Desker Road

Singapore Infopedia

by Cornelius-Takaham, Vernon and Faridah Ibrahim

Desker Road is located within the Rochore planning area in the Central Region of Singapore.1 This stretch of road was built after the completion of land reclamation works in the old Kampong Kapor area.2 It is laid out in an orthogonal (at right angles) manner between two main roads – Serangoon Road and Jalan Besar.3 It was named after Andre Filipe Desker, a former resident of the area and butchery owner in the 1860s.4

Once notoriously known as a “red-light area”,5 Desker Road still retains its old-world charm with its rows of conserved terrace shophouses lining some parts of the road.6 In addition, it is the site where 88 flats under the public housing programme were built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1982.7 The prevailing vibrant landscape of Desker Road is linked to other commercial developments such as condominiums, restaurants, shopping and hotels, located within the areas around Jalan Besar, reflecting the current needs of the population it now serves.8

Origin of name
Desker Road was named after Andre Filipe Desker, the owner of the largest slaughter house and butchery that operated in the area in the 1860s.9 He was born in Malacca in 1826 and arrived in Singapore in the 1840s. The son of Filipe Desker and Miguelina Sekelches, both from Malacca, Desker, who was of Eurasian descent, married Esmeralda Bruyns in 1853 in Singapore. The couple had 13 children who were born between 1854 and 1880.10

One of the first butchers in Singapore, Desker’s butchery was located between Veerasamy Road and Norris Road in the 1860s.11 His butchery was mentioned in an advertisement in The Straits Times dated 1 June 1865. The advertisement noted that Desker & Co. commenced its business as “butchers intending to furnish residents with a regular supply of the best mutton”.12

Desker imported sheep from Australia, which were housed in numerous sheep pens in his compound. He lived in the district through which Desker Road now runs. His property extended between Buff Road and Sungei Road, inclusive of Rowell Road.13

A well-known philanthropist, Desker donated generously to major Catholic schools and churches.14 He was also known as Henry Fillipe Desker.15 He died on 9 March 1898 at his residence in Serangoon Road at the age of 72.16


Desker Road is located in the vicinity of the old Kampong Kapor area off Serangoon Road.17 This zone was recorded as swampland according to an area map of 1857.18 Cattle trading was the main economic activity of the area. Influencing factors that seem to have contributed to this early development of the Serangoon Road area include an abundant supply of water, as well as grass that made it suitable for cattle rearing. This commercial development encouraged many Indians who were involved in the cattle and dairy trade as business owners and labourers, to start settling in the area. Some Europeans also joined the industry.19

The cattle-related activities were important in the south of Syed Alwi Road. The cattle here were destined for the slaughterhouses and eventually the butcheries. Many of those who lived and worked in Kampong Kapor were Indian Muslims, who built fairly successful establishments including Ena Januludin, Jamin Saiboo, S. K. Goolam Meydin, and Andre Filipe Desker.20

The period between 1880 and 1900 saw an enormous increase in Singapore’s population, the town reaching a stage where life had to be more organised and institutionalised. This led to the expansion of Singapore town in all directions, including the areas around Serangoon Road.21 After the completion of land reclamation works in the area, which occurred between 1840s and 1920s, two roads, Desker and Rowell, were built and laid out in an orthogonal manner.22

Between 1900 and 1910, rows of terrace shophouses were built along Desker Road.23 The building of the high-rise block of flats, which sits on the site of the old abattoir, was the result of the HDB’s plan to develop the Jalan Besar area for public housing. The flats were completed in 1982.24

Desker Road is included in the Rochor planning area and is located within the Central Area region. Currently, the use of land in the Rochor planning area is predominantly for commercial activities.25

Little India was gazetted as a conservation area on 7 July 1989 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and the buildings along Desker Road were also included in the conservation plan, effectively from 25 October 1991.26

Perhaps of interest today would be the houses numbered 87 to 95 for their fine Chinese baroque details.27 The exterior façade of these houses are covered with decorated jalousie, and the Malayan fretwork at the eaves are examples of ornate craftsmanship. The windows for some of the units have been well-preserved and described as well-proportioned bays containing three flat-arched windows divided by occasionally rusticated Doric and Corinthian plasters.28 Painted mainly in shades of sky-blue, baby-blue, jade-green and apple-green, these are very typical external colours favoured by the Straits Chinese in Singapore. Built between 1900 and 1910, nearly all of the shophouses on this road have been kept intact.29


Vernon Cornelius & Faridah Ibrahim

1. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Rochor Planning Area: Planning Report 1994 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1994), 4, 7, 10. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN) 
2. Sharon Siddique and Nirmala Shotam-Gore, Serangoon Road: A Pictorial History (Singapore: Educational Publications Bureau, 1983), 75. (Call no. RSING 779.995957 SER)
3. Woo Pui Leng, “Jalan Besar – From Mangrove Swampland to Charming District,” Skyline (May–June 2011), 21.
4. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 101–02. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
5. Arlina Arshad, “A Sign in Your Name Is Worth,” Straits Times, 6 April 2003, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Norman Edwards and Keys Peter, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 135. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
7. “Flats at Sites of Former Abattoir, Quarters,” Straits Times, 23 June 1980, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Karl Ho, “Big on Condos in Jalan Besar,” Straits Times, 15 May 2005, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Melody Zaccheus, “Delve into Little India's History at New Exhibition,” Straits Times, 22 October 2016, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 101.
11. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 101; Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 368. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
12. “Page 4 Advertisements Column 3: Mutton,” Straits Times, 28 October 1865, 4. (From NewspaperSG.
13. Myrna Braga-Blake and Ann Ebert-Oehlers, Singapore Eurasians: Memories and Hopes (Singapore: Eurasian Association, 1992), 94. (Call no. RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
14. Braga-Blake and Ebert-Oehlers, Singapore Eurasians, 94.
15.  “Page 2 Advertisements Column 2,” Straits Times, 10 May 1898, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “The Late Mr. Desker,” Straits Times, 9 March 1898, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Siddique and Shotam-Gore, Serangoon Road, 75.
18. Siddique and Shotam-Gore, Serangoon Road, 45.
19. Siddique and Shotam-Gore, Serangoon Road, 36, 74.
20. Siddique and Shotam-Gore, Serangoon Road, 74.
21. Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: Graham Brash, 1989), 66. (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA)
22. Woo, “From Mangrove Swampland to Charming District,” 21.
23. “For the Sake,” Straits Times, 25 August 1981, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Flats at Sites of Former Abattoir, Quarters,” Straits Times, 23 June 1980, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Rochor Planning Area, 4, 7, 10.
26. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Little India: Historic District (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1995), 19, 21. (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 LIT); “Little India,” Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore); “For the Sake.”  
28. Edwards and Peter, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 135.
29. “For the Sake.”  

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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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