Mar 10, 2009

Hill 100 from 500 Feet: Was This Metal Box Company of Malaya?

Chun See’s Hill 100 post on the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore and his follow-up post got me excited over the various landmarks mentioned in the blog. He mentioned Hill 100, Woodlands Home for the Aged, Marsiling Road, Metal Box Company etc. – landmarks from the past. All of them are not on the map today. With an insatiable thirst for heritage mysteries, I embarked on my own missions to find out more about the landmarks. Besides, Second Shot has not had a heritage adventure in a long time….

Today I will blog about my search for the Metal Box Company of Malaya. The company later became CarnaudMetalbox (might be related to CarnaudMetalbox Engineering) and produced aluminium drink cans and tin cans for packaging kerosene and cooking oil, according to the oldies.

Metal Box Company Metal Box Company, 1963. Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Possible Metal Box CompanyWoodlands Road, March 2009.

I’m not sure whether the March 2009 photo is a “second shot” of the 1963 one. All I know is, when I was walking along that stretch of Woodlands Road, the coconut? trees behind the fence looked quite out of place. I don’t think these were the same trees in the 1963 photos, but this was as if nature’s way of telling me, “those trees mark the spot, dude!”

Coincidentally, if you look at my next photo, there is a bus stop just before the overhead bridge. Could this be the same bus stop in the 1963 photo but upgraded?

Possible Metal Box Company
Woodlands Road, March 2009.

Looking at the 1983 Street Directory, my location certainly looks like where Metal Box Company used to be located.

Street Directory by Chun See

What do you think, readers? Have I found what was once Metal Box Company of Malaya?

Update on March 14, 2009

This was the photo taken by yg of the old gate, as mentioned in the comments:

Metal Box Company Gate

Articles in the series:
Part 1 – Was This Metal Box Company of Malaya?


yg said...

icemoon, according to my map, metal box was located directly opp where the railway track crosses sungai mandai. i will go and check it out for you.

yg said...

i failed in my 'mission' to walk to the railway crossing (over the mandai river). it was much further than i had imagined; i gave up after walking about 800m as the ground was soggy. anyway, even if i had managed to reach the point,it would not have helped because it was too far away from the road and my view would have been blocked by all the trees.
anyway, i think you are right about the location. it should be somewhere before the woodlands fire station, from the direction of the causeway. i took a picture of the old gate, which is visible in your photo 'woodlands road, march 2009'.

Icemoon said...

Very much appreciate the help, yg.

I think that should be the place. I remember the gate was open, did you manage to sneak in?

Lam Chun See said...

The other day when we went to check out Hill 180, Peter and I drove along this stretch of road. And we sort of agreed on the location of Metal Box. Anyway, I visited the factory a few times in the mid 90's. They have two entrances. One main entrance was for staff and visitors. The other I think was for delivery trucks. I remember the main entrance was very steep.

Icemoon said...

Thanks Chun See for the extra info. I will put up another post about Metal Box in future.

Lam Chun See said...

If I am not mistaken, there used to be a Union Carbide factory nearby. I recall that one of my friends went to work as an industrial engineer there in the mid 70's. I think the older guys like YG would know.

yg said...

chun see,

i think there was a veesop factory (ajinomoto) just after the causeway and a hindu temple before the metal box factory.

Anonymous said...

I think it was a small Hindu shrine with 2 statutes of a cow.

Next to Metal Box was the SHELL oil storage tanks which kept the supplies of petrol and aviation fuel here. Opposite the SHELL and on the side of the Malayan Railway track was an oil depot where SHELL tankers came to pick up their supplies for distribution to all the petrol stations in Singapore. At that time, all the SHELL oil tankers were painted bright yellow with the red SHELL logo.

Anonymous said...

There was a road bridge over the railway track (now I think it's the flyover which leads to the Immigration Complex). Just after this road bridge on the left was the Woodlands Police Station and on the right was the Customs & Immigration buildings. It was 1 -storey in the 1960s and then became I think 2/3 storeys before this new complex was built.

Lam Chun See said...

Nobody remember the Union Carbide factory?

I think the Hindhu temple was there until quite recently.

Anonymous said...

chun see
Union Carbide @Hillview.

There was a Union Company which bottled Schweppes and Pepsi drinks. I think there was a dummy bottle on top of the factory roof but this one is 12ms Woodlands Road before Mandai Road and Woodlands junction.

YG I cant remember an Ajinomoto factory (I thot I saw Ajinomo in Petaling Jaya Malaysia but not Singapore) but a Federal Chemical Company just behind SHELL plant yes.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. I know Union Carbide was at Hillview. Chuck called it 'tian tor long'. But I am referring to Woodlands in 70's.

alex said...

Hi Icemoon

Came to this article late, located this article after reading Chun See's blog by Tim.

Yes the site located is Metal Box factory site. The gate shown is what we called "The Out Gate", this is where the delivery lorries which carry the cans or scrap metal leaves the factory.

If you look at Google Map/Earth, slightly down the road there is another entrance, and that is "The In Gate" The official visitors' entrance and exit gate.

From Google Earth you can see a patch of brown land, that is where the factory used to be.

The ESSO station is right across the road, that is a landmark.


alex said...

Hi Icemoon.

Apologies for a mixed up.

The gate featured in the bog is NOT "The Out Gate", the correct "Out Gate" is some distance up the road. The width and structure of the "Out Gate" is very similar to that of "The In Gate"

The metal gate featured is one almost never used by the factory, it is leading from a road dividing between the football field and the other green grass patch. This gate is some times used when authorized by the factory management, like in case of emergencies.

Both "In" and "Out" gates have round-the-clock security guards, and this "Middle Gate" is locked all the time, and not manned.

I hope this clarifies the 3 gates.

Got a little mixed up, after all the last time I left from "The Out Gate" was in 1978....(33 years ago)


Icemoon said...

Alex, thanks for the clarification! Looks like I have indeed located its gate, albeit not the main one. Thanks to folks like Alex, this blog will never run out of topics, lol

alex said...

Ice moon

Thanks for the reply comment, the first picture on the page was indeed a 1963 picture, and it was taken In January, when the factory went on one of their famous strikes. The 1963 Metal Box strike started on 4th and ended on 23rd January.

The Metal Box was organized by a left wing union, and in 1963 their advisor was Fong Swee Swan, a famous labor movement leader who was later part of the opporsition leadership.

The left wing influenced union held their last strike in 1977, and that was the last industrial action, as NTUC affiliated union SILO and PIEU supported the management, by sending in workers after the management announced a lock out, after the MOM declared the union's strike was illegal. I rememeber the union did not obtained a full mandate before down tools.

As they say, the rest was history.

The stricke picket line picture brings back memories.