by the British that these “Rebellious Negros” would become a thorn in the sides of the British. This period is considered to be the beginning of the First Maroon War.
This harassment continued for forty years until 1730 when the British intensified their efforts and oﬃcially became “at war”, which saw Captain Kojo moving into the area now called the Cockpit Country and established Kojo Town and from this stronghold secured the five water heads. The British saw that it would have been impossible to remove them from this almost impregnable place and sought to make peace with the community. A treaty was proposed by the British in 1738/39 wherein New Town known as Trelawny Town was established. That same year there was another treaty established in the east of the island. There existed five Maroon communities, Moore Town/Nanny Town, Charles Town, Scotts Hall in the eastern end of the island that formed the Windward Maroons and Trelawny Town and Accompong Town in the west forming the Leeward Maroons.
There was almost fifty years of peace to follow until the land dispute of 1795 that led to a war which was fought only by the Trelawny Town Maroons. This was to be the Second Maroon War, which led to the dismantling of Trelawny Town. They were deported from the island to Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1800, they petitioned to be sent to Sierra Leone, which had been established by the British as a colony for freed slaves and black American loyalists in 1792. When they re-settled in Freetown, the displaced Maroon community brought with them a fascinating vernacular building type that was influenced by the construction of timber buildings in both Jamaica and Nova Scotia. The Krio Board houses of Freetown and Sierra Leone, which the displaced Maroons erected, are a little-known aspect of shared trans-Atlantic history uniting the histories of Jamaica, Canada, Britain and Sierra Leone. Today many of the Board houses are in a poor state of repair. The Commonwealth Heritage Forum plans to work with the local community in Freetown on a project to help train local people in the heritage and craft skills necessary to secure their repair and long-term preservation as a unique component of Commonwealth history.
After the abolition of slavery in the British colonies in 1838 these Trelawny Town Maroons and some of their descendants returned to the island and resettled in the same geographical location now called Flagstaﬀ. As a child Mary Brown was part of the transported Maroons, and as an adult, bought a ship and sailed back to the island. In 2011 Maroons from Trelawny Town/Flagstaﬀ visited Sierra Leone and these ties were further cemented in 2016 when Government oﬃcials visited, through the eﬀorts of Isatu Smith of the Monuments and Relics Commission in Sierra Leone, where I was recognised as Chief and the Establishment of our Council was formed.
A typical Krio Board house in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Courtesy of Brent Fortenberry.