How much do you know about your poly before its Dover days? Well, did you know that planning for Singapore Polytechnic started out from a rooftop garden? Or that it hosted royalty when it opened? How about the fact that it nearly didn't land up in Dover Road? Here are the back stories!
The beginning of Singapore Polytechnic (SP) can be traced back to an August evening in 1951, at the rooftop restaurant of Adelphi Hotel. In a meeting held there, an ad-hoc committee was set up by the Singapore branch of the Technical Association of Malaya to brainstorm and examine the need for a polytechnic in Singapore.
The 56 page Dobby report (1953), one of the documents that outlined the proposal of the setting up of the Singapore Polytechnic.
Back then, Singapore was still recovering from the aftereffects of war: businesses were facing a shortage of skilled labour, which made it challenging to set the cogs of industry - and national progress - going.
The committee thus decided to plan for the setting up of a polytechnic to develop craftsmen, technicians and engineers. It was headed by educationist Thio Chan Bee, a Legislative Assemblyman who would later become Principal of Anglo-Chinese School.
The committee held many more meetings in the rooftop restaurant over the following months. Initially, the main focus was on developing industrial talent. However, as the shortage of qualified talents was not only limited to the industrial fields, it was also decided that architecture, commerce and domestic science would be taught in the soon-to-be polytechnic.
By 6 September 1952, the committee’s report was ready to be presented. In it, it was recommended that “Singapore must have a fully equipped and staffed Polytechnic to meet the rapidly growing and urgent needs of the colony for properly trained men and women.”
The baton was next passed, in January 1953, to a new committee chaired by Professor E.H.G. Dobby from the University of Malaya; whose report was followed up on by A.W. Gibson, producing the Gibson Report presented on 10 May 1954.
Just five months later, on 27 October 1954 , Singapore Polytechnic was born!
When your polytechnic has it to even captivate royalty itself, you know it’s something special for certain! That was precisely what happened when Singapore Polytechnic was declared officially open, on Tuesday, 24 February 1959.
Prince Philip being shown around the facilities and mingling with the staff and students at the brand new Prince Edward Campus
On that day, just before noon, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, arrived amidst great pageantry and fanfare at Prince Edward Campus of Singapore Polytechnic as the Guest of Honour.
From accounts of the day, the regal royal was charmingly informal and most impressed by the polytechnic as he was shown about the campus. He chatted and mingled with the guests wholeheartedly, so much so that, according to
The Straits Times report, “the Governor [Sir William Goode] gave him a smiling reminder that he was behind time for his next engagement.”
Prince Philip leaving the campus after he officiated its opening ceremony on 24 February 1959
Really Nearly Happened!
Can you imagine going along Dover Road only to be greeted by towers of shipping containers instead of the SP campus ?
Well, it’s true – SP’s sprawling 38-ha Dover campus very nearly became a plot of land for container storage!
Dr Toh Chin Chye laying the foundation stone for the Dover Road Campus, which he secured for the Singapore Polytechnic, on 12 April 1975
The then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew was the Guest-of-Honour for the opening of the Dover Road campus on 7 July 1979. This was held at the Quadrangle between the Admin Block and the Library.
Back in the 1970s, the Prince Edward site looked set to be bursting at the seams. More and more people wanted in on the SP experience, and a bigger space was needed quickly. When Dr Toh Chin Chye (SP Chairman, Board of Governors, from 1959 to 1975) learnt that British troops were withdrawing from Singapore, which meant the Princess Mary Barracks in Dover Road and the land surrounding it would be available, he promptly wanted to obtain that space for SP.
However, he was not alone in wanting to use the plot of land. The Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) also wanted the land for storage purposes.
“I had to help secure the land for the Polytechnic, or today there would be no Poly but containers,” said Dr Toh.
On 7 July 1979, the new Singapore Polytechnic Dover campus was officially opened by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
A 1988 view of T14-17 blocks when the campus was further expanded in the mid-1980s
Perhaps you’re a current student reading this in some breezy, shaded spot on campus. Well, things could very well not have been so comfy were it not for Dr Toh Chin Chye and his efforts in making Dover SP’s very own.
The Sanctuary garden provides students with a beautiful and natural study environment
(Sunday Times columnist Sumiko Tan herself writes in detail about Singapore Polytechnic’s beginnings and more in the book, First and Foremost. You can check it out over at the Main Library! Good reading. Recommended!)