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Architect Thomas Steele

Some of A.B Hubback’s design schemes were completed only after the First World War. He had decided to stay on in the UK, and so his design projects were taken over by officers of the FMS Government Public Works Department. Led by Major Huxley who took over the Government Architect position, four of A.B Hubback's designs were completed in 1917 under the supervision of architect Thomas Steele: a. New Railway Offices (KTMB HQ) b. Ipoh Town Hall and Post Office c. Ipoh Railway Station and Hotel d. Ubudiah Mosque in Kuala Kangsar

We would like to share an article written on Thomas Steele, extracted from The Malayan Architect magazine, published circa 1936.


Malayan Architectural Personalities

Mr. Thomas Steele

Mr. Thomas Steele of Ipoh was born at Sandbach, Cheshire in 1886 his family soon afterwards moving to the nearby town of Northwich. He was educated at Winnington Park School, Verdin Art School, the College of Technology, Manchester, and in the office of Mr. A.E Powles, FRIBA, Architect of Northwich.

Mr. Steele says the eleven years spent in that office were very interesting, for in addition to an interesting County practice the town was in the brine pumping area where subsidence was not uncommon. The main street had to be raised every 3 or 4 years, this necessitated the buildings having to be raised also, and occasionally it became necessary to remove a whole building to a new site, this was carried out on large beams, with plenty of soft soap and powerful Hydraulic jacks.

The Clubs and Pubs which had Billiard Rooms had the tables levelled every day and the legs packed up with ordinary playing cards.

In his youth Mr. Steele’s ambition was to become a Marine Engineer so that he could see the world and in 1913 he had not lost the rambling spirit for in that year he applied for and obtained an appointment in the Government Architects department, PWD, FMS and was attached to the Kuala Lumpur Office where Mr. A.B Hubback (commonly known as Trilby) was the Government Architect. Upon arrival he immediately took over the scheme for the then New Railway Offices opposite the Station which he says Mr. Hubback appeared to consider was very urgent and when this was through, he went onto various other schemes.

As Mr. Hubback (now General) went on leave in 1914 and never came back and Mr. Huxley was allowed to join up to 1915, there was a general post and Mr. Steele was sent to Ipoh in the same year as Ag: Asst: Govt: Architect and although the votes had been cut down elsewhere this he say did not appear to have affected Perak, for the following works had recently been commenced and were completed under Mr. Steele’s supervision, the Ipoh Town Hall and Post Office, Ipoh Railway Station and Hotel, large Extensions to the Central Mental Hospital, Tanjong Rambutan, the Perak State Mosque, Kuala Kangsar and the latter being erected departmentally, also H.H the Sultan’s Kuala Kangsar Town Mosque, and a New Prison Block at Batu Gajah. In 1917 Mr. Steele decided to go Home to join up. The GOC (General Ridout) recommended him for a commission in the Royal Engineers which he eventually obtained after going through the usual training. He was then sent with the expeditionary Force to N. Russia being attached to the Murmansk Force and detailed for Kem on the White Sea, where during Winter a temperature of ’30 degrees below’ was not uncommon and rather different from the usual temperature at Ipoh. Mr. Steele was demobilized in 1919 and came back to the Govt: Architects Dept:, he only stayed a fortnight having decided to throw in his lot with Messrs. Stark and McNeill – 1920 was spent in the Penang office. After that he was again back in Ipoh and has been there ever since as Assistant, and Partner and in 1932 became Principal of the firm. During this period he has carried out may works in Ipoh, being responsible for the erection of the Anglo Chinese Girls School, St. Michael's Boys School, Additions and Alterations to several other school, the Presbyterian Church, a large office block for Chua Cheng Bok, Office for the Estate of the alter Captain China, Additions to the Grand Hotel and in the Thomson Road-Tiger Lane area alone for over 40 European Residences, in addition to Residences for several of the leading Europeans and Chinese both in Ipoh and district, Branch Premises for the Singapore Cold Storage Co., at Ipoh, Taiping, Telok Anson and Kampar. In the development of Cameron Highlands, his works include the Eastern Hotel, Residences for Towkay Leong Sin Nam, French Tekka Mines, Mr. Evans, Dr. Hall. Among other works which he has in hand at the moment are the Kinta Swimming Club, Residence for the Manager of Messrs. Fraser & Neave, Staff Quarters at Malim Nawar for the Perak River-Hydro-Electric Power Co., Additions to the Ipoh Convent, additions to Lee Chan Arcade and residence for Mr. C.F.F Wearne at Renglet, Cameron Highlands.

Mr. Steele has been a Perak Appraiser since 1920 and has carried out a vast amount of Valuation work both for Banks and private firms. He joined the old MSR in 1914 and, when the Singapore Caps were instituted in early 1915 was with the first detachment. Whilst there, he was one of the Guard over the Prisoners Camp at Tanglin just prior to the Singapore Mutiny. Afterwards when the Prisoners were sent to Sydney by the SS ‘Montoro’ he was in the Guard composed of the MSVR and Shropshires and says the trip was very exciting in many ways. He has been keen on most games and has played Hockey for Perak but now considers that Golf and Swimming are strenuous enough for one of the border lines of the half century.

He has always taken an interest in the Ex-services movement, having been attached to the local branch practically since its inception, was Chairman in 1933, and considers that the movement has and will give real help when needed. St. George’s Society has also been one of his interests and he is now the Vice-President of the Kinta branch.

He says he was been fit during his 22 years residence here and has no complaints with the country as a place to work in, especially with a trip to Cameron Highlands occasionally and a ‘stengah’ or two.

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