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Grange Road No. 25

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This is a community-sharing platform for users to share stories, historical information and images
These could take the form of anecdotes, comments and/or photographs, which add human interest and help to spread wider interest and familiarity with our built heritage.

Wellington House: 25 Grange Road

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20 Oct 2013

12 02 AM

Many years ago, my mum had shared with me, her memories of this house in Grange Road which she called "Wellington House". Her grandfather, Chee Swee Cheng had commissioned it and the family were to move from their home in Devonshire Road to 25 Grange Road. I have just two stories to share because the family never got to live in this villa.

The first story is in its name: Wellington House

Her brother Bay Hoon and mum, Lak Neo would often accompany their grandfather to the site while it was under construction. One day he had pointed out the shape of the house to them and told them that it resembled the largest sea creature in the ocean, the whale, and when it opened its mouth, it would swallow any evil spirit from the graveyards below..( I assume he was referring to the old Teochew cemetery where Ngee Ann City is now situated).
When told that the villa was named after their father Chee Guan Chiang, she said it couldn't be! Her grandfather had named it ' Wellington House' and had explained that the name 'Wellington' begins with 'Well' which meant 'good' and sounded like the word 'wealth'. It was only very recently that I discovered the monogram 'WH' can be found all along the balustrades on the outside veranda of the house as well as on the grand staircase inside the house.

The second story is an unusual one:
The Spirit of Kong Cho (great grandfather) visits Wellington House

The Chee residence was in nearby Devonshire Road. It was 1938 and Wellington House, 25 Grange Road, was near completion. Invitations to a grand Open House to be held in the 8th month of the Lunar calendar, were ready. Mum said that even the fine table linen for the banquet had been delivered. An auspicious date had been selected. It happened one evening in the 7th month of the Lunar calendar. Mum was 19 years old and it was her duty after dinner, to sit beside her grandfather who would be resting in his 'balai balai' ( the rattan recliner, also called the planter's chair) to fan him. That evening, while she fanned him, mum noticed that he had passed out. He had had a stroke. Her father, Chee Guan Chiang called for the family doctor and family estate manager, who lived nearby in Killiney Road.
There was a security guard, a 'Sikh Jaga' employed to keep watch over Wellington House. He would have lived on the premises of 25 Grange Road. It was while the family waited for the doctor and estate manager to arrive that the jaga appeared at the gates of their residence in Devonshire Road, quite agitated. He had come to tell my grandfather, Chee Guan Chiang that the Tuan Besar ( referring to Chee Swee Cheng ), had come to see the new house, had felt ill and asked to lie down. The jaga said he had left Tuan Besar there in Wellington House and had come to get help. When told that my great grandfather was lying right there in Devonshire Road having had a stroke, the jaga became hysterical and fainted. When he recovered, he went on to describe that Tuan Besar had arrived at Wellington House earlier and had instructed him to turn on all the lights in the villa as he had wanted to be sure that everything was in good order. The jaga said he had done as he was told but that later, Tuan Besar did not feel well and asked to lie down. So the jaga had come running to Devonshire Road to inform the family.
So, my Kong Cho passed on, aged 70 years. The family was in mourning for 3 years. Tradition forbade any celebration during this period. War broke out in 1941 and the family lived out the war years in Malacca. According to mum, my great grandmother (Mrs Chee Swee Cheng) then declared that she would never move in to Wellington House.

I recall a conversation with my mother in 2004, after I had gone exploring the grounds of the villa and showed her pictures I had taken there. She asked if the 'beautiful stained glass' she remembered, was still there. I had said that I hadn't seen it because I had only explored the grounds of the villa and was not able to get in. It was only last year in 2012 that I was shown photos of the beautiful stained glass, 2 storeys high, taken from inside the villa. I wish that I had known it was still there. She would have been so happy to know that it survived the war.

When shown pictures of the villa, mum was even able to point out where her sister's and her bedrooms were to be. A year later in 2005 , mum and her brother, Bay Hoon passed away within 100 days of each other. Mum was 86 years old.

Yvonne Lee-Khoo (daughter of Chee lak Neo)

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