Ye Olde Coleman Street Chapel

Ye Olde Coleman Street Chapel

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.
Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear the Lord, and depart from evil”
(Proverbs 3:5-7)
Coleman Street Chapel Model

Older ACSians who studied in the Coleman Street campus will be familiar with the above verse which was written high up around the walls of the Chapel Hall. Contrary to the ominous implication of ‘the writing on the wall’, it was a constant reminder of Christian ideals that have inspired and guided generations of students.

Coleman Street Chapel ModelThe Chapel Hall is no longer where it stood but before it was demolished in the mid-1950s to make way for a playground and a new auditorium, a balsa wood model of it was built by a team of six ‘wannabe architects’ from the 11th Scout Troop. These scouts - Patrol Leaders Leong Kwok Thye and the late Ong Whee Kiat, and Scouts Leong Kwok Onn, Cheong Kun Lum, Choo Teck Yong and the late Loong Seow Hiang - took almost a year working every Saturday morning to complete the model under the guidance of Rover Scout Tang Chee Yuen.

Crafted painstakingly in detail from balustrades to the ceiling cornices, the model is a priceless work of art. The team of scouts responsible for it is indeed very proud of their masterpiece considering it was constructed with rudimentary tools, and at a time when digital measurement and visualisation wonders like Minecraft were miles away. The model is now on display at the ACS OBA Heritage Gallery.

The ACS Echo hooked up with the Leong brothers, Teck Yong and Kun Lum via WhatsApp for a chat recently. It was a walk down memory lane for them and here is what they shared with us.

Coleman Street Chapel ModelEcho: How did you guys get involved in the project?

Kwok Thye: As it was more than 65 years ago, none of us really can recall exactly how we were roped in for the project. I can only surmise that it was initiated by the then Principal, Dr Thio Chan Bee, who sent us a ‘thank you’ note after the model was completed. The Chapel was originally the Methodist Episcopal Church built in late 19th century and I reckon Dr Thio wanted the model built as it is part of the Methodist Church’s history in Singapore. We are glad that it is now being displayed in the Heritage Gallery for posterity.

Echo: The model is an amazing miniature replica of the Chapel. How did you Coleman Street Chapel Modelmanage to duplicate it with such great detail?

Teck Yong: It was a lot of hard work. First, we had to get the scale model dimensions right and this was where our scouting skills on estimation came in handy. Photographs were taken of the balustrades, doorways, pillars, ceiling cornices, etc for us to replicate the details as closely as possible. Then we went through phases of preparation like planning, purchasing materials and assigning workloads before the real building work could start with supervision from Rover Scout Tang in his apartment along Armenian Street which was just a stone’s throw from the Chapel; in fact, looking out from Rover Scout Tang’s apartment window, we could see the Chapel.

Coleman Street Chapel ModelEcho: What tools did you use to build the model?

Kwok Onn: We used only basic tools – measuring tapes, pencils, rulers and erasers for the blueprint, ordinary blades and sandpaper to cut and shape balsa wood into balustrades, window frames, ceiling cornices, roof eaves, etc, and then glue to assemble the different components of the building together. The tricky part was carving the balustrades and columns exactly to shape and detail without nicking our fingers, which was a regular occurrence. However, whenever that happened, our scouting first aid skills were put to good use.

Echo: Were there any challenges along the way?

Kun Lum: We did not encounter any major challenges. Initially, we were bothered by the dust from sandpaper and the strong smell of glue, but we soon got used to it. Luckily, we completed the project before anyone of us became addicted to glue!

Coleman Street Chapel ModelEcho: Under such pressure, did you guys manage to get along? Were there squabbles or misunderstandings?

Kwok Onn: It was true that we were under pressure to get the project completed but there were never any squabbles or misunderstandings between us. On the contrary, our participation in the project bonded us closer together.

Kwok Thye: Yes, it was the ACS ‘can do’ spirit that kept us going. We took everything in our stride and kept our spirits high by trading camping and hiking experiences and jokes as we went on with our tasks. It was hilarious to hear confessions of cooking mishaps, flooding tents and stories of graveyard camps.

Coleman Street Chapel ModelTeck Yong: And after a hard morning’s work on the model, we always looked forward to a yummy char kway teow and ngoh hiang lunch at the famous Armenian Street coffee shop which was just a flight of stairs below Rover Scout Tang’s apartment!

Echo: Looking at how perfect the model turned out to be, one would have thought it was built by professionals and not by a team of schoolboys. “Well done” to all of you! Did any of you aspire to be architects then?

Kun Lum: The thought may have passed through our minds but none of us turned out as architects. Had we been, I can imagine that we may have possibly teamed up again to build ACJC, ACS (Independent) and the new Barker Road campus!

Echo: You must be very proud that the model is now on display at the Heritage Gallery for posterity and here again, full marks to you guys. Do you have any parting words to share with our readers?

Teck Yong: We held the chapel dear to our hearts and were indeed immensely proud to be part of the project. When we were working on it, we often shared fond memories of assemblies, being taught hymns and watching or taking part in plays at the chapel during our younger days but little did we know then that we would be called upon to build a model of it years later.

Kwok Onn: Being greenhorns, we were awed by the monumental task but perseverance and the ACS ‘can do’ spirit took us through to complete the project. We attribute this accomplishment to the inimitable ACS brand of holistic education and the strong Christian values inculcated in us.

Kun Lum: Teamwork which was not something new to us as fellow scouts also play a major role. Being on unfamiliar grounds did not deter us; we worked feverishly together as a team encouraging one another constantly to see us through to the end.

Kwok Thye: Working together on the project gave us many happy memories, fulfilment, and lifelong friendships. It was an experience none of us would want to trade. We consider ourselves very blessed. 

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