Bras Basah Road



Bras Basah Road is a one-way road that starts from Orchard Road and ends at Raffles Boulevard. It intersects several streets and roads, such as Bencoolen Street, Waterloo Street and North Bridge Road.1 Some of Singapore’s oldest landmarks were built along Bras Basah Road, many of which still stand today.

History
Bras Basah Road was constructed by convict labour. The first mention of the road is found in George D. Coleman’s Map of the Town and Environs of Singapore from 1836, where it was labelled as “Brass Bassa Road”.2 In the early 1820s, the road had two different street names. Between Beach Road and North Bridge Road, it was called Church Street, due to the presence of the London Missionary Society’s chapel at the junction of North Bridge Road and Bras Basah Road.3 The other stretch, from North Bridge Road towards Dhoby Ghaut and Selegie Road, was known as “Selegy Street”.4 Bras Basah Road was once also known as College Street because Singapore’s first educational institution (today’s Raffles Institution) was located along it.5

Today, Bras Basah Road is part of the Bras Basah.Bugis Precinct, the arts, culture, learning and entertainment district in the city’s centre.6 In 2010, accessibility to the road was enhanced with the opening of the Mass Rapid Transit’s (MRT) Circle Line. The MRT station, Bras Basah, was named after the road.7

Key features
From 1833 to 1847, the first Roman Catholic chapel in Singapore was located on the site of former St Joseph’s Institution (now Singapore Art Museum).8 It was also during the 19th century when Catholic  priest Father Jean-Marie Beurel built three landmarks along Bras Basah Road. These landmarks, which still exist today, are the Church of the Good Shepherd, which opened in 1847 and became the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in 1888;St Joseph’s Institution (foundation stone laid on 19 March 1855);10 and the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus buildings, now known as Chijmes. The history of Chijmes began in 1852 with the purchase of land on Victoria Street, followed by Caldwell House at the corner of Bras Basah Road and Victoria Street in 1853. Subsequently the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Chapel was constructed in 1890.11

Other landmarks on Bras Basah Road during the 19th century included Raffles Institution, at the site of the present Raffles City complex;12 the convict jail complex that once occupied the sports field of St Joseph’s Institution;13 and the former campus of Raffles Girls’ School.14 The Ladies Lawn Tennis Club, which opened in 1884, was also located along the road and later taken over by the Young Men’s Christian Association’s (YMCA) tennis club in 1932.15

In the 1950s and 1960s, Bras Basah Road was home to the Catholic Centre, which also housed the headquarters of the Catholic Young Men’s Association (site of the current National Trades Union Congress Trade Union House);16 and the former Bethesda Church.17 There were also stretches of two-storey shophouses18 and many second-hand bookshops that sold school textbooks and popular fiction.19 Another notable spot was the former red shophouse of Baker’s Bakery and Confectionery at the corner of Victoria Street and Bras Basah Road,20 where the Carlton Hotel now stands.21 The bakery, better known as Red House, was a popular gathering place for students.22

In the 1970s, the YMCA’s tennis grounds were converted into Bras Basah Park.23 The park gave way to the Singapore Management University in 2005, which is now one of Bras Basah Road’s newest landmarks in the 20th century.24

Variant names
“Bras Basah” is a misspelling of beras basah, which means “wet rice” in Malay. Before the land was filled, the lagoon had served as a gateway for boats with cargo-loads of rice. These were dried on the banks of Sungei Brass Bassa but often made wet by the rising tide.25

Lau kha ku keng khau in Hokkien, and adapted in Cantonese as kau ka-ku hau, which means “mouth of the old jail”. Kha ku refers to “fetters” or “ankle chains”.26

Ho-lan-se le-pai-tng pi in Hokkien and fat-lan-sai lai-pai-thong pin in Cantonese, which means “beside the French church”, a reference to the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.27

Hai-ki ang-neo toa-oh pi in Hokkien, which means “beside the seaside English big school”, referring to Raffles Institution.28



