Saturday, August 22, 2015

Lost Roads and Heritage: Jalan Ulu Seletar and Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim

I've always had a strong interest in toponymics; history of place, where it got its name from, ect. This is also one of the reasons why this blog was set up. Presenting my first article by me, Jalan Ulu Seletar, Sembawang Road.


Few months back, I was riding my motorcycle back from Johor Bahru heading towards Bishan from my routine gasoline top up across the border. Rather than taking Selatar Expressway and exiting Upper Thomson, I decided to take the scenic route and use Mandai Road for a change. As defined by Google Maps, I followed the route it had suggested me. As I was riding down Sembawang Road, a small building caught my eye, from far, it looked like a mosque. So I decided to slow down and take an opportunity to pray there.
Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim in 2015.
There was something peculiar. The access road into the mosque looked very weird, seems like the length of the road was merely enough to park two vehicles with a rusty road sign at the kerb reading, "Jln Ulu Seletar". It was used as a parking space rather than a road. I decided to do some research when I have the time.
The street sign of Jalan Ulu Seletar, overtaken by algae
Jalan Ulu Selatar as viewed from Sembawang Road.
The length of Jalan Ulu Seletar is reduced to a stump, able to park two vehicles.
The name "Seletar" originated from a group of orang asli (aboriginal Malay peoples) living at the coastal lands of Sungei Seletar (Now Lower Seletar Reservoir) in northern Singapore. It is said that these aboriginal Malay peoples are relocated to Johor by the sultan in the 1800s. Seems that the name "Seletar" had been stuck and refereed to that area ever since. Translating directly to English, "Jalan Ulu Seletar" means "Rural Seletar Road" I assumed that the namesake road was also named due to its "ulu" location, given that at that time, it was really a rural location. I've tried to research on when exactly the road was built and named but to no avail.
A long concrete path in which I assumed was once part of Jalan Ulu Seletar. Now a footpath in Springside Park
The concrete path's end, viewed towards Sembawang Road. 
Springside Estate as view from the dead end of the former Jalan Ulu Seletar
Looking at the current state of the road, it seems to be serving as an address for Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim, the only Islamic institution around the area. To the south of the mouse is Springside Park, a small playground managed by National Parks. Aa concrete path right behind Jalan Ulu Seletar's end I presumed was formerly part of the road, leading to a row of metal poles to prevent vehicles from coming through. Beyond that is Springside estate. A quick check on historical maps reveals that Jalan Ulu Seletar was quite longer than what it currently is now.
Taken from the 1956 map at Jalan Ulu Seletar highlighted in orange.

Located within the former Nee Soon Village, several sources stated that the land to the south of the road was swampy wasteland. Later maps showed that the latter half is actually a track and a community center was built there in 1963. On a map of the Nee Soon Constituency, a village is depicted at the end of the road, presumably, Jalan Ulu Seletar serves as an access road to the village.

Jalan Ulu Seletar depicted in a 1972 map showing the two institutions.
Note the Kum Mang Hng Village depicted at the end of Jalan Ulu Seletar.

Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim

Taken from the Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim website and several other sources, in 1955 a madrasah (Religious School) was built on a piece of land at the junction of Sembawang Road and Jalan Ulu Selatar, bearing the address, "15 Jalan Ulu Seletar". It was known as Madrasah At Tazabiah Al-Islamiah. Within the madrasah building, it also housed a surau, known as “Surau Nee Soon”. It primarily serves villagers around the area. In 1959, the Member of Parliament for Sembawang-Nee Soon, Tan Sri Ahmad Ibrahim helped to upgrade the facilities of the surau and by 1961, its status was upgraded to a mosque and changed to its current namesake.
Taken from the Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim Facebook page. Photo dated unknown.
Taken from the Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim Facebook page. Note the 4 digit postal code.
The current sign of Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim, 2015, still bearing the Jalan Ulu Seletar address.

Demise of Jalan Ulu Seletar

Jalan Ulu Selatar in 1998 maps. Springside Estate roads are shown to be "Under Construction"
Nee Soon Village was to be converted into a HDB estate with plans laid out in 1976. It is presumed that the Kum Mang Hng Village was to be acquired by the government as Yishun Avenue 1 runs to the north of Jalan Ulu Seletar as shown in maps. By 1977, the villages had been cleared, paving the way for the construction of Yishun New Town.

The demise of Jalan Ulu Seletar became evident by the development of Springside private housing estate on the south in 1998 with the construction of Springside Avenue and Springside Road to the north. The land to the north of Jalan Ulu Selatar in which the rest of the road used to ply were in military control by around that time. Most of the road had became expunged by then, leaving a small portion to the south of Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim
Judging by the cars featured, this could be sometime in the late 80s and early 90s.
The road also seems to have fallen out of use as it featured a barrier which many
defunct roads have. Note the scenery in the background, featuring the swampy land.

Personal Thoughts and Reflections

Like many Malay road names in the 50s and 60s, many are defunct, renamed, expunged, gone or whatever the hell they call it, all in the name of development and in favor of English names such as "Selatar Aerospace Park" or "Seletar Link". I believe that if it wasn't for Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim, Jalan Ulu Seletar would have been totally erased from modern maps. A good way to retain the road would be to name the estate "Ulu Seletar" instead of "Springside" with the housing developments build around the road and secondary roads should be named using Malay road suffixes such as "Lorong Ulu Seletar", "Lintang Ulu Seletar", "Lengkok Ulu Seletar" and "Lebuh Ulu Seletar", retaining the traditional feel of the estate. The road could have been realigned to meet the needs of the development.
Jalan Ulu Seletar taken from the 1995 street directory over Google Maps location of the area.
What is left of Jalan Ulu Seletar today.
Today, Jalan Ulu Seletar is merely a tiny car park and an access path into the mosque. It remains to be an address of Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim along Sembawang Road despite being almost expunged. It is highly unlikely that the mosque will disappear or relocated anytime soon. Until then, Jalan Ulu Seletar lives ceremoniously as an address of a religious institution and in our memories.

Photo Credits go to NLB archives, Google maps, Singapore historical maps and

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