History of Guillemard Road
Geylang is bordered by Paya Lebar Road, Sims Avenue, Mountbatten Road, and Guillemard Road. The area around Guillemard Road shares a history and culture with Geylang, hence its part of the larger history of the Geylang area.
This neighbourhood is recorded as Geylang Village in an early map dating back to 1849. The map also captures a large coconut plantation. It is argued that the name Geylang is borrowed from the Malay word Kilang that means mill, press, or factory, referring to the presses and mills present in the area then for coconut processing.
The area began as a settlement- Geylang Kelapa, the name Kelapa means coconut in Malay, indicating the heavy presence of coconut plantations in the area during that time. Its original inhabitants were Orang Laut – the sea nomads were resettled here from the mouth of the Singapore River around 1842 by the British government. They lived in houses made of stilts in groups along the river basin, forming residential enclaves or kampong. The first Kampong in the area was Kampong Melayu, now Geyalng Serai.
In the early days, the area was an agricultural land popular with the fragrant lemongrass or Serai in Malay, which explains the area’s name, Geylang Serai, derived from the lemongrass factory that was situated here.
By the early 1900s, Geylang had split into two regions on the eastern and western parts of the Geylang River. The eastern part became home to the Malays who resided in traditional houses and practised agriculture, while the western side consisted predominantly of the Chinese who owned shops situated between the Geylang and the Kallang Rivers.
With two communities giving Geylang its split character, the area evolved from an agricultural centre into a residential enclave. Due to the flooding of rivers and poor sanitation, the kampongs along the rivers were demolished by the turn of the century. This gave birth to an urban centre, Geylang, which established itself as an entertainment centre.
The housing boom, alongside the population growth after the First World War, contributed to Geylang transformation into an experimental ground for new housing types that included bungalows, shophouses, and a variation of the two. The houses were distributed along Geylang Road- the main street, Lorong Avenue 11-14, 27A & 29.
Many beautiful shophouses with hybrid designs representing the infusion of the Asian and European designs became popular between the first and second World Wars. Chinese influences on the housing designs are seen in the natural V-shaped clay tiles of the roof and the unique 3-D plaster reliefs on the facades. Malay features are present in the wooden fretwork and the Peranakan aesthetics complemented by the colourful European tiles on the front walls and French windows. The bungalows took a uniquely Singaporean design with a mix of Chinese, Malay, and European characteristics.
At the end of the second world war, the area’s population increased, and the inhabitants started occupying idle land. During the 1950s, many Chinese inhabitants moved out while the Malays moved in, predominating the area.
In 1962, the government bought 400,000 square feet of land in Geylang Serai for redevelopment. The Geylang Serai Housing Development Scheme was tasked with redeveloping the area into a modern satellite town. Around the same time, the Geylang River was expanded into a canal.
In 1965, three residential blocks of flats were constructed in the area. More redevelopments followed, and by the beginning of 1980, old kampungs had vanished in Geylang and were replaced by HDBs flats, modern shopping complexes, light industries and industrial estates. However, the Malay Culture was saved from extinction and preserved in the Malay Village bordering Geylang Road, Geylang Serai, and Sims Avenue.
Fast forward, Geylang is now a bustling Central Region residential enclave with a multicultural HDB population. By 2018, Geylang was home to 30,304 HDB flats housing over 87,300 HDB residents. Many people like living here due to its convenience when accessing different amenities and the city centre.