Author

Vernon Cornelius



References
1. Mighty minds street directory. (2017). Singapore: Angel Publishing Pte Ltd, maps 110D, 111C, 133A. (Call no.: RSING 912.5957 MMSD)
2. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Survey Department, Singapore. (1836). Map of the town and environs of Singapore [Survey map accession no. TM000037]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. History at your feet. (1982, November 23). The Straits Times, p. 12; Sam, J. (1984, August 19). Bras Basah: Convicts, convertsSingapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics.Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 47, 337. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Jackson, P. (1828). Plan of the town of Singapore by Lieut Jackson [Survey map accession no. SP002981]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
5. Raffles Institution. (1971, October 8). New Nation, p. 9; Raffles College – old and new! (1928, June 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 1; Koh, N. (1979, August 17). A stroll in to bygone time. New Nation, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Bras Basah.Bugis. (n.d.). Precinct map. Retrieved 2018, April 3 from Bras Basah.Bugis website: http://brasbasahbugis.sg/about/precinct-map
7. Next stop, Dakota. (2005, July 7). The Straits Times, p. 5; 11 Circle Line stations open. (2010, April 17). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Local institutions. (1921, April 8).  The Malaya Tribune, p. 2; Former St Joseph’s to be converted to art gallery. (1990, August 18). The Business Times, p. 2; From SJI to SAM. (2009, March 3). The Straits Times, p. 83. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. (2017). The mission and first Catholic converts (1832–1880). Retrieved 2017, May 4 from History of the Catholic Church in Singapore website: http://history.catholic.sg/historical-overview/the-mission-and-first-catholic-converts/#header
9. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. (2017). The mission and first Catholic converts (1832–1880). Retrieved 2017, May 4 from History of the Catholic Church in Singapore website: http://history.catholic.sg/historical-overview/the-mission-and-first-catholic-converts/#header; The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. (2017). Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from History of the Catholic Church in Singapore website: http://history.catholic.sg/cathedral-of-the-good-shepherd/
10. The SJI milestones. (n.d.). Retrieved 2017, May 4 from St. Joseph’s Institution website: http://www.sji.edu.sg/about-sji/the-sji-milestones
11. Haven-ly quiet. (1982, December 11). The Straits Times, p. 9; The founder. (2002, May 14). The Straits Times, p. 4; Sam, J. (1984, August 19). Bras Basah: Convicts, convertsSingapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Doggett, M. (1957). Characters of light: A guide to the buildings of Singapore. Singapore: Donald Moore, p. 40. (Call no.: RCLOS 725.4095957 DOG); Chijmes. (2014). Heritage. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Chijmes website: http://chijmes.com.sg/heritage/
12. Hon: A unique development for S’pore. (1980, August 15). The Straits Times, p. 8; Raffles City opens in a flurry of colour and sound. (1986, October 4). The Business Times, p. 1; Teo, E. (2011, September 27). A lesson in historyThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Sam, J. (1984, August 19). Bras Basah: Convicts, convertsSingapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
14. Rafffles Girls’ School. (n.d.). Historical milestones. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Raffles Girls’ School website: http://www.rgs.edu.sg/qql/slot/u556/2016/2016%20-%20Historical%20Milestones%20(for%20website).pdf
15. ‘Ladies’ lawn’ to close. (1932, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 13; Ow, W. M. (1971, May 21). No more tennis on the courts worth $150 a sq. footNew Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Women’s help at Catholic Centre. (1948, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 3; S’pore C.Y.M.A. central H.Q. (1948, June 21). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5; New NTUC HQ a one-stop centre. (2000, July 21). The Straits Times, p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Sam, J. (1984, August 19). Pioneers sow seeds for future gloryThe Singapore Monitor, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
18. Hotel with the spicy taste. (1999, October 22). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tan, D. (1982, October 15). Bras Basah Road in transitionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Singapore Press Holdings. (1975, April 22). Bras Basah Road near St Joseph’s Institution [Photograph no. PCD0469-0041]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
21. $110 m hotel to open in July. (1987, December 24). The Straits Times, p. 15; Lye, J. (1985, December 14). The hotel with a history of namesThe Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Chong, G. P. (1984, July 1). An anchor tenant moves outThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Early take-over of field by govt puzzles YMCA members. (1971, April 28). The Straits Times, p. 9; Ow, W. M. (1971, May 21). No more tennis on the courts worth $150 a sq. footNew Nation, p. 7; Tan, C. L. (1971, November 16). 100-acre park to take shape on Fort CanningNew Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Davie, S. (1998, December 6). Campus at Bras Basah. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Management University. (2017, September 11). History. Retrieved 2018, April 3 from Singapore Management University website: http://www.smu.edu.sg/smu/about/university-information/history
25. Koh, N. (1979, August 17). A stroll in to bygone timeNew Nation, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Sam, J. (1984, August 19). Bras Basah: Convicts, converts. The Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 284. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
27. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
28. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])



The information in this article is valid as of May 2018 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
Street names--Singapore
Historic districts--Singapore
Streets and Places
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure