Reminiscences: Life in Hong Kong's Built Heritage
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After graduating from secondary school, I was employed as a clerical officer at the District Office (North). I decided to get my own place in Tai Po so that I wouldn’t have to travel too far to work.

The District Office (North) managed the then Northern District of the New Territories, which included most of the area called the “New Territories” that was leased to Britain in 1898. Before the Second World War, its main responsibilities were dealing with criminal and civil affairs, and handling Crown leases and land distribution.

The adjoining Tai Po Police Station was the place where the British held its flag-raising ceremony when they took over the New Territories in 1899. It was the first formal police station built by the colonial government in the New Territories. Together with the District Office, it was a symbol of British governance in the New Territories.

In addition to the rule by government, villagers formed village patrols to maintain order. Our Shui Tau Village and Shui Mei Village in Kam Tin Heung also organised a self-defence village patrol, headquartered in So Lau Yuen, to defend our villages against bandits from both land and sea.

The villages in the New Territories also established village alliances, which were based on lineage or geopolitical relations to unite and protect villages against enemies. For instance, Kam Tin Heung encompassed numerous villages. The urban areas also had similar patrol and alliance systems.

Old District Office (North)

The old District Office (North), built around 1907, was the earliest civil administration office in the newly leased New Territories. Administration, magistracy and land registration in the northern New Territories were carried out in the building. It is a two-storey, red brick building with a spacious verandah and brick arches on the front. It is now used as the Eastern Region Headquarters of the Scout Association of Hong Kong.

Old Tai Po Police Station

Built in 1899, the old Tai Po Police Station was the first formal police station and police headquarters in the New Territories. The station is rich in the colonial architectural style, but there are also some Chinese elements. It was closed in 1987 and has been revitalised as “Green Hub” for promoting sustainable living.

So Lau Yuen

So Lau Yuen was built by Tang Kuen Hin, the sixth rank military official, during the Qianlong reign (1736-1795) of the Qing dynasty. In the mid-nineteenth century, it became a study hall and later was turned into the headquarters of the local self-defence village patrol. The building has two halls and one courtyard, with some beams and corbel brackets made of granite.

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My dad was a sergeant stationed at Central Police Station. He said that suspects would first make a statement in Central Police Station. If they were charged, they would be transferred to the adjacent Central Magistracy for trial. If they were convicted, they would be taken next door to Victoria Prison to serve their sentence. Thus, this is a unique building cluster, which handled investigation, judgment and correctional services under the same roof.

More serious cases were transferred to the Supreme Court. You could see the Supreme Court Building when you walked down Stone Slab Street (Pottinger Street). It is a magnificent granite building. On top of its main pediment is a stone statue of the Greek goddess Themis. She holds a sword in her left hand, representing justice and power, and a balance scale in her right hand, representing fairness and justice. She is blindfolded to symbolise equality before the law.

Old Central Police Station Compound

The old Central Police Station, together with the former Central Magistracy and the old Victoria Prison formed a cluster of historic buildings relating to the law and order in Hong Kong.

The old Central Police Station is one of the few surviving police stations built in the nineteenth century in Hong Kong. It was closed in December 2004. Inside the building compound, the main highlights are the Barrack Block, built in 1864, and the Headquarters Block, built in 1919.

The former Central Magistracy building was completed in 1914, making it one of the oldest surviving court buildings in Hong Kong. It was closed in 1979, and since then, it has been used as an affiliated building of the Supreme Court and offices of the Immigration Department, and by an affiliated association of the Police.

Some of the earliest colonial buildings built in the mid-nineteenth century are still inside the old Victoria Prison. From the 1980s onwards, the prison was used to house illegal immigrants and Vietnamese refugees. It ceased operation in 2006.

Old Supreme Court Building

The old Supreme Court was opened in 1912. The three-storey granite building is Neo-classical in style. It is supported by tall Ionic columns from the ground, and on top of the main pediment is a statue of the Greek goddess Themis, representing justice. It housed the Legislative Council Chambers from 1985 to 2011 and the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal since 2015.

Pottinger Street (Stone Slab Street)

Pottinger Street was named after Sir Henry Pottinger, the first Governor of Hong Kong. Since the street is mostly paved with granite stone slabs, it has been commonly known as Stone Slab Street. It is one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong.

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  • Old District Office (North)

  • District Office (North) in the past

  • Verandah of the old District Office (North)

  • Old Tai Po Police Station