That Red Brick Library – Part 1

I remember that was how it looked like in the 60s/70s. If I’m not wrong, my last visit there was during my secondary school days in the 70s. After the Fort Canning Tunnel was completed, what remained are the 2 red brick pillars (previously located at the entrance of library);

Significant changes are seen in these areas of the old National Library!

Check here for a more detail of the History of National Library.

Maybe a brief Time Line of the National Library may help;

1823 : A small collection of books were started in Singapore Institution (known Raffles Institution in 1950). Mainly for the British and priviledged class. Below shows the old Raffles Institution at Bras Basah Road where the current Raffles City stands;

1862 – 1876 : The Library was then transferred to the Town Hall (known as Victoria Memorial Hall). The postcard below shows the old Town Hall;

1874 : The British Colonial government took over the library and renamed it Raffles Library.

1876 : The Raffles Library again relocated back to Raffles Institution.

1887 : The Raffles Institution moved to the domed shape buidling (now National Museum) along Stamford Road. It was also known as the Raffles Library and Museum Building. The library was located at the West Wing.

Photo Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS.

1942 – 1945 : During the Japanese Occupation, the library was renamed as Shonan Library.

1945 – 1953 : After the Japanese surrendered, the BMA (British Military Administration) took over the running of the library.

1953 : Dato Lee Kong Chian offered S$375,000 to build a free public library and the British accepted the offer. The old St. Andrew’s Chapel and British Council Hall located at the Stamford Road were demolished to make way for the then new red brick library. Below shows the then British Council Hall located at Stamford Road;

Photo Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS.

Below shows Dato Lee Kong Chian laying the foundation stone at the library in 1957.

Photo Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS.

1958 – 1960 : The library then was a project of the then Labour Front and the National Library was officially established in 1958.

Below shows the Mobile Van of the then Raffles National Library.

Photo Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS.

1960 : The Public Works Department (PWD) completed the red brick library in 1960 and it was opened by our late President Inche Yusof bin Ishak. Finally the National Library was at this red brick building at Stamford Road and separate from the National Museum.

1995 : In 1995, the National Library Board was formed.

2004 : The old red brick National Library was officially closed on 31 March 2004.

Photo Credit : National Library Board.

2005 : The National Library moved to its new premises at Victoria Street in 22 July 2005. The library consists of two 16 storey blocks, with three basements. It has the glass building like in contrast to the old red brick look.

Do you still remember those old library cards (borrowers’ cards)? Think one need to deposit a small amount of money and get these 4 beige colored cards;

Credit : Emily Lim

Or do you remember the Due Date slip pasted on the inside of the front cover of the books you borrowed?

The above are no longer in use now. All you need is just to scan your IC or Student Pass at the Borrowing Machine (after you have registered as member) to borrow a book. A Loan Receipt will be printed from the machine showing the due date;

There are still many good memories of the red brick library itself and the surrounding, but I’ll continue in Part 2……

To be continued in Part 2…


22 Responses to “That Red Brick Library – Part 1”

  1. 1 profkingsfield2004 Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    i have better memories of the canteen and other landmarks at National LIbrary. let’s see what I can recall.

    1. aunty (grumpy one who spoke cantonese) selling wanton noodles
    you not happy with service, she tells u to “bugger -off” and swears at you.

    2. malay stall selling nasi padang

    3. ice kachang (plenty of bees hovering above the jars of syrup)

    4. kopi-tiam with his long wooden table – jars of biscuits

    5. toielt behind kopi-tiam (doors made from zinc roof material)

    6. CPIB HQ behind canteen

    7. shortcut from Stamford Road to Canning Rise to King George V Park (for courting couples)

  2. 2 laokokok Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 9:33 am

    You are right Peter, those were the days.

  3. 3 Lam Chun See Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Yes I remember the bees and around the ice kachang syrup!

  4. 4 Patricea Chow Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    My mother started me on reading when I was about four or five years old, so I remember the four paper cards that one needs to borrow books, and the slip of paper where they stamped the due date.

    I spent a lot of time in Toa Payoh Library because it was the closest to school, but I do remember going down to the National branch often to do research for school projects. I remember those machines where we sat at to look through films of old newspapers, and how old the encyclopedias or books were.

    Have you done something about the post boxes in Singapore? Those have changed a lot too, over the past 30 years!

  5. 5 profkingsfield2004 Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    r u sure patricea u did research? I know many of us went there to do research but the research section (if there ever was one) was hopeless, if we compare to USIS in Armenian Street or the British COuncil at Cathay Bdlg. I think many of us went there to research on the female gender. USIS and British Council got a/c and plush sofas to seat. USIS got wonderful world atlas, US newspapers and also audio equipment

  6. 6 profkingsfield2004 Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    that reminds me of the University of Singapore library at the Bukit campus (same as the present law faculty library – CJ KOh LIbrary???) Cant remember name of this Chief Librarian (Ms. Namazie???) who went round promptly at 2pm to check in-between the rows of shelves for people sleeping.

