Matilda House, with Soo Teck LRT station in the background
|Address||21 Punggol Way
Matilda House is one of the oldest houses in Singapore. Located in Punggol, it is very close to the Soo Teck LRT Station. The house was originally built in 1902 for Mr Joseph Cashin, whose family history in Singapore can be traced back to the early 1840s. It has entrances on two sides of the main building, an open balcony at the front facade, and a long verandah. The house is now uninhabited and is currently in ruins.
Matilda House was given conservation status by Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority in February 2000. Despite redevelopments in the surrounding area, it stands as a reminder of the past to the residents of Punggol. It is a frequent haunt for photographers, especially for those who want to take night shots of the place.
Memories of Howard Cashin
The following is an extract of the newspaper interview with Mr Howard Cashin when he and the newspaper team visited the place in 2002.
It was in October 2002, Mr Cashin and The New Paper team visited the Matilda house again. Mr Cashin was quite shocked by seeing its present state, and he confessed to being 'a little shaken' at seeing it in its present state.
The glorious past
The dilapidated framework and red corrugated roof don't do any justice to its glorious past. It had a red-tiled roof and pristine white-washed walls then. It was a sprawling, single-storey, six-bedroomed bungalow with servants quarters attached, stables on the side and set in orchards which had mangosteen, durian and rambutan trees.
Manicured lawns, tropical blooms, clipped hedges lay to the front with neat tennis courts to the sides. And a long staircase ran down the garden - which was on several levels - to the sandy beach, which was a mere 200m away. Even this was not all of it. The Cashin family owned about 350 hectares of land in the area on which there were also rubber and coconut plantations.
'The last time I came here was about 10 years ago,' said Mr Cashin, looking mildly upset. His first memories of Matilda House date to the time he was about 4 years old. The Cashin family, originally from Ireland and one of the oldest to have settled in Singapore, owned several other houses here. Mr Cashin was born in their mansion in Haig Road, now no longer in existence. There was also a house on Grange Road and another in Sarimbun. In addition, the family owned other properties, including about 400 shop-houses all over the island.
'It was my grandfather, Joseph William Cashin, who made the money,' he explained. Once a lawyer's clerk, his grandfather invested in opium farms - legal in the 1880s - and made a fortune there before investing in real estate. Cashin Street, off North Bridge Road, was named after him. 'My father followed suit, but without benefit of the opium,' quipped Mr Cashin. 'He built Matilda House, and my memories of Singapore as a small boy revolve vastly around it. We could swim in the sea, but in pagars (a swimming enclosure in the sea) to keep out sharks or the occasional crocodile which would appear.'
Mr Cashin later became one of this country's best-known legal eagles, and was a sparkling personality and somewhat controversial figure on the sports scene. The long-time president of the Singapore Rugby Union played on the Singapore Cricket Club rugby team and also captained its cricket team for several years. But he had left Singapore at 7 to go to school in England. And stayed there for 11 years, going later to Oxford University where he shone at cricket and rugby and qualified as a lawyer.
'I had some happy days at Matilda House when I returned just before the war,' he said. 'Then went off again.' He spent much of the war in the Indian Army, stationed at the north-east frontier. He said matter-of-factly: 'Those places they mention in Afghanistan these days... they are all familiar to me.' Immediately after, he returned to England, was called to the Bar in London and came back here to practise as a lawyer.
'I was also newly married then,' he said. 'And we set up home in Matilda House.' Those halcyon days, when he was a 'workaholic lawyer', avid sportsman, young husband and father were evidently the happiest. His two children from that first marriage - Mary, now 48 and Charles, now 46 - spent their first years in the house. Later his brother, Mr Joseph Cashin, also a prominent lawyer here, took over the house with their mother and sister.
They were asked to leave about 10 years ago and the house has lain empty, falling slowly into ruin.
Mr Cashin himself had left Singapore by the late 1980s, settling in Italy with his second wife. But when that marriage was over, he returned here, to Murphy and Dunbar, the old law firm he'd been a partner in. It was dissolved in 1996 and he started his own firm. He is only semi-retired now, still taking the odd case. And is now married to Lily Cashin - also a lawyer. They now have their law firm together.
Seeing Matilda House after all these years was an emotional experience. There's regret at the state of disrepair it has fallen into, but that's tinged with a measure of satisfaction. He said: 'I'm happy that the house will still be standing. But I hope it will be used well.'