Former Telok Ayer Market

Singapore Infopedia


The former Telok Ayer Market (now known as Lau Pa Sat, meaning “old market”) at Raffles Quay was completed in 1894 to replace a 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 1989.1

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, Scotland.2

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 1.25-metre doll, dressed like a Chinese coolie, would simulate the ringing movements activating Chinese, Malay and Indian melodies to be played. At the centre of the market was a sunken fountain with tiled flooring that could serve as a stage for performances. The fountain was reminiscent of a cast-iron fountain that marked the centre of the 1890 market but was relocated in 1902. Rediscovered only in 1989, the fountain stands now in Raffles Hotel’s Palm Garden.3

1822: Stamford Raffles commissions its construction as “the emporium of the east”. Colonel Farquhar decides on its location.4
1825: Its trademark octagonal shape is first built at a cost of $4,000. The construction of the 24 m by 9 m structure is believed to have been financed by a merchant, Tan Che San (also known as Inche Sang), who consequently has tax-free use of the premises for a few years.5
1833: The market is rebuilt under the auspices of G. D. Coleman, because the original structure is considered unsafe.6
1879: The market is demolished as a result of the land reclamation project at Telok Ayer Basin.7
1890: Construction of a new Telok Ayer Market commences and is completed in 1894. Designed by James MacRitchie, the market echoes the octagonal shape of the original market.8
1909: The Municipality takes control of the market from the farm system, and the wet market continues operations.
1972: As surrounding commercial activities make the wet market redundant, it is renovated and turned into a food centre.9
1973: The market is gazetted as a national monument.10
1984: Because of fears that tunnelling for the Mass Rapid Transit system would cause cracks in the iron framework, a decision is taken to dismantle the market for reassembly later.11
1985: At least 140 hawkers stop operations, and most are moved across the street to the Transit Food Centre.12
1986: The market is carefully dismantled, and the pieces are tagged and stored in Jurong.13
1989: It is reassembled and renamed Lau Pa Sat following a S$6.8 million renovation by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now Singapore Tourism Board).14
1990: It is leased to Renaissance Properties to be converted into a “festival market”.15
1992: After a S$10 million refurbishment by Japanese contractors Kumagai Gumi, it is reopened as the Telok Ayer Festival Market, a food-cum-entertainment complex.16
1995: Singapore Tourist Promotion Board gives lease rights to the Kopi Tiam Group for 24 years.17
1996: The market is reopened as a 24-hour food court after Kopi Tiam invests another S$4 million.
2014: After a nine-month renovation that costs S$4 million, the hawker centre reopens on 30 June. The refurbished centre’s new layout is designed to improve traffic flow and air flow, as well as increase seating capacity. Industrial ceiling fans for better ventilation and a stage for live performances are added. Parts of the interior are painted green like the original building completed in 1894, and its clock tower has been repaired.18

Bonny Tan

1.“New Look for Old Market,” Business Times, 31 January 1992, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Margaret Chan, “A Grand Old Dame Breaks Out in Sweat,” Straits Times, 26 April 1992, 6; 168 Years of Singapore History Wrapped Up in an Octagonal Structure,” Straits Times, 16 March 1990, 25 (From NewspaperSG); Gretchen Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1996), 205. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
3. “Lau Pa Sat: What Is It?” Straits Times, 29 February 1992, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Liu, Granite and Chunam, 206.
4. Chan, “Grand Old Dame Breaks Out”; “168 Years of Singapore History.”
5. “168 Years of Singapore History.”
6. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 205.
7. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 205.
8. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 206; “Former Telok Ayer Market (Now Known as Lau Pa Sat), National Heritage Board, last retrieved 5 July 2021.
9. “168 Years of Singapore History.”
10. “New Look for Old Market”; “168 Years of Singapore History.”
11. “New Look for Old Market”; “168 Years of Singapore History”; Beng Tan, “Telok Ayer Market - What Lies Ahead?,” Straits Times, 15 March 1985, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Chan, “Grand Old Dame Breaks Out”; “168 Years of Singapore History.”
13. “168 Years of Singapore History.”
14. Chan, “Grand Old Dame Breaks Out”; “New Look for Old Market”; “168 Years of Singapore History.”
15. Narendra Aggarwal, “Lau Pa Sat Will Reopen as 24-Hour Food Court on Sept 28,” Straits Times, 11 August 1996, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Lau Pa Sat: What Is It?
17. Aggarwal, “Lau Pa Sat Will Reopen”; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 206.
18. Melissa Lin, “Revamped Lau Pat Sat Opens Today” Straits Times, 30 June 2014, 8; Cheryl Faith Wee, “Office Crowd Cheers Return of ‘New’ Lau Pa Sat,” Straits Times, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Agnes Wee, “Telok Ayer Market Rises Again at Old Spot,” Straits Times, 16 July 1988, 15. (From NewspaperSG)

Beng Tan, “Telok Ayer Market – What Lies Ahead?,” Straits Times, 15 March 1985, 18. (From NewspaperSG)

Lee Kip Lin, 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, 1983). (Call no. RSING 725.21095957 LEE)

The information in this article is valid as at July 2021 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.


Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.