Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Woodside, Mount Parker Road

Several years ago, I posted a small and fairly insignificant post on my old blog about Woodside - the large red brick Colonial mansion that sits a little way up Mount Parker Road in Quarry Bay.  At the time (2008) the house was intact but seemingly empty and had already been given a Grade 2 listing back in 1998. Though small, the post was enough to trigger some really interesting comments from past tenants and it would be a great shame if they were lost. The benefit of this repost is to note that the building was re-opened to the general public in 2012 as the AFCD Biodiversity Discovery Centre. I did make an unplanned trip a year or so ago but unfortunately didn't have my camera with me.

Woodside's history dates back to the 1920's when Swire purchased the land in 1922 and built the property for two of the sub-managers (and their families) of the Tai Koo Sugar Refinery (one of Swire's many business interests). The original house was actually two adjoining properties but is now a single structure. It's not clear when the refinery closed but it appears that sometime in the early 70's it ceased operations. The land on which the refinery sat was eventually redeveloped into today's Tai Koo Shing - I guess even back in the 70's, property development was more profitable than refining sugar. Other buildings and facilities used by the refinery were also redeveloped, such as the similarly red-bricked Kornhill (you can see the it on Andrew Tse's excellent FLICKR stream), the Quarry Bay Workers Village, Stanley Terrace and the reservoir (the latter was emptied and turned into Mount Parker Lodge development).

It's not clear why Woodside managed to evade the fate of the other buildings within the Tai Koo Refinery area, but perhaps it was because the access road (Mount Parker Road) wasn't wide enough to be feasible for large scale development? I guess it no longer matters,at least for the time being (note that the building hasn't been graded as a 'protected' monument, and in fact hasn't even been given a Grade 1 listing...go figure!)

Luckily, for a change, the Govt has done decent job at turning it into the Biodiversity centre. although the addition of an internal lift may be one of the reasons why the building can't be declared a monument - perhaps it had to be changed too drastically internally to allow its adaptive reuse?

As mentioned on the original post, my buddy Mark was pals with someone who used to live here and when everyone moved out the contents of the library were up for grabs. Mark got there and managed to grab a dog-eared copy of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, only to find out the inside had been hollowed out in order to hide stuff (who knows what was in there?).

Here are some of the memories of others who posted on the original article.

Adrian Says:
I’ve a lot of memory of this old bldg...within the Tai Tam Country Park, there are some sites...built for British army used during WW2 including hidden tunnels linked between hills in Mt Parker. Furthermore, the 4 buildings ( Tai Hing, Tai Lung Tai Shing & Tai Chau Bldg. ) on Quarry Bay Street were former staff quarters for Taikoo Sugar Refinery Ltd & Taikoo Dock Ltd. and there are one more former quarters site at Sai Wai Ho & one near Taikoo MTR station.
I think Adrian may be referring to the various wartime stove sites that can be found in the vicinity. There are three large clearings that house large brick built (red brick, so perhaps constructed from leftover material after the refinery buildings were built?). Here's an example below.

Also, Adrian mentions the tunnels and I have been told these are the ones south of Siu Ma Shan between Tai Fung Au (Quarry Gap) and Jardine's Lookout.

Irene Says:
I lived in the house for about a year when my Father was manager of Taikoo Sugar Refinery in 1968/69. When I stayed at Woodside I was only 13 years old [but] I do recall a rockery garden to the side of the house where there was a display of nursery rhyme figurines. I also remember the small swimming pool in front of the house and the extensive vegetable/flower gardens. At the end of the gardens there was a lookout where I used to watch the planes at Kai Tak Airport.
I'm fairly certain the pool has long since gone but the garden has been tidied up by the AFCD and serves as a pleasant place to sit and relax for a while - especially if you are tackling the steep climb up to Quarry Gap. If there is still a lookout in the garden then the view will most likely be completely obscured by the trees that now surround the property.

Adrienne Says:
I was born in Hong Kong in 1952. At that time, my parents were living in Woodside House with friends of theirs until they finally moved to their own house on the Peak. I often visited it afterwards as a little girl and was always afraid of eventually coming across a porcupine which were known to roam the garden after coming down from the hills. By the way, my mother’s ballet school – Carol Bateman School of Ballet – at the Helena May on Garden Road still exists today.
Adrienne did mention she may have some pictures of Woodside, however, I suspect the sudden end of my old blog perhaps cut short our ability to see them. However, she has been kind enough to share some of her memorabilia over on and you can see them by clicking here.

