The neo-classical beauty of Beaulieu House

Overlooking the Strait of Johor, Beaulieu House may be one of Singapore’s most well-preserved heritage buildings.
 
Beaulieu House

Beaulieu House is located at 117 Beaulieu Road, within the grounds of what is now Sembawang Park. Built sometime in the 1910s, the house was believed to have been owned by a Jewish family by the name of David, before the building and the surrounding land were acquired by the colonial government in 1924 for the construction of the Sembawang Naval Base. The building later became the residence of senior engineering staff involved in the construction of the naval base: Vice-Admiral Geoffrey Layton from 1940 to 1942, and senior Royal Navy officers after World War II. When British forces withdrew from Singapore and the naval base was handed over to the Singapore government in 1968, part of the base, including the house, was developed into Sembawang Park in 1979. Beaulieu House has housed a restaurant since 1981. It was accorded conservation status on 8 April 2005.

Origins
Located at the end of Sembawang Road, at a favourable site overlooking the Straits of Johor,2 Beaulieu House was probably constructed in the 1910s, during the period when other beachfront properties were also built in the Katong and Pasir Panjang areas.3 The house served as a holiday seaside residence for a Jewish family by the name of David.4 J. B. (Joseph Brook) David, the scion of the family, was a well-known businessman and leading member of Singapore’s Jewish community who had mining interests in Malaya as well as horse racing and real estate interests in Singapore.5 He reportedly lent his holiday bungalow, possibly Beaulieu House, to a newly married couple for their honeymoon in July 1923.6

Naval base
In 1923, the colonial government began acquiring land in Sembawang and Seletar for the development of a naval base.7 In 1924, David was paid $105,000 for approximately 1,730 acres of land in the area, including the house.8

The building was first referred to as Beaulieu House during the construction of the naval base, when it became the residence of Superintending Civil Engineer C. H. Cole and his family.9 During this period, the Coles hosted activities of the Singapore Art Club, and religious services at Beaulieu House.10

The naval base in Sembawang was officially opened in February 1938.11 Between 1940 and 1942, Beaulieu House became the residence of the most senior British naval officer in Singapore and the Far East, Vice-Admiral Geoffrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief, China Station.12

Following the Japanese Occupation, Beaulieu House was occupied by senior fleet officers, including Rear-Admiral Francis Brian P. Brayne-Nicholls, Chief of Staff of the Far East Fleet, who sometimes received salutes from passing ships from the jetty in front of the house.13

In January 1968, the British government announced its decision to withdraw its military forces from the Far East, and to close all military bases outside Europe and the Mediterranean by the end of 1971.14 In a ceremony held on 8 December 1968, then British Minister for Defence (Administration) G. W. Reynolds officially handed over Sembawang Naval Base to then Singapore Foreign Minister, S. Rajaratnam.15 The various facilities within the naval base were then handed over to the Singapore government, which had plans for development and conversion of the facilities for civilian use.16

Restaurant
In November 1978, the Parks and Recreation Department (now National Parks Board) announced plans to develop a new public park at the end of Sembawang Road, overlooking the Straits of Johor.17 Sembawang Park opened in 1979, and encompassed Beaulieu House within its grounds.18 Since 1981, Beaulieu House has been operated as a restaurant.19 It closed for renovation in 2001, and reopened in November 2003.20

Architecture
Built in the Neoclassical architectural style, Beaulieu House is topped with a sloping mansard roof and a roof-top patio. The patio is enclosed within decorative cast-iron balustrades.21 The interior features high ceilings, patterned floor tiles and ornate plaster wall-finishing.22 In front of the building stands a jetty and a small stretch of beach.23

Building name 
The origins of the building’s name remain unclear. Beau in French means “beautiful” or “good”, while lieu means “place”.24 The David family owned several other properties that bore names such as Bexhill and Rockhill, but there is no evidence that Beaulieu House was so named at the time that the family owned it.25

The earliest reference to Beaulieu House appears in a 11 March 1924 notice announcing that Superintending Civil Engineer C. H. Cole and his family would be taking up residence at the house.26Another newspaper article, dated 13 July 1929,  mentions the house together with the development of the naval base.27 It is possible that the building acquired its name from the British.28

As the naval base was regarded as a symbol of British naval power in the Far East, the name may have been inspired by the historic Beaulieu (pronounced “Bewley”) River dockyards in Hampshire, England, that produced many of Britain’s naval vessels in the 18th century and is regarded as the birthplace of British naval power.29 There is a popular theory that Beaulieu House is named after an Admiral Beaulieu who lived there in the 1930s. However, this remains unsubstantiated.30

Author

Joanna HS Tan

source: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1768_2011-05-20.html