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File:Telok Ayer Market Above, June 2015.JPG

Lau Pa Sat from above

Lau Pa Sat (老巴刹; Lǎo Bāshā; Old Market), also known as Telok Ayer Market (Pasar Telok Ayer; 直落亚逸巴刹), is a historic building located within the Downtown Core in the Central Area of Singapore. It is currently a popular food centre. There are several shops inside selling local cuisine.

The market remains one of the oldest Victorian design structure in South-East Asia and one of the first structure built in pre-fabricated iron in Asia. It is also the only remaining market left that served the residents in the central district of early Singapore.


In the early nineteenth century, Telok Ayer Market was a simple wooden building, located on piles just over the waters of Telok Ayer Bay from which the market derived its name. The Malay name Telok Ayer means "water bay", and the then coastal road Telok Ayer Street was located alongside the bay before land reclamation work started in 1879.

Lau Pa Sat means "old market" in the vernacular Chinese of Singapore. Lau (老) means old; pa sat is the Hokkien pronunciation of the Persian loanword bazaar (market) which is pasar in Malay. The original Telok Ayer market was one of the oldest markets in Singapore; a new market was later built along Ellenborough Road, and that market became known to the locals as the "new market" (Pasar Baru or Sin Pa Sat), while the Telok Ayer Market in turn became known colloquially as the "old market" or Lau Pa Sat.[1] Because of its Victorian iron structure, the market is also referred to in Malay as pasar besi (market of iron).


File:Telok Ayer Market - J.T. Thomson.jpg

The old Telok Ayer Market at the seaside as designed by George Drumgoole Coleman at Telok Ayer Bay. Details of an 1847 painting by John Turnbull Thomson. The fish market extension is visible behind the main market.

The first market built in Singapore, a fish market, was located on the south bank of the Singapore River near the north end of the Market Street. On 4 November 1822, as part of his general plan to remodel the town, Stamford Raffles issued an instruction to relocate the fish market to Telok Ayer.[2] The construction of the Telok Ayer Market started in 1823 under the supervision of police officer Francis James Bernard at a site on the southern end of Market Street on Telok Ayer Bay. The market, a timber-and-atap structure, opened in 1824.[2] It was built on the shore that partially extended out to the sea so that waste may be washed away by the tides, and produce may be loaded or unloaded directly from boats via jetties leading to the market.[3] However, the building was not well-constructed – the timber piles on which the building rest on was not sturdy enough, and needed to be replaced soon after completion. Its atap roof also did not comply with building regulations and was therefore replaced with tiles, but had to be replaced with atap again in 1827 regardless of fire regulation as the structure was not strong enough to support a tile roof and was in danger of collapse. The building was repeatedly repaired but by 1830, the structure was judged to be in an "extremely unsafe state" and needed to be rebuilt.[4] A temporary market was erected in 1832 while a newer building awaited construction.[2]

The construction of a new market, designed by architect George Drumgoole Coleman, commenced on the same site in 1836 and it was completed in 1838.[2] Coleman produced an octagonal building with ornamental columns at the entrance. The building had twice the area of the older market, and was formed of an outer and inner drum, with the colonnade of the outer drum letting in light but also providing shelter from the sun and rain.[5] This building was built on two octagonal rings of brick piers, which supported a structure 125 feet in diameter, and an inner drum 40 feet in diameter.[2] As with the previous structure, it suffered from its exposure to the monsoons and the sea, and soon after its construction, concerns over its safety were voiced, and the market needed to be repaired.[2] In 1841, the market was extended on one side of the main building under the supervision of contractor Denis McSwiney with the erection of a new fish market. This new structure was a long open shed, and it was later further extended to run roughly parallel to two sides of the octagonal market. The extension would help protect the main market by serving as a breakwater to reduce the force of the swells and surf from the east.[2] Despite the concerns raised over its safety for many years,[5] it stood for over 40 years until it was demolished when land was reclaimed on Telok Ayer Bay. The prominence of the market on the waterfront made the building a landmark of early Singapore.[6]


File:Telok Ayer Market 8, Jan 06.JPG

The distinctive clock tower of Telok Ayer Market.

In 1879, land reclamation work on Telok Ayer Bay to create the land on which Robinson Road is now located began.[7] The newly reclaimed land, on which the current market now sits, was declared to be ready for use in 1890, and construction of a new market was initiated. The market was certified as completed on 1 March 1894, and Market Street was extended to the new location.[2] The new building, which covers an area of 55,000 square feet, was designed by the Municipal Engineer James MacRitchie (who also designed the MacRitchie Reservoir). MacRitchie adopted the octagonal shape of Coleman's original design, and used cast-iron pillars to support the building. The cast iron work cost £13,200, and was shipped out from Glasgow by P&W MacLellan, who had also supplied the iron for the Cavenagh Bridge in 1868. The great cast-iron columns which support the structure bear the maker's mark of W. MacFarlane and Co., also of Glasgow. The iron structure was erected by Riley Hargreaves & Co. (now United Engineers) at a cost of $14,900, while building contractor Chea Keow laid the foundation for $18,000.[2][8] This building, which is the current one still standing, was placed close to the waterfront and served as a general market, but linked by a bridge to a fish market built over the sea.[2] However, further land reclamations in the 20th century meant that the octagonal building is now some distance from the shoreline.


