South Bridge Road

Singapore Infopedia


South Bridge Road is located in Outram, near the Singapore River in Singapore’s central region. One of the thriving centres of the city in the heart of Chinatown, South Bridge Road was historically an important street. It was one of the main thoroughfares linking the town and New Harbour (Keppel Harbour).1 The road stretches south from Elgin Bridge to Maxwell Road, Tanjong Pagar Road and Neil Road.2

South Bridge Road had been known in the early 1820s by this name, before a proper road was constructed.3 In early 1831, there were public complaints that the road was flooded knee-deep at high tides.Two years later, George Coleman, as the newly appointed superintendent of public works, headed the construction of North Bridge Road and South Bridge Road, which were built using convict labour.5

Major road link
South Bridge Road grew in importance when it became a link between the town and New Harbour. Import and export businesses, including assorted wholesale and retail merchant traders, godowns and goldsmith shops, set up shop here.6

The first steam tramway ran the full length of South Bridge Road from 1886 but ceased operations in 1894, as it could not compete with the great number of rickshaws introduced in 1880.7 Then came electric trams in 1905, which stopped operating in 1927. Trolley buses were subsequently introduced in 1929. The increase of commercial prospects and immigrant arrivals, around the turn of the century, saw the rise of many two- and three-storey shophouses in the area. Some of the shophouses still exist today.8

Being the main street of Chinatown, many historic and important buildings line South Bridge Road. One of these is the Sri Mariamman Temple, which was first constructed out of wood and attap in 18279 and then converted into a brick-and-plaster temple in 1843. Another is Jamae Mosque, which began as a brick structure in 1826 but was completed as a simple brick-and-plaster building between 1830 and 1835. Both of these sites of worship are now preserved monuments. Other early landmarks on South Bridge Road were the Central Police Station, which was demolished in 1977 and replaced by the former Pidemco Centre in 1984; and the Criminal District and Police Courts, built in 1884 and torn down in 1975.10 Also along South Bridge Road is a classical three-storey building referred to as the Eu Yan Sang Building. Constructed in 1910, it has housed the Eu Yan Sang traditional Chinese pharmacy since then.11

New developments that have surfaced include Fook Hai Building and Hong Lim Complex. The latter, built by the Housing and Development Board, comprises shophouses and high-rise apartments.12 The site of Hong Lim Complex, at the corner of South Bridge Road/Cross Street, was the location of one of the screening centres for the Sook Ching operation during World War II. Those suspected to be anti-Japanese were rounded up and massacred by the Japanese military.13

Maxwell MRT Station
The Maxwell MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Station, which is part of the Thomson–East Coast Line, will be ready by 2021. The station is located underground, spanning the end of South Bridge Road to the start of Neil Road.14

Marching troops
On 9 August 1966, after the official parade celebrating Singapore’s first National Day, the nation’s military troops proudly continued their march from the Padang where the parade was held, through the heavily populated Chinatown towards Tanjong Pagar. The troops were greeted with cheers from crowds lining the five-foot ways, roadsides, balconies and bridges along the South Bridge Road route.15

Variant names
(1) In Hokkien, tua poh (“big town”) referred to Chinatown, which had more shops compared to North Bridge Road, which was known as sio poh (“small town”).16
(2) In Hokkien, gu-chhia chui toa be-chhia lo, or ngau-chhe-shui tai ma-lo in Cantonese, both meaning “big horse (water-carriage) road in Kreta Ayer”.17
(3) In Hokkien, chhat-bok koi, or chhat-muk kai in Cantonese, both meaning “paint-wood street”. This name refers only to the section of South Bridge Road between Elgin Bridge and the corner of North Canal Road, where many painters used to live.18
(4) In Cantonese, tai ma lo (“great horseway”).19

Tamil: kalapithi kadei sadakku (“cawker’s shop street”).20


Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. “Auction of South Bridge Rd Shophouses Next Month,” Straits Times, 8 June 1995, 40 (From NewspaperSG); Archives and Oral History Dept., Singapore, Chinatown: An Album of a Singapore Community (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 40 (Call no. RSING 779.995957 CHI); Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Outram Planning Area: Planning Report 1995 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1995), 6. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
2. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 6–7 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 274, 354. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Norman Edwards and Keys Peter, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 395. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
3. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 354.
4. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 212. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
5. “Singapore’s Great Progress in a Hundred Years,” (1937, December 2). Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 2 December 1937, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Outram Planning Area, 6.
7. Archives and Oral History Dept., Singapore, Chinatown, 34–35; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 182.
8. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 182.
9. “Temple is Oldest Hindu Place of Worship Here,” Straits Times, 30 November 1996, 10 (From NewspaperSG); John Hall-Jones and Christopher Hooi, An Early Surveyor in Singapore: John Turnbull Thomson in Singapore, 1841–1853 (Singapore: National Museum, 1979), 47. (Call no. RSING 526.90924 THO.H)
10. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 182–83, 188.
11. Edwards and Peter, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 396; Ministry of Information and the Arts, Eu Yan Sang Building along South Bridge Road. Eu Yan Sang (余仁生) Specialises in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Its First Medical Hall was by Mr Eu Tong Sen in 1911, 2 February 1993, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980001373 – 0084)
12. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 188; Edwards and Peter, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 396, 456.
13. Allison Lim, “Remembering Chinese Massacred during War,” Straits Times, 24 July 1995, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Royston Sim, “$1.1B of Contracts Awarded for Two MRT Lines,” Straits Times, 22 April 2014, 6 (From NewspaperSG); “Thomson Line,” Land Transport Authority, accessed 29 June 2017.
15. “Tramp, Tramp in South Bridge Road,” Straits Times, 10 August 1966, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 274.
17. H. W. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42 (February 1905): 130–31. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
18. Mubin Sheppard, ed., Singapore 150 Years (Singapore: Times Books International: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1982), 216. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]) 
19. Edwards and Peter, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 395; Sheppard, Singapore 150 Years, 216.
20. Sheppard, ed., Singapore 150 Years, 219.

Further resources
Survey Department, Singapore, Singapore Street Directory and Sectional Maps (April 1957), 13. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])

Survey Department, Singapore, Singapore Guide & Street Directory (1972), 20–21, 27, 44. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN)

The information in this article is valid as at 11 August 2017 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.

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