Change Alley


Change Alley is a lane located in the downtown core of the central region. Stretching from Raffles Place to Collyer Quay, Change Alley was the site of a bazaar that became famed for the diversity of goods available at bargain prices and its numerous money changers. It closed in 1989 and has since reopened at its former site as a multistorey shopping arcade.

History
Change Alley acquired its current name on 11 November 1890 – a decision made by the municipal commissioners, who deliberated between “Change Lane” and “Change Alley”.1 The lane was likely named after the trading hub known as Exchange Alley (also referred to as Change Alley) in London, England,2 as Singapore’s Change Alley was historically a place where locals conducted barter trade with regional sea merchants and Europeans. Some also believe that its name was derived from the large number of Indian money changers there.3


Although Change Alley had yet to become a famous destination in the 1920s, it was already a recognised meeting place for European buyers and Asian brokers. Since there were only a few stalls located in the alley at the time, it served as a convenient thoroughfare for pedestrians to get from Collyer Quay to Raffles Place.4

Description and activities
From the early 1930s, the bazaar in the approximately 100-metre-long Change Alley gained a reputation for its hustle and bustle. Besides the presence of money changers,5 there was also a thriving market where Chinese dealers traded in gambier, pepper, copra, tin and other types of produce, alongside compradors serving the European merchants. Change Alley had become an attraction for tourists who came to Singapore by ship, as well as sailors.6 They arrived at Clifford Pier along Collyer Quay7 and made their way from the seafront to Raffles Place through this narrow alley.8

By the mid-20th century, the goods and services sold in Change Alley had diversified dramatically. These ranged from clothes, briefcases, watches, toys, fishing accessories to handicrafts, souvenirs, tailoring, and shoe polish and cobbler services. Besides small shops and makeshift tables, roving salesmen also made their rounds with a wooden box containing their wares such as pens and watches.9 An improvised awning for the alley was created using zinc, plastic or canvas sheets that sometimes could not prevent leaks on rainy days.10

Bargaining for goods and touting by stallholders were key features of shopping at Change Alley. Although the alley was narrow, congested and stuffy, it is fondly remembered by locals as an atmospheric and unique place in modern Singapore.11

Due to the diverse customer base, some shopkeepers picked up phrases in various languages including French, German, Italian and Russian so as to conduct business with the foreigners.12 The money changers, most of whom were Indians, ran their business within their own shops.13 There were also illegal money changers stationed at both entrances of the alley, touting their currencies at flexible exchange rates.14

In 1973, following a revamp of Clifford Pier, the Change Alley Aerial Plaza, an air-conditioned shopping arcade, opened on the bridge linking the pier to Change Alley.15

Closure and reopening
Business at Change Alley, which sat on prime land, saw a dwindling number of customers in the 1980s. This was attributed to a number of reasons such as the decline in sea travel, competition with modern air-conditioned shopping centres, and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Singapore.16 On 30 April 1989, the shops in Change Alley opened for the last time after a period of bargain sales to clear stocks. Affected stallholders were offered the option of renting sundry and cooked-food stalls at markets and food centres.17

At the Collyer Quay side, the entrance to Change Alley was at the four-storey Winchester House, which had existed since 1905.18 On the other end of the alley at Raffles Place was Shell House, a 14-storey office block completed in 196019 and renamed Singapore Rubber House after it was sold in 1976.20 These two buildings were demolished after Change Alley was cleared out.21 Change Alley returned following the completion of Caltex House (now known as Chevron House) and Hitachi Tower (now 16 Collyer Quay) in 1993 on the sites of Singapore Rubber House and Winchester House respectively22 – albeit as an air-conditioned shopping arcade flanked by the two skyscrapers.23



Authors

Fiona Lim and Vernon Cornelius



References
1. The municipal commission. (1890, November 12). The Daily Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
3. T. F. Hwang takes you down memory lane. (1989, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Peet, G. L. (1985). Rickshaw reporter. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 070.924 PEE); The heart of the lion city. (1931, February 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Page 4 advertisements column 3. (1922, May 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4; Money changer in a new role. (1924, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 8; Heng, D. (1994, February 8). Change Alley: Gone are the honey-tongued moneychangers. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. The heart of the lion city. (1931, February 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. French ‘invade’ Singapore. (1953, January 19). The Straits Times, p. 7; The new pier. (1924, October 10). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); The heart of the lion city. (1931, February 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Tyers, R. K., & Siow, J. H. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 133. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Chua, J. C. H. (1997, October 15). Oral history interview with Tan Pin Ho [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001864/03/02, pp. 23–25]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
10. Chua, J. C. H. (1997, October 15). Oral history interview with Tan Pin Ho [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001864/03/02, pp. 23–25]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Heng, D. (1994, February 8). Change Alley: Gone are the honey-tongued moneychangers. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Khoo, Y. T. (1959, September 30). Three words spell success. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4; Heng, D. (1994, February 8). Change Alley: Gone are the honey-tongued moneychangers. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, J. (Interviewer). (2008, May 16). Oral history interview with James Koh Cher Siang [Transcript of CD recording no. 002847/06/01, p. 2]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
12. Yap, W. C. (Interviewer). (1997, November 3). Oral history recording with NG Joo Kee [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001970/04/01, p. 5]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Leong, W. K. (1979, September 13). Learning languages to stay in business. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Book International, p. 454. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW); Chua, J. C. H. (1997, October 15). Oral history interview with Tan Pin Ho [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001864/03/03, p. 31]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
14. Heng, D. (1994, February 8). Change Alley: Gone are the honey-tongued moneychangers. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Mok, S. P. (1973, April 18). An aerial plaza may replace Change AlleyThe Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Lately, Soviet tourists are main buyers. (1989, March 7). The New Paper, p. 21; Lean, S. (1989, February 23). Change Alley to pass into history on March 31. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Change Alley to close for good on April 30. (1989, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 19; Lean, S. (1989, February 23). Change Alley to pass into history on March 31. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Singapore Press Holdings. (1970, November 19). Change Alley at Raffles Place, Singapore [Photograph no. PCD0371-0085]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Page 1 advertisements column 2. (1905, December 2). Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Shell flag raised atop the new $7 mil. building. (1960, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Shell House sold for $7 mil o Rubber Assn. (1976, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; .
21. Change Alley to close for good on April 30. (1989, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 19; Lim, A. (2002, June 19). Time for a change. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Caltex to spend $8b in region over next 5 years: Chairman. (1993, May 3). The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Untitled. (1994, February 3). The Business Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Page 42, advertisements column 1. (1995, April 22). The New Paper, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Change Alley. (1939, February 12). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Change Alley, Singapore [Photograph accession no. 2007-001794-NAS]. (1960s). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

Lim, K. C. (1975). View of Change Alley Aerial Plaza (second building from left) and waterfront, Singapore [Photograph; accession no. 37671]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

One of the busiest spots of Singapore. (1932, April 16). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Samuel, D. S. (1939). Malayan street names: What they mean and whom they commemorate [Microfilm: NL 18265]. Ipoh: Mercantile Press, p. 91.

Singapore Press Holdings. (1973, May 31). Change Alley in Raffles Place [Photograph no. PCD0479-0039]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

Tricker, G. (1950s). Change Alley [Photograph no. 20100000306-0005]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

Untitled. (1934, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Recreation>>Places of Interest
Streets and Places
Commercial buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Commercial Buildings
Alleys--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Places of interest

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2016.