Watervale House / Officers' Mess in Gordon Camp [c.1933- ] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Watervale House / Officers' Mess in Gordon Camp [c.1933- ]

Current condition: 
In use
Date Place completed: 
c.1933-01-01 (Year, Month, Day are approximate)

The building is included in the government's "Batch V of Revitalisation Scheme". Their web page has photos & videos of the building.

The AAB have produced an Historic Building Appraisal for this building, (their ref:N216):

Historic Building Appraisal
“Watervale House”,
Former Gordon Hard Camp,
Castle Peak Road–Castle Peak Bay Section, Area 48, Tuen Mun, N.T.

The building known as Watervale House (hereafter, “Watervale”) was built around 1933. It is constructed on the western side of a broad low valley down the sides of hills with a stream which meanders in a north-easterly direction past the house. This is probably the origin of the house name, “Watervale”. The house has changed hands several times before it was rented and then purchased by the War Department after the Second World War.
Historical Interest

The history of “Watervale” as a private residence (1933-1949)

Originally a private residence, “Watervale” is situated in a pre-war New Grant Lot, Lot No. 329 in D.D. 376 covering an area of 30,000 square feet of land, which was granted to its first owner Mr. Octavius Arthur Smith by means of lot exchange on 12 June 1933. Between 1919 and 1933, Mr. Smith (the first owner of the house) was working for an import & export company, Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co., Ltd. of No. 2 Des Voeux Road Central, as a manager. During that period, his name continued to appear on the Hong Kong Jurors List.

The house was later associated with a public figure named Feng Rui (馮銳) (1899-1936) alias Feng Tai Ha (馮梯霞) alias Edmund E. Vong, who was also prominent as an agriculture specialist. Feng was born in a village near Canton (Guangzhou 廣州) where he was raised and educated before he went north for further studies in Nanjing. He later won a scholarship that enabled him to attend Cornell University, US, where he earned a Ph.D. in agricultural sciences in 1924. After graduation, he worked for six months as an intern in the US Department of Agriculture and made a study tour in Europe before he returned to China. After a period of teaching and research in Canton, he worked in North China for several years and then took up the post as Director of the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Agriculture and Forestry (廣東省農林局長) in November 1931.

Given his credentials as an agriculture expert, Feng served as Dean of Agriculture at Lingnan University concurrently with his post in the provincial government. From 1931, he was a Guangdong representative in the negotiations with national-level officials such as Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), T.V. Soong (宋 子文) and H.H. Kung (孔祥熙). Feng mainly worked in Canton where he had a house in the district of Tungshan (東山), but in view of the fact that he had to travel frequently on duty (e.g. he made visits to Hong Kong in 1934 to discuss dealings with the Taikoo Sugar Refinery), he set up a home in Hong Kong. In 1936, he gave his address in Hong Kong as “Watervale, Castle Peak” (which had acquired for $20,000 in September 1935) where he spent time with his two daughters and his wife, whose name was Chen Chou-yu (陳昭宇) alias Sophia Chen, when they were in Hong Kong.

Feng Rui advocated the application of scientific methods to improve and expand the cultivation and processing of sugar cane. Under his direction, China’s first up-to-date sugar mills were built in Guangdong province in the 1930s. By re-opening, and later expanding five of the six sugar mills built under Fung’s direction, the post-1949 officials succeeded in establishing sugar as Guangdong’s most important single source of revenue. By the mid 1950s, Guangdong was supplying half of the milled sugar consumed in China. For the head start in sugar milling that he has made, Feng is still widely regarded as the forerunner of Lingnan’s sugar industry (嶺南糖業先驅) and the father of China’s modern sugar industry (中國現代糖業之父).

In the summer of 1936 Feng was pushed off-stage when the military leader of Guangdong, Chan Chai-tong (陳濟棠) stepped down from his command of the province in the aftermath of a failed coup against the central government at Nanjing. It was with the change of provincial leadership and the fall from power of his political patron that Feng departed from Canton. In the afternoon of 26 July, Feng embarked on a train of the Kowloon-Canton Railway headed for Kowloon, then a British-ruled territory which might keep asylum seekers out of harm’s way amidst the vortex of political rivalry in China. During his sojourn in Hong Kong, Feng stayed in “Watervale” which he had owned, but he returned to Canton shortly afterward, however.

