Istana Woodneuk


Istana Woodneuk: the most expensive haunted house in Singapore.

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- Alfe Kim

Discover the Istana Woodneuk Haunted Mansion

That’s right, one minute you can be pasting stickers on lamp posts, exploring old colonial houses or hiking through the jungle, and the next you can explore Istana Woodneuk – a haunted mansion. Singapore really has something for everyone!

This mansion, once a grand royal residence, now lies in ruin, and there are a couple of catches if you want to visit it. Firstly, it has been claimed by paranormal activity (or so the legend goes), and if that doesn’t phase you, if you’re caught trespassing, you will be arrested.

Whilst we do not condone or advocate flirting with the law (or ghosts!), we are about to divulge all things Istana Woodneuk, just to keep your curiosities peaked.

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- Alfe Kim

The Royal Heritage of Istana Woodneuk

Origin Story

Built in the 19th century the intricate history of Istana Woodneuk involves a series of reconstructions and ownership changes. Located on a 36-acre section of the Tyersall Park estate it was first owned by the English trader, Captain John Dill Ross, before being sold to Sultan Abu Bakar's in 1860. From here the Istana became a temporary residence for the Sultan's third wife, Sultana Fatimah bte Abdullah.

Interestingly, the Woodneuk was inhabited by Sultana Fatimah whilst she awaited the completion, which occurred in 1892, of her home Istana Tyersall. Tyersall was another grand residence of Sultan Abu Bakar and is often mistaken for the Woodneuk. The two were distinguished by their roof colours; Woodneuk had bright blue tiles and Tyersall, until its demolition, had red tiles.

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- Alfe Kim

“And I give and bequeath to my wife, Sultana Khadijah… the ground, house, furniture, and garden situated in the district of Tanglin in Singapore called “Woodneuk” … which is near the Istana Tyersall.”

Sultan Abu Bakar’s will in 1895.

Upon Sultan Abu Bakar's demise he then bequeathed Istana Woodneuk to his fourth wife, Sultana Khadijah, where she sold it to the Sultan’s son, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, before her passing in 1904.

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- Alfe Kim

World War Two

In 1932, the Istana underwent a reconstruction by Nanyang Structural Co. Constructions after a fire in 1925 had led to its destruction. The new structure, completed in 1935 and rechristened "Istana Wooden York”, became the permanent residence for Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar and Sultanah Helen, but the new name never stuck. In 1939 the Sultan lent part of the Tyersall estate to the Indian Army in preparation for World War Two (WWII).

During the Battle for Singapore in WWII, the Istana played a vital role after being converted into the British Army headquarters. Ultimately, this explains why the mansion became the target of Japanese bombing in 1942 that killed around 700 medics and patients. The mansion remained the royal residence of the Sultan’s family until the beginning of the Battle for Singapore.

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- Alfe Kim

Era of Abandonment

After the liberation of Singapore in 1945, Istana Woodneuk was occupied by several other officials including General Sir Miles Dempsey and Commander-in-Chief Sir Montagu Stopford in 1946. On 16 January 1947, Governor-General of Malaya Malcolm MacDonald and his wife Audrey Marjorie Rowley briefly inhabited the mansion. And finally, in 1948, the Woodneuk was handed back to the Sultan.

Sadly, from the 1950s onwards, the Istana became unoccupied and was managed solely by a caretaker hired by the Johor State Council. However, when he died in 1986 it became completely abandoned.

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- Alfe Kim

A Second Fire

In late 1951 the Sultan had spent S$14,500 to re-roof the palace, since the blue tiles had been blown to pieces by the bombing. Unfortunately, these new tiles were reduced to ashes after a second fire consumed the building in 2006.

Damaged beyond repair, Istana Woodneuk was condemned as structurally unsafe. In April 2015, the forest path leading to the palace was sectioned off by the Singapore Police and 10 months later, a notice was erected near the path warning people not to trespass.

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- Alfe Kim

Becoming a Haunted Mansion

Despite the destruction, Istana Woodneuk remains a captivating example of a former royal residence. The mansion's remains are softened by the greenery of the vines crawling up the crumbling walls. Trees grow through cracks and the corridors and rooms lie in silence and darkness. This juxtaposition of decay and nature's persistence adds a layer of eeriness to the site.

It is this lingering sense of unease that has attracted the attention of many explorers. Explorers who flock to Woodneuk for any number of reasons from curiosity’s sake and photography sessions, to outright ghost-hunting.

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- Alfe Kim

As to be expected, not many things will fill you with unease quite like a visit to a large, abandoned mansion that is eerily silent and dark. We expect it's the sort of experience where your own fear causes you to jump at your own shadow and become filled with dread by the sound of otherwise easily explained noises. And this is how we assume the Woodneuk has achieved its haunted reputation; word of mouth from creeped out trespassers. As well as the ominous grafiti marks they have left on the walls.

The Most Expensive Haunted House in Singapore

As part of an expansion plan for the Botanic Gardens, the Government of Singapore purchased plots of the Tyersall Park estate on two separate acquisitions in 1990 and 2009. But the Woodneuk was never part of sale and remained Johor Royalty. The remaining land was valued in 2007 at S$4.7 billion, making it the most expensive house, or haunted house depending on what you believe, in Singapore.

Even though the land has been valued, it has been designated as ‘Special Use’ and ‘Open Space’. This means it cannot be developed or sold so there is currently no telling on the future of Istana Woodneuk.

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- Alfe Kim

Finding Istana Woodneuk

The Istana is situated deep within the woods along Holland Road and Tyersall Avenue and is not listed on modern maps. Therefore, accessing this hidden gem is an adventure in itself (one that is not recommended may we add). The grounds, including Tyersall Park, are marked as "Permanently closed" on Google Maps, emphasising its restricted access. But there are walkthrough videos online that allow you to view the mansion’s current state.

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- Alfe Kim

And for the adamant adventurers amongst you, reaching Istana Woodneuk involves navigating the dense foliage along Holland Road. The closest bus stop (11209) is opposite Peirce Road, from where you walk towards the shelter and enter the foliage on the left.

The journey through the forest path is short but demanding, with thick undergrowth and trees requiring some sections to be traversed on foot. The entrance is easily missed, tucked away from the footpath. Once you conquer the forest path, a bumpy driveway reveals remnants of the old entrance, leading to the now dilapidated Istana Woodneuk.

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- Alfe Kim

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