Old photos and their history

Mawdsley, Saundrey, and Cook, Singapore, c1920s/1930s

A photo of three men in Singapore printed on a Gevaert postcard back.

A rough date of the photo can be surmised from their clothing. The creased cuffed trousers, slicked centre-parting, round sunglasses, and pencil moustache point to the 1920s or 1930s. One looks to be wearing a felt hat that could be a fedora.

They’re photographed outside, standing against a wall.

Gevaert Photo Products was founded by Lieven Gevaert in Antwerp, Belgium in 1894. The company later merged with Agfa in 1964 to become Agfa-Gevaert.

Singapore – 1920s and 1930s

The island city of Singapore had been part of a British Crown Colony since 1st April 1867. The name of this colony was the Straits Settlements. Other territories within this colony were Dinding, Penang, Labuan, and Malacca.

It was a modern city boasting magnificent European architecture. The roads were filled with motor cars and trams. Apart from the heat and rickshaws, one could forget they were in Asia.

Those who lived on the streets of Singapore were mainly Chinese, with some Malays, Indians, and Europeans. This ethnically mixed population had been the result of British colonial development attracting immigration. And with these waves of immigration had come different religions. Singapore had become home to many Buddhist and Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Christian churches.

A film from British Pathé shows Singapore street scenes from the 1920s:

This is a longer film from 1930, made available by the University of Pennsylvania Museum:


There were many ways those three men could have entertained themselves. As well as the numerous shops, Singapore was home to three large amusement parks. These were called New World, Great World, and Happy World.

The first, New World, was opened in 1923 by the brothers Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock. It offered general entertainment such as amusement rides (Ferris wheel, ghost train, dodgem cars), football, opera, boxing, and cabaret.

New World was followed by Great World, built by Lee Geok Kun and opened in 1929. Happy World, later renamed Gay World, opened in 1937. This third amusement park was built by George Lee Geok Eng of George Lee Motors.

Naval Base

Often described as the “Gibraltar of the East”, the British Empire understood its economic and strategic importance in the region.

In 1923, to counter the growing Japanese Empire, work began on a large naval base. It was completed in 1938. This concentration on fortifying Singapore from a naval invasion, however, led to its downfall. In 1942 the Japanese Army successfully conquered the island by attacking the naval base from the land.


“Empire Shipping On The Trade Routes Of The World.” Times [London, England] 5 Mar. 1924: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 23 Sept. 2018.





General history of Singapore resource provided by National Library Board of Singapore:




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Stylish Woman in Garden, Late 1920s

Here we see a photo of a woman printed on a postcard backing. The white picket fence, cut grass, and neatly ordered vegetation give away her location as that of a garden.

Her clothes are influenced by the popular flapper look. Her hair is in a bob. Instead of enhancing her curves, the outfit straightens her body. The hemline just below the knee was the fashion of the late 1920s as women showed more of their legs.

She’s wearing many items of jewellery. A beaded necklace, a charm bracelet with charms, an arm ring, and what may be a wristwatch.

The item she’s holding against her face looks like a purse.

For information on the clothing fashions of the 1920s you can try:



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Beachy Head, Woman with Oriental-Patterned Parasol

A small photo of a woman sitting by the sea holding a parasol. The pencilled note on the back identifies the scenery as Beachy Head near the town of Eastbourne, UK.

She’s wearing what would’ve been regarded as indecent to the generation before. The hemline is high and her arms are bare. On her right arm is a mark left by what appears to be a bracelet; a tan line perhaps.

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