Ng Wah (伍華, 1874-1950) – Leading Contractor, Developer of Pedder Building and Philanthropist
York Lo: Ng Wah (伍華, 1874-1950) – Leading Contractor, Developer of Pedder Building and Philanthropist
Left: Ng Wah (HKBCA); Center: Pedder Building in Central; Right: Article about the induction of Ng Wah as head of Po Leung Kuk in 1934 (HK Daily Press, 1934-4-11)
Ng Wah and his Projects
A native of Toishan in Guangdong province but born in Hong Kong, Ng Wah started out as a foreman in the Royal Navy Shipyard in HK and founded Sang Tai & Co (生泰建築), which by the early 1920s had become one of the leading building contractors in Hong Kong.
Sang Tai was responsible for the construction of many important public and private projects in the early 20th century. Some of the public projects completed by Sang Tai in chronological order included Yau Ma Tei Shelter (completed in 1916), Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir (completed in 1917), Shing Mun Reservoir (1925-27), the Aberdeen Reservoirs (completed in 1931), the Queen Mary Hospital and Stanley Prison (the last two were both completed in 1937). HK government reports before the War also disclosed that Ng Wah won the $50202 contract for the construction of a service reservoir in North Point in 1929 while his Sang Tai & Co won the tender for the construction of No. 7 Police Station in 1940.
Private sector projects completed by Sang Tai include North Point Power Station of HK Electric (1913-1919, re-developed into City Garden by Cheung Kong in the 1980s), St Stephen’s College’s Stanley campus (1928-30) and the Heung Hoi Ming Shan Memorial Archway in Castle Peak (completed in 1929 and sponsored by 19 leading Chinese community leaders at the time including Shouson Chow, Robert Kotewall, Tso Seen-wan, Fung Ping-shan, Tang Chi-ngong, Chau Tsun-nin and Ng Wah himself).
Ng Wah was also involved in property development and the two most prominent projects he was involved with were the Pedder Building (畢打行) at 12 Pedder Street in Central and the nearby Queen’s Theatre, both of which he built in around 1924. Based on the 1954 essay on the history of the HK construction industry written by his fellow HK construction industry pioneer Tam Shiu-hong (see article), Ng Wah formed a partnership with Ma Tsui-chiu (馬敘朝, 1878-1959) and So Shek-chung (蘇石鍾) and acquired the site of the former Court House and GPO buildings (Inland Lot 2316 and 2319) in Central in 1921 where he built the Palmer & Turner designed Art Deco style Pedder Building and the Queen’s Theatre. Ng acquired the Pedder Building from So in 1926 and was listed as its proprietor. While the building was known as the home of Shanghai Tang in recent years, its tenants in the earlier decades included American President Lines and the German trading firm of Jebsen. Ng’s family owned the building until 1962 when it was sold to Tai Kee Leong Co Ltd (泰記隆, incorporated in 1957, dissolved in 1979) controlled by Henry Fok Ying-tung. Designated as a Grade II historical building in 1981, the Pedder Building is the last surviving pre-WWII building on Pedder Street in Central. Queen’s Theater was acquired by the Luk Hoi Tung group and re-developed as Luk Hoi Tung Building (with the second-generation Queen’s Theatre inside) in 1961 and again as LHT Tower in 2007.
Ng Wah was very active in community service during his lifetime and served as director of the Tung Wah Hospital, Alice Memorial Hospital and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and chairman of Po Leung Kuk (1934-35), Pok Oi Hospital and the HK Building Contractors Association (1936-37, served as permanent supervisor afterwards). He was given the vital task of maintaining food supplies through Tung Wah Hospital by the colonial administration during the Canton-HK strike of 1925-26 and was appointed vice chairman of the Committee for Public Dispensaries, Central district in 1932. For his community service, Ng Wah was appointed an unofficial Justice of the Peace (his name first appeared on the list in 1933). During the Japanese occupation (1941-45), he was a member of the Chinese Cooperative Council which was formed in 1942 and headed by Shouson Chow. On October 16, 1950, Ng Wah died at the age of 76 in his residence at 1 Ning Yeung Terrace in the Mid-Levels.
Descendants and Philanthropy
Mrs. Ng Wah (fifth from the left) presenting a HK$150,000 check to Wong Wan-tin (sixth from the left), the chair of the Buddhist Hospital construction committee in 1967 while her family looked on (KSDN, 1967-10-21)
Sang Tai & Co continued to operate after Ng Wah’s death and was managed by Ng Hor (伍賀), who was director of the HKBCA in the 1950s. While the firm was levelling a hill slope for the construction of the Lee Cheng Uk resettlement estate in 1955, its crew uncovered the Han dynasty tomb which became the Lee Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum. Over time, Sang Tai had faded into history but P.K. Ng & Associates, the architectural design and structural engineering practice started by Ng Wah’s son Peter Ping-Kin Ng (伍秉堅, 1929-2013) in 1957 remains a key player in the HK construction industry counting many important clients such as HK Housing Authority, MTR and Cheung Kong.
Peter received his B.Arch and MSc in civil engineering from the University of Illinois before returning to HK to start his own architectural firm. He served as president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1962 and member of the Urban Council for a decade (1966-76) during which he was chairman of its Food and Food Premises Select Committee. He was also involved with the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and served as a non-executive director of Liu Chong Hing Investment and vice chairman of Lam Soon Food Industries, the maker of Knife brand cooking oil for decades.
Peter P.K. Ng speaking at the graduation ceremony of the Ng Wah Catholic Secondary School in 2007
Aside from Peter, Ng Wah’s other sons include Ng Kwing-tong (伍炯堂) and Ng Ping-keun (伍丙乾,1934-), a graduate of McGill and University of Wisconsin who was engineer with Yukon Enterprises (HK Album, 1967). One of Ng Wah’s daughters Rita Ng Kei-ching (伍奇貞) was an eye doctor and she and her husband Dr. Tseung Ying-hung (蔣英熊) were both graduates of the HKU School of Medicine.
Today, Ng Wah’s name is largely memorialized by his family’s generous philanthropy. In 1967, Ng Wah’s widow Cheng Chi-sheung (鄭滋湘) and her children donated HK$150,000 towards the construction of the HK Buddhist Hospital. In 1968, the family contributed to the Catholic Secondary School and Catholic Primary School in San Po Kong and as a result, the schools were renamed Ng Wah Catholic Secondary School (天主教伍華中學) and Ng Wah Catholic Primary School in memory of Ng Wah. In 1970, the Ng Wah Hall was opened at St. Stephen’s College.
Wedding notice of Ng Wah’s daughter Rita Ng and Tseung Ying-hung in 1956 (WKYP, 1956-6-3)
This article was first posted on 9th August 2019.
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