Heritage bridges of Singapore River

Location of the 5 bridges gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority

Location of the 5 bridges gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority

This series of photographs was done over two separate (and very far between) days. It started with my very first symmetrical shot that happened to be of Esplanade Bridge; it’s not one of the heritage bridges, but it certainly crosses over Singapore River.

First attempt at a symmetry shot. Also my very first image shot in RAW format

First attempt at a symmetry shot. Also my very first image shot in RAW format

Then I walked on, upstream, until the next bridge. Along the way I met a pretty calico cat.

Sorry, I just love the occasional stray cat around my little island.

The next bridge is the first of five bridges conserved in order of position starting from the mouth of Singapore River, Anderson Bridge. Officially opened in 1910 by the then Governor Sir John Anderson, K.C.M.G. Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements, Anderson Bridge is characterised by its heavily riveted steel structures, with complex trussing and the overhead arches on which hang a single antiquated lamp each. Anderson Bridge is an iconic part of the F1 night race circuit held on our Downtown Core roads since 2008.

Anderson Bridge

Anderson Bridge

It was lots of fun positioning myself in between the road dividers. I actually saw a small group of photographers do it years ago; they all stood cramped in that little space, fidgeting as little as they could around their tripods and aiming their cameras towards the bridge and the traffic, and I remember thinking it was a perfect location for that. Luckily for me, when I went on this photo-trip that space was still open, because when I passed through the area a few days ago it was already filled with large potted plants. Someone probably alerted the traffic police about the hazard of having people standing, literally, in the middle of the road.

The following bridge is my favourite bridge in all of Singapore.

Cavenagh Bridge

Cavenagh Bridge

Easy to see why, isn’t it? The structure is so elegant, it’s the only suspension bridge in Singapore, and the now-ironic signposts that stand on each end of the bridge add so much character to this beauty. Cavenagh Bridge was opened in 1870, making it the oldest bridge over Singapore River. Named after Sir Lieutenant General William Orfeur Cavenagh, the last Governor of the Straits Settlements, it was built to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements. There sits a life-sized set of cat sculptures on the southwest abutment of the bridge; they’re the Singapura breed of cats, which incidentally are a rare breed even in Singapore.

I started to stray off to photograph the Esplanade Park after sticking around Cavenagh Bridge for quite a while. It was only after coming home and reviewing my photos that I realised I could make a mini-series on the heritage bridges of Singapore. Hence I planned another photo-trip a few weeks later to get the rest of the bridges in my collection.

The next bridge upstream is Elgin Bridge. It is a very plain bridge, and to my still-untrained eyes, it’s only redeeming feature is its overhead structure and the columns which are some of the thinnest concrete forms I’ve ever seen used for construction. Elgin Bridge, or at least the bridge that sits in this location, has had quite a history; in fact, if not for the demolitions and subsequent replacements of the original bridge that first stood in this location, it would have been the oldest and very first bridge built in colonial Singapore. The current Elgin Bridge is effectively the fifth incarnation of the bridge that links North and South Bridge Roads, and was opened in 1929 and named after Lord Elgin, the 8th Earl of Elgin and the Governor-General of India (1862-1863).

Elgin Bridge

Elgin Bridge

Only less than two minutes’ walking distance from Elgin Bridge sits Coleman Bridge. Truthfully, if not for the typically colonial iron balustrades and antique lampposts adorning the pedestrian paths along either sides of the bridge, not much else tells you that this bridge has served linking Hill Street and New Bridge Road for over a century. It’s history is similar to Elgin Bridge’s, with the current Coleman Bridge being the fourth incarnation of a bridge in that location. It was named after George Drumgoole Coleman, the first architect in Singapore and also the architect of the first incarnation of the bridge. Despite its history, Coleman Bridge is not part of the conserved bridges of Singapore River, considering that it was most recently rebuilt and completed in 1990. For that reason, I did not take any good shots of Coleman Bridge.

Up ahead, though, is a very wide and similarly boring-looking pedestrian bridge. Yet its position so close to the centre of the bustling nightlife of Clarke Quay makes Read Bridge pretty indispensable to the party goers as it links the nearest train station to the lively scene. Once in a while there’d be an Australian guy sitting in the halfway length of the bridge busking with his aboriginal long horn instrument. He wasn’t there the day I was out shooting, so there was nothing fun to focus on. Except maybe the line of lamps.

Read Bridge

Read Bridge

I really should’ve come  earlier to get a better shot with a brighter sky. Alas I went unbearably hungry just as I was done at Coleman Bridge and had to have dinner during the ‘golden hour’. Anyway, this shot is precisely half of the original width-long photo I took while unfashionably squatting on the ground and waiting for my camera to be done with 30 seconds of exposure and more seconds of processing. Read Bridge was named after a socially active resident and prominent merchant who traded in the flourishing business along the river, William H. Read, and opened in 1889. There’s also a Read Street named after him just a few minutes’ walk from the bridge.

I almost decided to pack up and head home at this point, until I spotted another bridge up ahead that I suspected was a conserved bridge, just like Read Bridge. Something about the form of that bridge told me it was contemporary, yet at the same time I was very aware that no matter how contemporary, it couldn’t have been modern-day current. A quick check with the local Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) webpage on conserved structures confirmed this.

Ord Bridge

Ord Bridge

Upon arrival I realised why I might have mistaken it for being modern-day contemporary – it was the refurbished colourful accent lighting. Otherwise just a single glance at the structure and I could feel the resemblance with Anderson Bridge; those rivets just screamed “old-world” to me. But unlike Anderson Bridge where the riveted trusses were necessary for holding up the arches, the riveted trusses of Ord Bridge are mainly decorative. They run along the length of the bridge on both sides, and they do not hold up anything above them. Not much is said about this 1886 bridge other than that its name is both a namesake and a wordplay; Colonel Sir Harry St. George Ord was the first British Governor of the Straits Settlements after it was given the Crown Colony status in 1889, and the old name of the preceding bridge in that location was Ordnance Bridge, in reference to the British ordnance depot situated at the nearby Magazine Road. It seems no one is able to clarify which was the real reason for the current naming of the Ord Bridge.

Ord Bridge is located conveniently close to a bus stop from which I could get on a bus to head home, so this was my last stop for the day. It also completes the coverage of the five heritage bridges along Singapore River that was gazetted as conserved bridges.

History holds a special place in my heart, and I hope my photographs and the furnishing details do these well-serving bridges justice. If you have any questions or comments, do leave them below!

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3 responses to “Heritage bridges of Singapore River

  1. Pingback: Fort Canning, a fort disused | Spirit of a Spright·

  2. Hello! Thanks for following my blog! I just looked through yours and am very wow-ed by the photos you have taken! They’re awesome! WOW! =D

    • Why thank you! I enjoyed reading your blog too. So full of positive energy (and exclamation marks, if you notice!); nice to know there’s a fellow happy Singaporean online. Hahaha ^^

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