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Old Parliament House


The old Parliament House, a legacy left behind by the British, is Singapore’s oldest government building and one of the places visitors to the city want to visit. It’s history goes back to the early 19th century when a Scottish merchant based in Java, John Argyle Maxwell, obtained permission to build a house on a plot of land between High Street and the Singapore River. Maxwell was one of the three magistrates in the Settlement of Singapore. The palatial private residence of Maxwell was a reflection of the economic boom and vibrancy of the period as trade bustled, and more people came to settle and work here.

The neo-Palladian style of the building was designed by G. D. Coleman and highly fashionable and popular among the British colonialists that time. Maxwell’s House reflected that style of architecture with its generous porticos, courtyard gardens, large windows and doors, verandahs and tall ceilings. The original design of the building progressively diminished as a result of major alterations and enlargements between 1874 and 1954.

Maxwell’s house was however, never used as a residence as it was originally intended. Before its completion, the building was leased to the British colonial government and when it was ready in 1827, it housed the court and various government offices. The central tower, which we still see today, was perhaps used as a lookout tower for ships. In 1839, a single storey building was added, and this became the new Court House. When the new Supreme Court building was completed in 1939, the old Court House was relinquished of its judiciary function. The building was then used as a government storehouse and as the Department of Social Welfare, before becoming semi-derelict.

In 1953, the Colonial Office appointed a constitutional Commission headed by Sir George Rendel to propose a new political structure to pave the way for Singapore’s self-government. The result was the Rendel Constitution, which provided for a Legislative Assembly with an elected majority and a ministerial form of government. The former Court House building was chosen to house the new Legislative Assembly of Singapore and renovations were carried out to restore the building to its pre-1901 conditions. On 7 July 1954, Sir John Nicoll declared the restored Assembly House open.

The beginnings of Singapore’s own parliamentary framework came into practice with the first multiparty elections for a legislative assembly held in 1955. The Labour Front formed the government and its leader David Marshall, was sworn in as the first Chief Minister of Singapore. Following independence in 1965, the Legislative Assembly of Singapore was renamed the Parliament of Singapore and the building was renamed Parliament House.

One prominent landmark on the grounds of old Parliament House is the bronze elephant presented by King Chulalornkorn of Siam on his visit in 1872. This statue was originally placed in front of the Victoria Memorial Hall where the Raffles statue now stands. In 1919 when Singapore celebrated the centenary of its founding, the bronze Elephant statue was moved to its current location.

One important symbol of Parliament is the mace that was inherited from the First Legislative Assembly in 1955 when Singapore was still a British colony. The mace symbolises the inviolable authority of Parliament and the Speaker. Without it, the House cannot be constituted and no proceedings can take place.

Another structure that symbolises the link between the Singapore Parliament and the United Kingdom is the 'Tudor Rose' - a rose-shaped stone structure presented by Her Majesty’s Government to the Singapore Government on 15 December 1955. The fabric of the structure was from the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster.

Old Parliament House remained the seat of the Legislature until September 1999 when a new $80 million Parliament complex was completed next to the old building. The three-block complex has a built-up area of 19,800 sq.m. In addition to the Parliament Chamber, the complex also house an educational gallery for students and a theatrette.

Posted: 10/22/2012 (11:19:31 AM)

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