the house was beautiful. through the trees and the railings, beyond the shrubs and plants in the garden, i could see intricate white plaster work on grey. pillars, walls, portico… i couldn’t get a look at the entire house, but whatever was visible had such an air of a gracious time. it was so very pretty. i’d never seen something like it, the white work was fine and intricate, elegant on the grey background. looked like someone took great care of the place. and it was nothing like the glass and concrete, only straight lines allowed, homes that one sees everywhere. a look that over the years has grown palling, unimaginative. i took a shot, even though not much of the actual house could be seen. must show it to my daughter i thought.
i walked up to the gate. a stately gate post in white with a brass plaque; i peered and read the letters on it, the sun was high, a shadow fell across the shiny surface. eden hall. sounded grand, even if a bit out of place here in the heart of singapore in 2017. “eden hall,” i said in a propah tone and looked at aj. he was most worried that a guard would suddenly pop out of the guard house and we’d get straight into trouble.
we were walking on nassim road. from the botanic gardens the road goes all the way to orchard, curving and winding languidly; old trees line it; huge houses and bungalows, old and new, sit along both sides as well as on the lanes nearby. nassim is a gorgeous road, once there were nutmeg orchards here, then came the homes of the wealthy and well known. most of those period bungalows are gone now.
we’d got off at the head of the road in front of a humongous mansion, brand new you could tell. all around us was greenery and quiet. among the mansions in this good class bungalow (that’s how the town planning guys classify areas like this) estate, there were a few condominiums, but even they had that hushed air of wealth about them. an altercation broke out between the gardener in one of the houses and the guard of a condo, right across the road, they yelled at each other. it all seemed so out of place.
we realised there were several embassies on the road, the russian embassy ground looked massive. on the gate of a house was a placard saying it was a heritage mansion; details of when it was built, who owned it and how it had been renovated keeping certain original features intact. i tried to get a look at the place but it was tucked away beyond the long driveway.
aj and i decided we both needed a mansion on nassim.
there were a couple of new houses coming up, with basement, attic, swimming pool according to the notice boards up by the boundary wall. the doom gloom economy story had obviously bypassed this enchanted land. we ambled up the gradual gradient, then down the easy slope taking pictures.
i noticed the grey and white house and there was a long pause in the walk. who lived there, i wondered as we carried on past it.
the details are easy to find on the net. the house was built for a jewish merchant by the name of ezekiel saleh mannaseh in 1904. mr mannaseh was an iraqi jew, who was born and raised in calcutta, and had later moved to singapore. his business was in gunny, rice, and opium. the sprawling four and a half acre land was once part of a plantation. r. a. j. bidwell of the famous architecture firm swan and maclaren designed the merchant’s home. he was the architect of raffles hotel, goodwood park hotel, and the chesed el synagogue as well. the mansion was called “wedgwood house” by many, it was that delicate white plaster work that got it it’s nick name. i love wedgwood, maybe that’s why the house had called out to me…
goodwood park has a similar facade, but this was way prettier. mr manasseh was one of the owners of the hotel.
for some reason, mr manasseh didn’t move into eden hall at first, he let it out to a lady called elizabeth campbell, who ran a boarding house here. then in 1916, mr manasseh came to live in eden hall with his family. he had married an english widow with two children. in 1942, the japanese defeated the british here, and occupied singapore for three years, till the end of ww2.
mr manasseh was thrown into changi prison as were most jewish men in the city. his son vivian bath was sent to labour camp in japan. in 1944, mr manasseh died in changi prison.
sadness filled me as i read this. the small black type on the computer screen had a matter of fact air. it had stated a simple detail. nothing more. mr manasseh had passed away in 1944. life is strange, so very unpredictable… here he was a happy man (most probably) living with his wife and two children in a lovely home, surrounded by well tended gardens, his business flourishing. and suddenly in a matter of eight days, his adopted city is under an occupying force. next thing he knows, he’s being marched down orchard road toward the east, to changi prison, where he’ll get a cold narrow bunk to sleep on, barely anything to eat, hard labour and torture filling his day. and then one day he would die.
what happened to his wife, who was widowed once more? his son came back after the war and claimed eden hall; it had been turned into an officers’ mess by the japanese, they had apparently kept it quite well. around 1957, vivian bath decided to migrate to australia and sold eden hall to the british, who were still ruling singapore at the time, for a very reasonable price, a “nominal sum” is what one of the account said. there was a clause though, mr bath wanted a plaque installed at the bottom of the flagpole in the garden, which read “may the union jack fly here forever.” the british left in 1959, singapore became an independent state in 1965. eden hall became the home of the british ambassador, possibly the union jack was flying there but i was too busy gazing at the patterned walls rapt. the japanese embassy is not far from eden hall, we’d passed it on our way.
i showed the picture to my daughter, she loved the facade, the feel of the place. i cropped the picture to get a little closer. have to say, may not be a bad idea to have a nice “good class bungalow” on nassim some day.
the tress are old and seem to know many things. there are all sorts of takes on the net as to why nassim is called nassim. it means child in malay. it means breeze in arabic. but most likely, it’s named after a jewish family called nassim that lived here in nassim lodge.
the saudi arabian embassy has moved, this unsettling dilapidation and forlornness in the middle of well kept homes and posh residences.
an award winning heritage bungalow has the legend on its gatepost.
road to singapore, cluny road, dalvey road, nassim road, lermit road, 31/08/2017 #SG50
end of 1997, we moved to singapore from india. in 2015, the country celebrated fifty years of independence. singapore has given me much and i am fascinated by the spirit of this gutsy city state with hardly any land or resources, but oh what dreams and chutzpah (the finest interpretation of the word), the ability to reach big, hunker down and hold and strategise and act and grow. despite my many years here, i haven’t seen a lot of the island, which started out at only 28 miles by 18. now of course it’s bigger, thanks to that spirit i spoke of. so anthony john or aj as i call him, my walking partner, and i decided to do fifty walks in the island to celebrate #SG50. well, we didn’t stop at fifty; couldn’t. there was still so much to see and feel and also how not to let the hot, merciless, climate-change sun not have its way with us. so the walks continue, as does the walk talk. hope you enjoy, try to bring an umbrella.