Former Telok Ayer Market


The former Telok Ayer Market (now known as Lau Pa Sat, meaning “old market”) at Raffles Quay was completed in 1894 to replace an earlier market that had been demolished for the Telok Ayer Basin land reclamation. It was gazetted as a national monument on 28 June 1973 and converted into a food and entertainment complex in 1989.

Its trademark octagonal design was set as early as the 1820s when it was just a timber-and-attap fish market set at the water's edge. It was rebuilt on the reclaimed Telok Ayer Basin at the turn of the century, the new version recapturing the framework design in a Victorian style. It was the first market built by the Municipal Commission and one of the first structures in Asia made of prefabricated cast-iron. The filigreed cast and wrought iron were imported from Glasgow.

As part of the renovations undertaken in the 1990s by Renaissance Properties of the Scotts Group, the market acquired new features such as chimes ringing out local tunes. The 23 bronze Dutch carillons were rung by a jacquemart, or a mechanical figurine. The 1.25m-high doll, dressed like a Chinese coolie, would simulate the ringing movements activating Chinese, Malay and Indian melodies. At the centre of the market was a sunken fountain with tiled flooring that could double up as a stage for performances. The fountain was reminiscent of a cast-iron fountain which marked the centre of the 1890 market but was relocated in 1920 and rediscovered only in 1989; it stands now in Raffles Hotel’s Palm Garden.

1822 : Sir Stamford Raffles commissioned its construction as “the emporium of the east”. Colonel Farquhar decided on its location.
1825 : Its trademark octagonal shape was first built at a cost of $4,000. The construction of the 24m by 9m structure was believed to have been financed by a merchant, Tan Che San (also known as Inche Sang), who consequently had tax-free use of the premises for a few years.
1833 : The market was rebuilt under the auspices of G. D. Coleman because the original structure was considered unsafe.
1879 : The market was demolished as a result of the land reclamation project at Telok Ayer Basin.
1890 : Construction of a new Telok Ayer Market commenced. Designed by James MacRitchie, it echoed the octagonal shape of the original market.
1909 : The Municipality took control of the market from the farm system and it continued to function as a wet market.
1972 : As commercial activity around it made a wet market redundant, it was renovated and turned into a food centre.
1973 : The market was gazetted as a national monument.
1984 : Given fears that tunnelling for the Mass Rapid Transit system would cause cracks in the iron framework, a decision was made to dismantle the market for reassembly later.
1985 : At least 140 hawkers stopped operations and most were moved across the street to the Transit Food Centre.
1986 : The market was carefully dismantled, and the pieces were tagged and stored in Jurong.
1989 : It was reassembled and renamed Lau Pa Sat following a S$6.8-million renovation by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB, now Singapore Tourism Board).
1990 : It was leased to Renaissance Properties to be converted into a “festival market”.
1992 : After a S$10-million refurbishment by Japanese contractors Kumagai Gumi, it was re-opened as the Telok Ayer Festival Market, a food-cum-entertainment complex.
1995 : STPB gave lease rights to the Kopi Tiam Group for a period of 24 years.
1996 : The market was re-opened as a 24-hour food court after Kopi Tiam had invested another S$4 million.

Bonny Tan

A grand old dame breaks out in sweat. (1992, April 26). The Sunday Plus, pp. 6-7.

Aggarwal, N. (1996, August 11). Lau Pa Sat will reopen as 24-hour food court on Sept 28. The Straits Times, p. 38.

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (pp. 429-430). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)

Former Telok Ayer Market (now Lau Pa Sat). (2010). Retrieved October 25, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website:

Lau Pa Sat: What is it? (1992, February 29). The Straits Times, Life!, pp. 1-3.

Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore (pp. 204-211). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)

Monuments worth preserving. (1976). Female Living, 2(3), 74.
(Call no.: 747.05 FL)

New look for old market. (1992, January 31). The Business Times, p. 4.

168 years of Singapore history wrapped up in an octagonal structure. (1990, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 25.

Tan, B. (1985, March 15). Telok Ayer Market - what lies ahead? The Straits Times, p. 18.

Traditional bell chimes for Telok Ayer market. (1991, October 10). The Straits Times, p. 3.

Further readings
Lee, K. L. (1983). Telok Ayer market: A historical account of the market from the founding of the settlement of Singapore to the present time. Singapore: Archives & Oral History Department.
(Call no.: RSING 725.21095957 LEE)

Wee, A. (1988, July 16). Telok Ayer market rises again at old spot. The Straits Times, p. 15.

The information in this article is valid as at 1998 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.

Historic buildings--Singapore
Streets and Places
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings

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