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Not TikTok, tick tock: Travel back in time with Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall’s Clock Tower Climb

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At noon, 12 chimes echo through Singapore’s Civic District. They are loud enough to be heard from the Padang, Parliament House, and even across the Singapore River. So imagine how teeth-rattling it would be at the top of the iconic Clock Tower itself, next to the tolling bells.

This is the final part of The Clock Tower Climb at Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, a 90-minute walking tour that gives participants a glimpse into bygone eras, including Singapore’s colonial history.

Comprising three parts: Victoria Theatre, Victoria Concert Hall, and the Clock Tower which joins the two, the venue is Singapore’s oldest performing arts centre. The buildings—art and artefacts in themselves—have stood the test of time.

While they have evolved into state-of-the-art performance venues, a stroll through their hallowed halls will reveal that history is alive—and ticking.

Past lives: Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

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Amid a turbulent 20th century, the theatre and concert hall played host to several watershed moments in the island’s history. They served as the site where ballot papers were counted during Singapore’s first elections in 1948; as the stage for the first performance of the national anthem Majulah Singapura in 1958; and even as a hospital during World War II.

These past lives may not be obvious to modern audiences. But they linger in the form of art.

For instance, during refurbishment works in 2010, wooden seats in the theatre were repurposed into an art installation that continues to delight audiences just outside the theatre’s doors.

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Its history is also evident in the plasterwork of the Concert Hall, previously known as Victoria Memorial Hall. Built in 1905 to mark the passing of Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1901, the building facade features a subtle motif: the acronym “VRI". It stands for Victoria Regina Imperatrix, or Victoria Queen Empress in Latin.

Marking Time: The Clock Tower

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To scale the 54-metre-tall Clock Tower, one must don a hard hat and climb two steep ladders. But it is worth the view at the top and a closer look at the intricate mechanism behind the clock’s ticking hands.

Set in motion in 1907 by Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, the Clock Tower has stood proudly for over a century. It even survived aerial bombing during World War II, thanks to measures taken to conceal the luminescence of its four opal faces. Every 15 minutes, a snippet of the popular Westminster chime is played—the same melody played by London’s Big Ben. This is accomplished through a partly-automatic system of weights, pulleys, and gears, maintained twice monthly by a craftsman.

The biggest of five bells is tolled hourly, a steady marker of time. The tower has stood as a witness to the nation's growth over the years. As its chimes echo over the years, skyscrapers rise in the distance. The once-polluted Singapore River now glitters under the sun. And high above the Parliament House, the Singapore flag proudly flies.

Climb into the annals of history with The Clock Tower Climb at Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall. Early bird tickets are priced at $40.

All images belong to Catch.

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