Sungei Road



Sungei Road begins at the junction of Selegie Road and Serangoon Road and runs parallel to Rochor Canal Road. Literally translated, Sungei Road means “River Road”, a reference to the Rochor River that flows alongside the road. From the 1930s to ’80s, the road was synonymous with Thieves Market, a vibrant local flea market. Other significant landmarks of the road were the Singapore Ice Works and the Rochor Market.1

History
Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, had designated the area around Sungei Road for the homes of affluent Europeans and Asians, so the Arabs and Malays who had settled there previously were relocated to the east of Sungei Road at Kampong Glam. A number of two- and three-storey shophouses were built along the road during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, they were demolished in the 1930s.2


Key features
Thieves Market
Sungei Road’s most famous landmark, Thieves Market, came to be located there in the 1930s. The market gained its name because most of the goods sold there were acquired through illegitimate means. The name also had a double meaning, as items purchased there were considered a “great steal”. Probably because of the ample choice of goods available, the market was colloquially referred to as Robinson petang, which means “evening Robinson”, a cheeky reference to the Robinsons Departmental Store except that this market catered to the poor man.3

Thieves Market was fuelled by the presence of the British military bases in Singapore, and the goods reflected the needs of this community. Initially, army surplus goods, such as parachutes, raincoats, knapsacks, billycans and boots, were sold there. Soon, electrical appliances that were either stolen, smuggled or were factory rejects, made their appearance.4

Other goods such as porcelain pottery, brassware, trinkets and anything one could think of buying or selling were quickly added to the laundry list. In their heyday, vendors displayed their goods on a mat by the roadside, calling out to potential customers. Haggling usually took place before a price was reached and the goods changed hands. In the 1960s and ’70s, the market became popular with Malaysians for its affordable goods and the possibility of bulk purchases. However, after bringing life and bustle into the street for more than half a century, the market’s popularity began to wane in the 1980s,5 particularly  after a portion of the market was demolished in August 1982. Today, remnants of the market still exist, with vendors displaying their wares along the street daily.6

Singapore Ice Works
The Singapore Ice Works was set up at the junction of Sungei Road and Pitt Street. As the first ice-making plant in Singapore, it became known as a pioneer establishment that brought refrigeration and air-conditioning to Singapore. It was renamed New Singapore Ice Works in 1958. The factory was later bought over and managed by Cold Storage. In 1984, the Housing and Development Board took over the site, and the ice works operations were relocated.7

Rochor Market
The Rochor Market, a wet market, was another popular landmark in the Sungei Road area. Built in 1872, the market served the surrounding community for more than a century. In August 1982, part of the market was demolished and its stalls were moved elsewhere.8

Variant names
Chinese names: Tek-kha ma-ta-chhu tui-bin gu-long pi koi (Hokkien). Chuk-tsai ma-ta-liu tui-min ngau lan pin kai (Cantonese). Both literally mean “the street beside the cattle pens opposite the Tek kha Police Station”. The Tek kha or Tekka Police Station was later known as Kandang Kerbau Police Station, taking its name from the Kandang Kerbau area.9



Author

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References

1. Tan, G. S. (2000, August). The history of refrigeration in Singapore. ASHRAE Journal, 3. (Call no.: R 697 ASHRAE); Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publications, p. 294. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN); Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1996). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 142. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW-[TRA])
2. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
3. Gopalakrishnan, V., & Perera, A. (Eds.). (1983). Singapore changing landscapes: Geylang, Chinatown, Serangoon. Singapore: FEP International, pp. 99–100. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
4. Gopalakrishnan, V., & Perera, A. (Eds.). (1983). Singapore changing landscapes: Geylang, Chinatown, Serangoon. Singapore: FEP International, pp. 99–100. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
5. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
6. Gopalakrishnan, V., & Perera, A. (Eds.). (1983). Singapore changing landscapes: Geylang, Chinatown, Serangoon. Singapore: FEP International, pp. 99–100. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 363–364. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
7. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Tan, G. S. (2000, August). The history of refrigeration in Singapore. ASHRAE Journal, 3. (Call no.: R 697 ASHRAE)
8. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1996). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 142. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW-[TRA])
9. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 363–364. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); 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, 53–208, pp. 132–133. (Call no.: RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)



The information in this article is valid as at 2002 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
Streets and Places
Urbanization--singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Geography>>Population>>Urban Planning
Street names--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Historic sites--Singapore
Urban planning