Kreta Ayer Road
Kreta Ayer Road, a one-way road in the heart of Chinatown, connects Neil Road to New Bridge Road. The road is historically important as it was the name given to Chinatown in the early 1800s1 and was known as tua poh, the “greater town district”, of 19th-century Chinatown.2
Kreta Ayer Road was officially named in 1922.3 In Malay, Kreta Ayer means “water cart”. In the early 19th and 20th centuries, bullock and ox carts plied this road carrying water. Water was drawn from wells located in Ann Siang Hill and distributed to Chinatown and its surrounding areas.4 Another water source was located at Spring Street. In 1826, a settlement village for the Chinese, or Chinese kampong, was mapped out by Lieutenant Philip Jackson who was aiding Sir Stamford Raffles in drawing up the Singapore Town boundaries. This settlement area, the precursor of early Chinatown, encompassed the area from the southern bank of the Singapore River to Pearl's Hill. This area was colloquially referred to as Kreta Ayer after the water-carrying bullock and ox carts. The exact year in which Kreta Ayer Road was laid in this Chinese kampong is not known.
From 1826 onwards, land parcels were issued and many roads were developed around Kreta Ayer Road, such as Hokien Street, China Street, Sago Street, and Pagoda Street. The Kreta Ayer district of Chinatown, where all these streets were, developed at a faster pace and was more prosperous. As a result, the Chinese divided Chinatown into two sections: the tua poh or “greater town district” and the sio poh or “smaller town”. Kreta Ayer Road and its surrounding streets with their restaurants, brothels and theatres, belonged to and shaped the more prosperous tua poh.5 The first Chinese settlers on Kreta Ayer Road were the Cantonese from Hongkong and China's province of Guangdong.
The street is under the Chinatown Kreta Ayer Conservation Area and is home to many conserved shophouses. HDB blocks, shops, and eating places line this street. The Kreta Ayer Community Centre built in 1960, was originally known as Banda Street Community Centre as it was on Banda Hill.6 In the mid-20th century, many private theatres in the vicinity of the road disappeared for various reasons. The need for a permanent stage for artists to showcase their talents led to the construction of the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre in 1969. First started in 1960, the theatre was part of Kreta Ayer Community Centre and used to stage its performances on temporary and makeshift stages.7 Kreta Ayer Complex, a shopping and residential development, was built in 1980. Kreta Ayer Complex, the Kreta Ayer community centre and the People’s Theatre, which were renovated and modernised, were known as the Kreta Ayer Centre.8 The Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (SATA) Kreta Ayer Clinic was located towards the end of Kreta Ayer Road in 1996.
Chinese names: Gu chia chui (Hokkien), Ngow chay shui (Cantonese), both meaning “Bullock water cart road”, refer to the bullock water carts that once plied this street.9
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore. Singapore: Who's Who Publications, p. 178. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
2. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshal Cavendish Editions, p. 219. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
3. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshal Cavendish Editions, p. 219. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. Raja-Singam, D. (1939). Malayan street names: What they mean and whom they commemorate [Microfilm no.: NL 18265]. Ipoh: Mercantile Press, p. 117.
5. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshal Cavendish Editions, p. 219. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
6. Chinatown: An album of a Singapore community. (1983). Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 116, 118. (Call no.: RSING 779.995957 CHI)
7. Leong, W.K. (2000, January 3). From makeshift stages to a new home. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. HDB to build $12 m Kreta Ayer complex. (1978, February 3). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshal Cavendish Editions, p. 219. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
Kreta Ayer People's Theatre. (2010). The History of Kreta Ayer People's Theatre. Retrieved from Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre website: http://www.kapt.com.sg/
List of Images
Chinatown: An album of a Singapore community. (1983). Singapore: Times Books International, p. 119.
(Call no.: RSING 779.995957 CHI)
The information in this article is valid as at 2003 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.
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