Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Concrete Nannies

This photo shows a 'concrete nanny' helping with building work in the 1960s. This photo was taken by David Papworth and features in my book, 'More Memories of Singapore and Malaya'.
A concrete nanny was a Chinese female manual worker who helped out on building sites to give their children, many who were adopted from poorer families, a better education. They usually wore red hats.
I mentioned earlier about Mr Lee's house which stood opposite us at Jalan Wijaya. When we first moved in, in 1965, the house was just being built and there were many concrete nannies, complete with red hats, working on the building site. My parents remember them being called 'cement amahs' at the time.
They were once a popular sight and there were even dolls made of them which were bought by tourists. Nowadays, they've long since disappeared from the streets and buildings of Singapore and Malaya.
I wonder how many other people remember them?


  1. The "Samsui Woman" construction job is a vanished worker in Singapore according to "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" blog at:

    The Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resorts (IR) massive construction project no longer to find any "Samsui woman" shown in your photo above.

  2. If I remember correctly, these women do not have any children of their own, spoke a Chinese dialect specific to their status (believe it was a vow), and were a diminishing population in the 1960s. The name of the dialect escapes me at the moment unfortunately.

  3. Hi Tracy, I think you are right, their children were usually adopted as they have vowed not to marry so that they could take care of their families back in Southern China. By the way, the dialect you mentioned could be Cantonese.

  4. In June 2010 Singapore Chinese Girls' School performed a dance within their annual show that featured some girls dressed as Samsui women and others carrying little dolls. I have a photograph of the Concrete Nannie doll referred to by Derek but I don't think we still have the original! The SCGS costumes were blue with red aprons and the red headgear.
    I vividly remember these women working when Liat Towers was being built opposite the Lido cinema in Orchard Road (the site now houses a massive Borders and shopping complex) and elsewhere in Singapore between 1963 and 1969. As Thimbuktu says (above), you certainly don'r see them nowadays - nor the bamboo scaffolding that use to surround building projects.
    Incidsentally, none of my teacher friends at SCGS had ever heard the term "Concrete Nannie"; they were quite bemused when I called the dancers this backstage.