Still in his mid thirties Feng achieved great things in life and was unabated in his plans for the modernization of China’s agriculture and industry. When his friends heard that he had died (on 9 September 1936), the universal reaction was one of disbelief and shock. His widow missed him desperately and lived in “Watervale” where she wrote a book in Chinese language《廣東糖業與馮銳》 (Guangdong’s sugar industry and Feng Rui) in positive and uplifting memory of her late husband. Still later, the ownership of “Watervale” was transferred to a merchant named Kuo-chu Hsieh (謝國柱). Little is known of Hsieh’s life except that he was a proprietor of the China Overseas Egg Packing Company, Kowloon, and a general manager of the China Casing Company.
The history of “Watervale” as a British officers’ mess (from 1949)

At different times during the period from July 1949 to March 1950, “Watervale” was requisitioned, de-requisitioned, and re-requisitioned for the British troops. A de-requisitioning of the building took place in October 1949, when the then owner Mr. Kuo-chu Hsieh expressed that it was urgently required for a large family, but it was re-requisitioned for the Military as officers’ mess in March 1950, the number of British troops in the area having been considerably increased. For a period of time, “Watervale” was rented by the War Department for the sum of $670 per month.

In 1959 the War Department purchased “Watervale” and used it as a British officers’ mess in Gordon Camp (哥頓軍營 or 下掃管軍營), later renamed Gordon Hard Camp. “Hard” means a place where boats are stored on dry land to protect the hulls from barnacles and wood rot and to carry out maintenance. The Camp is named after Charles George Gordon (1833-1885). Himself a British major-general, he gained the nickname “Chinese Gordon” because the Qing government conferred on him the official title of tidu (提督) – the term the then government would use for local commander – in recognition of his effort to help the imperial forces put down the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century.

“Gordon Hard” was a training camp for infantry, a War Department yachting base, and a training centre for a squadron of R.E. Assault Pioneers which used assault boats (folboats) extensively in its operation. “Gordon Hard” consists of two separate parcels of land located off Castle Peak Road. There is an inland parcel to the north where “Watervale” is situated on the top of a small hill. The second parcel to the south borders Cafeteria Beach where there are a number of structures of the “Nissen Hut” type, a single-storey building formerly named as “Gordon Hard Boat Club”, latrines, and two swimming tanks for the troops with their families which evolved into their present form from the 1940s to the 1960s. They are usually referred to as Gordon Hard North & South.

The Gordon Hard Camp was closed in the 1990s as part of the scale-down scheme of military establishment. “Watervale” was transferred from Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the War Department to Her Majesty’s the Queen in June 1997. From 1990s to 2000s, the Camp site was used by the Immigration Service Training School (入境處訓練學校), the Customs and Excise Training School (海關訓練學校) and the Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park Management Centre (沙洲及龍鼓洲海岸公園管理站). Recently, the Chu Hai College of Higher Education (珠海學院) has been granted the use of a portion of the former Camp site for construction of its new campus.
Architectural Merit

“Watervale” can be reached from Castle Peak Road by a pathway. Shaded by trees and has a fairly secluded location, the building is of north-south orientation, with its front façade facing south. It is built on a platform cut into a hillside reached by flights of access steps from the camp road in front. The platform on which the mess is built is supported at one end by a masonry plinth built of squared granite blocks laid to courses.

“Watervale” is a single-storey building. It is built to an L-shaped plan with a terrace in front. On the front and side elevations, there are pilasters with vertical streamlined mouldings rising up the full height of the building. The walls are finished with painted rough cast rendering The front elevation consists of paneled doors flanked by windows which have hoods and plain surrounds, and are abundantly provided and regularly spaced. The wide cornices project all around the building with stylish motifs underneath. The flat roof is punctuated by a square chimney stack at one end.

Internally, there is Entrance Hall, Bar Counter, Ante Rooms, General Store, Liquor Store, Lounge, etc. The internal space is partitioned by brick walls with arched openings. In the main hall, there is a fireplace with surrounds. In the early post-war years, a double-storey extension was built in the rear of the building to provide for a bathroom and latrines. In the 1980s, a new mess was built adjacent to the building so as to provide space for Bedrooms, Boiler Room, Larder Prep, Lockers, Pump Room, Stores, etc.
Rarity, Built Heritage Value & Authenticity

As a historic house, “Watervale” has built heritage value. It is important as the Hong Kong residence of an academic turned politician, namely, Dr Feng Rui whose work in the sugar industry had concrete and lasting results, which laid the foundations of a major industrial asset for China. Also, its story relating to Feng Rui is an illustration of the role of Hong Kong as the backstage for the political activities in China. “Watervale” is also unique in its history related to the British military camp known as “Gordon Hard” in the New Territories. So far as can be seen the house has not been radically altered. Although additions and alterations are evident, it retains much of its authentic appearance.

Social Value & Local Interest

“Watervale” is of social value and local interest as it has a multi-layered history as the residence of a prominent public figure and a mess for British army officers. Although the Gordon Hard Camp was a military site and was not open to the public for most of the time, the revitalization of the site will enable the public to appreciate its heritage value.

Group Value

“Watervale” and the surrounding garden land are set in a quiet and relaxing environment with a pleasant landscape. In terms of military history, it has group value with the Gurkha Temple (Grade 3) and the Kesarbahadur Hall (Grade 3) of the nearby former Perowne Barracks.

Photos that show this place