Among the places that I have visited, Istana Woodneuk is probably one that would attract the most interest. While most other similar mansions that were still in ruins some 20 years ago have been either acquired and redeveloped (like the Alkaff Mansion) or demolished (like the Istana Tyersall, see below), Istana Woodneuk has been left relatively untouched for decades. As such, it has become a popular site among photographers despite (or rather, indirectly because of) its inaccessibility.
I came across this building on the web, but information is hard to come by. It is not marked on any modern maps, but is clearly visible from satellite images. It is surrounded by thick vegetation due to lack of development. A road known as Catterick Circle used to run across this plot of land, and was still shown in maps long after the mansion was removed from the maps. Its junction with Holland Road is barely visible next to Botanika (previously Dragon Court), while the stretch that connects to the junction of Gallop Road, Tyersall Road and Tyersall Avenue is now overgrown with grass and trees. The main gate along Tyersall Avenue (roughly near where the Swan Lake in the Botanic Garden is) is still there, but part of the stretch of Catterick Circle is overgrown as well. None of these junctions nor the Circle itself is plotted on modern maps anymore.
Despite being situated on the top of a hill, enjoying a clear panoptic view of the surrounding in its early years, it is no longer visible from the adjacent roads as well.
The top levels are almost completely destroyed in a fire a few years back
Interested visitors have to either climb over the locked gates along Tyersall Avenue and trek through the forest and tall grasses that covered a stretch of Catterick Circle, or trek along a barely visible path (possible left behind by past visitors) through the forest along Holland Road (from the bus stop across Dempsey Road). Both paths are potentially dangerous though, and are not encouraged.
The dirt track that leads to the mansion
The first glimpse of the mansion
Istana Woodneuk was built by Sultan Abu Bakar, the 21st Sultan of Johor, for his fourth wife Sultana Khadijah. She lived in this palace until her death in 1904, and Sultan Abu Bakar’s son, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar took over. He rebuilt it for his third wife Sultana Helen Ibrahim. It is not known when they moved out of the palace, although it still belongs to the royal family of Johor today.
Long corridor that leads to the back
The remains of the blue-tiled roof
The 2-storey building was engulfed in a major fire on 10 July 2006. The entire blue-tiled roof, which was previously visible from satellite images, was destroyed, together with most of the second storey. Most of the debris that covered the second storey has been cleared, except for this small staircase. Some of the blue tiles are still visible among the debris.
This flight of staircase has not been cleared, and is still covered by the debris from the fire
The main central staircase was also badly damaged in the fire, but has since been rebuilt, perhaps by the contractors engaged to clean up the place. Its structural integrity is still dubious though, and there are signboards everywhere warning people of the risk.
Warning signs were placed all over the building
Now exposed to the open, the second storey has been invaded with vegetation.
The second floor
From the balcony, there is a clear view of the surrounding. The building now faces the tall grasses and trees that visitors have to bash through if they enter from Tyersall Avenue.
View from the balcony
Most of the furniture has also been cleared away, but there are still a few rooms on the ground floor that has not been cleared.
Remains of a car?
Adjacent to the main building are two smaller red-tiled roof buildings that are relatively undamaged from the fire.
Undamaged side buildings, probably for servants
A dirt road in front of the building (I thought it was Catterick Circle, but the locations don’t seem to match) now leads to two constructions sites. It is not known if Istana Woodneuk will be affected in the near future.
Construction site at the end of the track
Guardhouse, covered with moss?
Apparently there is also a white guardhouse down the road. There was a structure that was densely covered with moss, but I am not sure if it is the guardhouse.
Designed by Sultana Fatimah (?)
Istana Tyersall has been frequently confused with Istana Woodneuk, as they were both built in the same area, around the same period, by the same Sultan. Istana Tyersall, however, was for his first wife Sultana Fatimah, who allegedly was in charge of the design as well. It was constructed by Chinese contractor Wong Ah Fook, and its grand opening was graced by Sir Cecil Clement Smith, Governor of the Straits Settlement. It was supposed to replace the Tyersall House, which was given to Sultan Abu Bakar by William Napier in the 1860s. Tyersall House, which was the namesake for Tyersall Avenue, was destroyed by a fire in the 1890s, prompting the construction of Istana Tyersall. Istana Tyersall was one of the first buildings in Singapore to be powered by electricity.
By a weird twist of fate, Istana Tyersall was also destroyed in a fire in 1905. Its ruins was apparently acquired by the government in 1990 and demolished completely. Compensation was made to the descendants of Sultan Abu Bakar. According to online information, the building acquired was located on 2 Cluny Road, but Cluny Road is located on the other side of the Botanic Gardens, hence it is not sure if it is the same building. Anyone has any additional information on this?
I have marked out the approximate locations of Istana Tyersall and Catterick Circle in this map, by comparing with old maps that I found, though I’m not sure if how accurate it is. The location of Istana Woodneuk is correct though.
File Last Updated: January 8, 2013