Geoff also shared some of his memories on the old post, but best of all is that he also loaded up some of his photos over at as well. You can see Geoff's pictures here, but here are some of his memories he kindly shared in the comments.
I was a 16 y.o. when I left in 1959. My father was Head of the Heavy Machine Workshop at Taikoo, building Taikoo Doxford engines for the new ships and carrying out major engine room repairs. Before that, he had been Taikoo's Senior Harbour Engineer based at Butterfield and Swire's offices in Connaught Rd - at that time on the CBD waterfront. He was the only Australian at Taikoo, which he had arranged to join whilst calling at HK on 29 November 1941 (10 days before the Japanese invasion, by which time his ship had - fortunately - left), so he was unable to take up the appointment until September 1945 after which he was very involved in the reconstruction of the dockyard. 
I lived at Stanley Terrace from 1946-59, went to Quarry Bay School and King George V School, and spent a lot of my spare time at and around the Taikoo Club and Woodside as well as roaming the hills with my dog. There would have been 30 or so mainly Scottish kids living at Stanley Terrace. My mother's family had lived in HK since 1919, her father was a ship's captain.
The Taikoo Dockyard Summer 1962 journal ( no. 16) had an excellent colour photo on its cover depicting the valleys and hillsides as they were, back from the dockyard across the Taikoo Club grounds, to Stanley Terrace (3 buildings), the “front” dam as we used to call it, Taikoo workers village, and Woodside. Doesn't quite show Kornhill or Quarry Bay School. I have a photocopy of the cover – and might even be able to turn up the original – if you are interested and cannot locate the journal in HK. I lived at Stanley Terrace in the 1940s and 50s, and early on used to visit the Fords (Sugar Refinery Chief Engineer) at Woodside and later played tennis there with Gary Beattie whose father was Manager of TSR. I called in to have a quick look when I was in HK in March, having recently discovered it was still standing.
Actually, since Geoff posted these comments he also kindly loaded up the above mentioned journal cover to and you can find it at the following link: It's really interesting to compare Quarry Bay now with how it used to be and about the only thing that can still; be recognised is Woodside!

Angel Says:
...I have just spoken with the amah ‘Hing jie’ who worked at Woodside for Mr Clarke around 1951-57. She later married the cook of Mr Ford. She told me the names of Beattie (a tall guy and successor of Mr Clarke) and the Fords (living in the other unit of Woodside, with a teen daughter). She also remembered the tennis court close to the mountain side and veggies were grown at the backyard. 
Brenda Says:
I don’t know if you can read Chinese. Gary Wong’s Film Pilgrimage carries an entry in Dec 2011 on two movies shot in Woodside House:
1) 92 Legendary La Rose Noire (92 黑玫瑰對黑玫瑰) directed by Joseph Chan (陳善之) and with movie stars Tony Leung Ka Fai, etc.
2) Dance of a dream (愛君如夢) directed by Andrew Lau (劉偉強) in 2001 with movie stars Andy Lau, Sandra Ng, and the late Anita Mui.
Thanks Brenda for the heads up, yes, I know Gary and have his book so many thanks for mentioning it. I would also like to add that it was also seen briefly in the 1997 Chinese Box starring Jeremy Irons, Gong Li and Maggie Cheung. You can see a post I did for it over on my other blog here.

And finally, to finish on a mystery, one of the last comments I received on the old blog before I pulled the plug was this one from Rose Gibson who asked me if I knew what happened to the remains of a man who was buried in Woodside's garden?

From what I gather from Rose's comments and subsequent information that came from Gwulo, it looks as though Roses father - Theodore Leslie Bell - a civilian who was shot and killed by the Japanese during the fighting on 19th December 1941. It seems that Bell's body was lost and Rose was under the impression that he may have been given a hasty and unofficial burial in an unmarked grave inside the grounds of Woodside. If anyone has any information it would be great to get to the bottom of it.


  1. I lived in Woodside in 1996. It was converted into about 5 or 6 apartments at that time.

    The residents included a number of young Europeans and Americans. There was one very large apartment lived in by a Sri Lankan family.

    The library, some very large reception rooms, the verandas and the huge kitchens in the basement were all available as shared spaces to everyone living there. We spent many happy evenings on the veranda.

    I remember half a dozen of us coming home late one night; around 3.00 am; to find a film crew recording what I believe was an episode of the Cantonese version of The X Files in our basement; the place was full of actors dressed in alien suits... and a couple in suits with torches playing the lead roles. It was that kind of place!

    I heard it was being pulled down and am delighted to hear it hasn't been; I have very fond memories of the time I spent living there!

  2. Irene mentions a lookout - I have been through the gardens to the West of the house and there is a lookout at the end which would have been much less grown over in those days. It appears there were also greenhouses in that area based on the concrete footings you can still see. I assume the tennis court was where the current reservoir and exercise area have been constructed?
    One question - the area on the other side of Mt Parker Rd runs down to the old reservoir and looks as if it may have been gardens or maybe long gone housing? It has certainly been leveled and used for something in the past - today its an interesting walk.

    1. thanks for the comment, Nigel. There was a lot of Tai Koo related buildings all around the area and Woodside is the only red brick survivor as far as I know. Are you talking about the large flat area to the SSE of the building? It's like a large podium terrace? It looks as though there was a small(ish) building there at least until the mid 70's. At least the 1975 map shows it (so it must have been permanent in the map sense). However, what it was I have no idea. Regards, Phil