City Weekend

Memories of Peak Mansions: former residents reflect on life in stunning flats overlooking Hong Kong

Facebook group hears how residents played on the rooftop and took the Peak Tram to get to school before the building was demolished in 1990

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 January, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 11:53am

Former residents of luxury flats which stood on Victoria Peak in the last century have been sharing their fond memories through a Facebook group.

The ex-inhabitants of Peak Mansions, which was demolished in 1990, have been reminiscing about days spent playing with neighbours on the building’s roof and taking the Peak Tram to school.

One of the most prominent former residents was police commissioner Roy Henry, who headed the force from 1979 to 1983.

Built by Shanghai-based firm Credit Foncier D’Extreme-Orient in1928, the Peak’s pre-war history as a residential area for the city’s European elite meant the flats were mainly inhabited by expat families. Belgian architect Gabriel van Wylick led the building project and reportedly took flat 9 after the block was built.

They were advertised in that year in the Hong Kong Telegraph as “The Peak Mansions: Situated within two minutes’ walk of he tram station and overlooking the southern side of the island. Ready for occupation. Five and six roomed apartments with all modern conveniences, drying rooms and outhouses, two lifts.”

Prospective tenants were invited to “Apply to Credit Foncier D’Extreme-Orient, 4th Floor, French Bank Building”.

The headquarters of the Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers) moved from Lower Albert Road to Peak Mansions on December 14, 1942, according to Tony Banham’s Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941. The regiment was based there during the battle for Hong Kong. The flats were damaged during fighting with the Japanese, who briefly occupied them.

The government acquired ownership of the flats in 1956 to house mainly civil servants and their families.

Chris Tinson, 56, a retired project manager who has since moved to Guildford, lived in Peak Mansions between 1974 and 1978, from the age of 14 until he left for university in England.

The flats were stunning and their location must have been one of the best in the world
Chris Tinson, retired

His parents continued to live in the flat until the early 1980s, when they too eventually left Hong Kong for England to retire.

“The flats were stunning and their location must have been one of the best in the world,” he said. “I also think a lot of the good memories I have are down to being a teenager in Hong Kong in the seventies – a fast moving city in a very fast moving decade.”

Tinson said he and many of his neighbours attended Hong Kong International School and would use their season passes to take the Peak Tram to class.

“Being government flats, everyone knew each other,” he said. “Having the tram meant going to the city centre was like dropping in to the local shops.

“It was like being in a small village but all of the families were of similar social standing.

“My dad started as a motorcycle courier in the government and worked his way up to a fairly senior position. In doing so, the government gave us bigger and better accommodation, and typically each time a bit higher up the Peak. We could never afford a flat like this ourselves, especially in that location; the flats were a leftover from the colonial times.”

Writing on Facebook group “I grew up in Hong Kong in the 1970s/80s”, Karen Luard said she lived in the flats with her parents Ross and Val Penlington and her sister from 1966 until they moved in the mid-1980s.

“I loved Peak Mansions,” she said. “I used to play in the rubble ruins next door of the Peak Hotel; there were so many pretty mosaics strewn on the ground!”

Lindi McMullin said she lived at flat number 11 on the top floor from 1962 until 1971.

“They were great flats – huge,” she said. “There was good playing space on the flat roof area and the ruins behind. There was a huge area of overgrown rubble from the hotel in World War Two. I have great memories. My dad got my three sisters and I to climb from the bottom to the roof when there was scaffolding up as it was being painted for one year. There were no safety ropes!”

During the British colonial period under the Peak Reservation Ordinance, Chinese and non-Europeans were barred from living on The Peak until after the second world war. The Peak Tram was also restricted for certain passengers during busy periods.

Victoria Peak has become a major tourist attraction since the apartments were demolished. The roads around it have continued to boast multi-million dollar luxury properties.

British novelist Martin Booth wrote about life on The Peak in his autobiography Gweilo. He and his parents initially resided at the Fourseas Hotel in Kowloon, then a nearby house in Boundary Street, Mong Kok, before upgrading to a swish apartment on The Peak.

As a young boy, Booth was initially fearful about losing his independence on The Peak after being able to roam the vibrant streets of Kowloon, but later adjusted to life on the hillside. “For me, ‘back home’ meant an apartment on The Peak with a world-famous view, not a semi-detached at the end of a cul-de-sac on the eastern fringes of London,” he wrote.