This fountain was originally placed at the center of the Telok Ayer Market. It was later moved to the Orchard Road Market, and is now located in the Raffles Hotel.

A cast-iron fountain was originally placed at the centre of the market under the clock tower, but in 1902 the fountain was moved to the front of the now demolished Orchard Road Market.[9] The fountain was moved again to the Grand Hotel in Katong in 1930,[10] and later dismantled and forgotten. It was rediscovered in pieces in 1989 by a team responsible for the restoration works for Raffles Hotel. The fountain has since been reassembled and restored, and now forms the centrepiece of the Palm Garden at the Raffles Hotel.[9][11]

As food court[]

By the early 1970s, the area around Telok Ayer Market—Shenton Way, Robinson Road, Cecil Street and Raffles Place—had transformed into a major commercial and financial district of Singapore, and a wet market was no longer considered suitable for the area. In 1972, the market was converted into a hawker centre.[3] However, the historical and architectural value of Telok Ayer Marker was recognised, and it was gazetted as a national monument on 6 July 1973.[12]

In 1986, the market was closed to allow construction of a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line which runs underneath the building. The building was taken apart and its cast-iron supports put into storage. Once the track-laying project has finished, the Telok Ayer Market was reconstructed in the late 1980s.[3]

In 1989, the market was officially renamed Lau Pa Sat, the vernacular name most Singaporeans used to refer to the market.[13] The old market reopened in 1991 as a festival market, a supposedly modern food court catering to office workers and tourists. The owner was the Jumabhoy family's Renaissance Property (part of now defunct Scotts Holding). The grandiose food court was opened with a lot of fanfare and wide media publicity. But it soon became a flop, business dropped a few weeks after it opened, due largely to poor ventilation (no air conditioning). Lau Pa Sat was later taken over in 1995 by Kopitiam, another food court operator.

A major renovation of Lau Pa Sat, costing $4 million and lasting 9 months, began on 1 September 2013.[14] The layout of the stalls was reconfigured in the renovation, reducing the number of stalls but increasing the seating. Better ventilation with eight industrial ceiling fans was also installed.[13] It reopened on 30 June 2014.[14]

The market is the only remaining one left that served the resident in the central district in early Singapore. The other four being the Orchard Road Market, Rochor Market, Clyde Terrace Market popularly known as Beach Road, demolished in 1983 to make way for now currently Gateway Building and Ellenborough Market, nicknamed Teochew Market where the surrounding area was populated by Teochews, near the New Bridge Road.Template:CN


File:Telok Ayer Market 6, Jan 06.JPG

The intricate roof and column structures of the Lau Pa Sat are typically Victorian.

Lau Pa Sat's unique, octagonal, cast-iron structure was designed by James MacRitchie, who adopted George Drumgoole Coleman's original octagonal shape for the older market. The cast-iron structures were crafted by Walter MacFarlane & Company, an iron foundry in Glasgow, Scotland.[9] These were then shipped over to Singapore, and assembled on its current location by Riley Hargreaves & Co.[1] The use of pre-fabricated cast iron parts for the structure, as well as for decorative reasons, is typically Victorian and popular in Britain after the building of Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace.[1] Slender columns are topped with composite capitals supporting trusses with filigree-like infills. The cast-iron archways and fretted eaves brackets are good examples of the craftsmanship of the day.

A lantern is placed at the center, allowing daylight to illuminate the interior. The lantern is topped by a clock tower installed in 1991, and there is a set of ringing chimes producing Chinese, Malay and Indian melodies. The 23 bronze Dutch carillons are struck by a jacquemart (figure of a bell striker) dress like a coolie.[9]


The photographs of the renovated Lau Pa Sat are below.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Template:Cite book
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Template:Cite book
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Template:Cite book
  4. Template:Cite book
  5. 5.0 5.1 Template:Cite book
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. Template:Cite web
  8. Template:Cite book
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Template:Cite web
  10. Template:Cite web
  11. Template:Cite web
  12. National Library of Singapore: "Former Telok Ayer Market" Template:Webarchive, retrieved 21 November 2012
  13. 13.0 13.1 Template:Cite news
  14. 14.0 14.1 Template:Cite news
  • Norman Edwards, Peter Keys (1996), Singapore - A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, Times Books International, Template:ISBN
  • Victor R Savage, Brenda S A Yeoh (2003), Toponymics - A Study of Singapore Street Names, Eastern Universities Press, Template:ISBN

Further reading[]

  • Lee Kip Lin (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

External links[]

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