    In those days, thick library books were used as pillows and some corner shelves were turned into bedrooms. I almost kena caught once by her but heng, I just managed to flip over n landed on all 4s. She asked if I was exercising bcos the a/c very cold. I said a big “Yes” but controlling very hard my yawning like what u do after u wake up.

    Onde day Ms. Namazie caught a couple kissing bcos being short she was able to see through the empty shelves, and the couple not realising it. I shall not name who this girl was but I can safely say she married one of the big shipping tycoon’s son in Singapore.

  7. 7 laokokok Friday, September 14, 2007 at 7:30 am

    Hi Patricea, I’ve not done anything on postbox yet. But will do so soon, so stay tune.

  8. 8 victor koo Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 1:42 am

    Nice post on the “red brick” building. I also wrote an article on it 2 years ago. But mine is narrative and I don’t have so many photos as you have.

  9. 9 laokokok Monday, September 17, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Thanks Victor. Yep, seen your post too.

  10. 10 Patricea Chow Monday, September 17, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    profkingsfield2004: Unfortunately, my teachers only pointed me to the National Library and not any other resource. I remember having a recommended reading list but the books were often not available. So I resorted to those old newspaper clippings. Often, it was my father who managed to dig up information but I have no idea where he found them in the end.

    Overall, I think the libraries in Singapore lack substantial informative publications (you often have to purchase them instead), but definitely better than no library at all.

  11. 11 haveahacks Saturday, September 22, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Looking at the picture of the former British Council Hall, it looks like the portion of the fence between the NL and the National Museum managed to survive till the present day.

    How ironic. The fence has survived the test of time, yet both buildings it was supposed to protect did not.

  12. 12 Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    I have photos of the old Nat Library food centre / canteen along Stamford Rd. Anyone interested? Email me at

  13. 13 Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    The wanton lady mentioned in profkingsfield2004’s post above is still running her wanton stall in China Square. She even has her own website now. Anyone interested? Email me

  14. 14 Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Here’s the URL of the wanton noodle stall at the old Nat Library

  15. 15 Timothy Monday, November 3, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I had fond memories of the old national library as i went there when i was in primary school and would visit the old MPH Bldg along Stamford Road. a pity, the authorities did not want to relocate the old bldg to another location. Perhaps they should have incorporate it as part of the new national library. I wonder why.

    I thought the food centre beside it was change to S11 in the mid-90s and was only demolish when the library shut it’s doors on the last day.

    I wonder if Laokokok will blog on the pre and post Bras Basah Complex? 🙂

  16. 16 Monday, November 3, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I spent endless Saturday afternoons here in the 70s, browsing through what seemed to me (a kid then) to be an infinitude of wonderful books. A trip to the old NL was a treat for me if I conducted myself well. A trip there was simultaneously restful, relaxing, destressing AND intellectually enriching. I first ran into Lhu Xin, Lao Tse, Karl Marx, TinTin and ”San Mao” (a pathetic street urchin cartoon character with 3 pointy hair first published in China in the 30s), National Geographic, Discover, and Encyclopedia Britannica there. WHat I could not afford to buy in MPH I would hope to find it in the said old Library, and I was seldom disappointed. No visit would be complete without wanton noodles and ”ang dow serng” (ice kacang) at the canteen! Later in life I ”graduated” to the delicious laksa there. And the loo in the canteen was the same size as the one on a Boeing 747 jet! Eventually, on the day I ”RoM” my girlfriend (formalized my maritl registration), the whole family entourage (both my family side and in-laws)had a tea break of toast and tea at the said canteen after the registration formalities. I was one of those who cried & cried when THEY tore down MY (yes! MINE!! Its MINE!!) beloved original one-&-only red brick national library. Its now literally a hole in the ground. Sighhhh. Friends and countrymen, Singapore has made many very very expensive sacrifices on the altar of alleged ‘progress’.

  17. 17 laokokok Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Hi Foo CM,
    Thanks for the link on Nam Seng Noodels.

    HI Timonthy,
    Thanks. I’ll blog on the Bras Basah Complex once I’ve enough research on it.

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  21. 21 Welsonn Friday, January 16, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Hey Foo,

    My mail to you was rejected. Probably defunct now. So here’s a shot in the dark:

    Amidst the chaos of the Universe I’m writing to you.

    We are doing a 4x60mins prized documentary for Channel News Asia about: How the country makes the buildings, and how the buildings make the country.

    I chanced upon your insights whilst researching about our old National Library. I am quite sure you have plenty to offer, for this SG50 celebratory film.

    Do you have an interesting story you feel Singaporeans could know about?
    Could we do a recorded interview? Or know anyone who has one.

    And materials! Maybe an old photo with you in it. Or a red brick stolen from those days. That’ll be fun won’t it.

    Looking forward to your leadership.

    *Anyone reading this can reach out too if you feel you could contribute!


    Welsonn Goh
    Production Asst
    M: (+65) 9794 6098 | T: (+65) 6223 1107 | |

  22. 22 Olga Rabun Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    the situation is going to be extremely dependant in the coming lifetimes. Marshall Islands seems to be the next territory for to become accepted

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