If you’ve ever taken a stroll over the Cavenagh Bridge, sipped tea in the Shangri La Hotel or admired the Old Supreme Court Building, you’ve experienced the work of one of Singapore’s oldest companies – United Engineers Ltd (UEL) (SGX: U04).
Riley Hargreaves & Co
Founded way back in 1865, United Engineers was originally named Riley Hargreaves & Company after its two founders – British pioneers Richard Riley and William Hargreaves.
The engineering firm had its offices in Clarke Quay and quickly established itself in Asia, building steamers, buildings and structures including Singapore’s Cavenagh Bridge.
In Ipoh, Malaya, the engineering company specialized in the electrification of mines and mining equipment. Riley Hargreaves & Co. also set up the first garage in Kinta to repair motorcars.
United Engineers Ltd
In 1912, Riley Hargreaves & Co joined forces with another engineering firm: Howarth Erskine & Co to form United Engineers Limited. The new company imported, supplied and manufactured much of the heavy equipment needed in Singapore’s industries – making it instrumental in the 1930s construction boom.
Singapore Supreme Court
In 1937, UEL was responsible for building the (Old) Singapore Supreme Court on the site of the old Grand Hotel de L ’Europe with chief architect Frank Dorrington Ward – acknowledged by many as Ward’s most significant creation.
The company went on to build Singapore’s British High Commission building in 1939 and the Shangri La Hotel in 1971.
In 1976, UEL constructed the largest building South East Asia had ever seen at the time – the OCBC Centre. At 197.7m tall the building was designed to be a symbol of strength and permanence and its three-tier structure meant it could be built in just two years.
In 1996, the company completed its flagship project – the integrated shopping mall and office complex UE Square. The building was designed by world-renowned architect Prof Kenzo Tange and is marked as an historic site by Singapore’s National Heritage Board.
But did you know…
- Riley, Hargreaves & Co. built the Fort Canning Lighthouse in 1903, to guide ships safely towards Singapore Harbour – but by 1958 the lighthouse had been obscured by taller buildings and was dismantled.
- Cavenagh Bridge was Singapore’s third bridge – and only suspension bridge. It was almost replaced by the new Anderson Bridge in 1910, when it was found to be unable to take the heavy traffic of rickshaws and ox carts. Fortunately it was converted to a pedestrian bridge and spared from demolition.
- Riley Hargreaves & Co. erected both the Cavenagh Bridge and Telok Ayer Market – better known as Lau Pa Sat, using cast iron structures made by Glaswegian company P&W MacLallan.
- Riley Hargreaves & Co was responsible for the largest steamer ever built in Singapore – the Sarie Borneo.
- Buried beneath the original foundation stone of Singapore’s Old Supreme Court Building is a “time capsule”, containing six Singaporean newspapers dated 31 March 1937, and a handful of Straits Settlement coins. It is due to be retrieved in the year 3000.
Today, UEL has over 5,000 employees across 12 countries in Asia and continues to engage in the engineering, construction and property services, both in Singapore and internationally.
It provides engineering services for water related projects and water treatment. The company also still manufactures truck bodies and steel structures for the mining, oil and gas industries.
What’s more, UEL’s most noticeable project of late has just opened. Orchard Gateway – the brand new shopping mall on Singapore’s premier shopping belt, links malls on each side of Orchard Road via a unique glass tubular overhead bridge – perhaps one more Singaporean landmark to add to UEL’s collection.
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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Alison Hunt doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.