Bras Basah Road



Constructed by convict labour, one portion of Bras Basah Road is located within the Museum Precinct (from Handy Road to Victoria Street), and the other (from Victoria Street to Beach Road) in the Downtown Core.1 Some of Singapore’s oldest landmarks were built along Bras Basah Road, many of which still stand today. Bras Basah was spelt “Brass Bassa” during the 1830s.

History
The first mention of Bras Basah Road is found in George D. Coleman’s Map of the Town and Environs of Singapore from 1836. The road was labelled “Brass Bassa Road”.2 In the early 1820s, the stretch of Bras Basah Road from Beach Road to North Bridge Road 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 During the same period, the stretch of Bras Basah Road from North Bridge Road upwards to where Dhoby Ghaut and Selegie Road now meet 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

Bras Basah Road used to be the suburb to Singapore’s busy city centre, Commercial Square (later Raffles Place).6 The Indian laundrymen known as dhobies used to wash the laundry of nearby residents on the banks of Sungei Brass Bassa (now Stamford Canal). After washing, they dried the laundry at the open wasteland. The five-acre land was subsequently occupied by the Ladies Lawn Tennis Club. Opened in 1884 and closed in 1932, the club and its green belt was a recreational venue where tennis games were held regularly in the evenings. The site was later called Dhoby Green.7 The area where laundry work was once carried out became an open space and the Bras Basah Park before the Singapore Management University was built there.8

Landmarks
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).9 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;10 St Joseph’s Institution (foundation stone laid on 19 March 1855);11 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 1890.12

Landmarks on Bras Basah Road during the 19th century included Raffles Institution, at the site of the present Raffles City complex;13 the convict jail complex that once occupied the sports field of St Joseph’s Institution;14 and the former campus of the Raffles Girls’ School.15

In the 1950s and 1960s, Bras Basah Road was home to the Young Men’s Christian Association’s (YMCA) Tennis Pavilion;16 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);17 and the former Bethesda Church.18 There were also stretches of two-storey shophouses19 and many secondhand bookshops that sold school textbooks and popular fiction.20 Another notable spot was the former red shophouse of Baker’s Bakery and Confectionery at the corner of Victoria Street and Bras Basah Road,21 where the Carlton Hotel now stands.22 The bakery, better known as Red House, was a popular gathering place for students.23

In the 1970s, the YMCA Tennis Pavilion was converted into Bras Basah Park, a public park with a carpark.24 In 1988, the Urban Redevelopment Authority expanded and revamped the park, stretching the green space from Dhoby Ghaut to the grounds of the old St Joseph’s Institution, which then became part of the Museum Precinct.25

Variant names
“Bras Basah” is a misspelling of the Malay word beras basah, which means “wet rice”. 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.26

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”.27

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.28

Hai-ki ang-neo toa-oh pi in Hokkien, which means “beside the seaside English big school”, referring to Raffles Institution.29



Author
Vernon Cornelius



References
1. Koh, N. (1979, August 17). A stroll in to bygone time. New Nation, p. 26. 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])
2. 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, converts. 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])
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. About Singapore. (1935, March 30). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; Raffles is the place to be. (1997, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Koh, N. (1979, August 17). A stroll in to bygone time. New Nation, p. 26; ‘Ladies’ lawn’ to close. (1932, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Chan, S. F. (2005, December 1). How Bras Basah got back its groove. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewpaperSG.
9. 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 (18321880). 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
10. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. (2017). The mission and first Catholic converts (18321880). 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/
11. 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
12. 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, converts. Singapore 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/
13. 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 history. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Sam, J. (1984, August 19). Bras Basah: Convicts, converts. Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Historical milestones. (n.d.). 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
16. YMCA fair to mark centenary. (1955, June 25). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. 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.
18. Sam, J. (1984, August 19). Pioneers sow seeds for future glory. The Singapore Monitor, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Hotel with the spicy taste. (1999, October 22). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Tan, D. (1982, October 15). Bras Basah Road in transition. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. 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/
22. $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 names. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Chong, G. P. (1984, July 1). An anchor tenant moves out. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Ow, W. M. (1971, May 21). No more tennis on the courts worth $150 a sq. foot. New Nation, p. 7; Early take-over of field by govt puzzles YMCA members. (1971, April 28). The Straits Times, p. 9; Tong, A. (1978, May 14). Whither the clay courts? New Nation, p. 29; Tan, C. L. (1971, November 16). 100-acre park to take shape on Fort Canning. New Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Lim, S. N. (1988, March 12). Restoring life and grandeur to a key district. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Koh, N. (1979, August 17). A stroll in to bygone time. New Nation, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. 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])
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])
29. 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])



Further resource
Firmstone, H. W. (1905, February). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42
(Call no.: RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)



The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we can 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