Cross Street

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


Cross Street is a one-way street that begins from Raffles Quay. The street becomes Upper Cross Street after meeting South Bridge Road and ends at Havelock Road.1 Cross Street intersects with several historic streets in Singapore, such as Telok Ayer StreetAmoy StreetChina Street, South Bridge Road, New Bridge RoadRobinson Road and Cecil Street.2  Telok Ayer station, on the Downtown Line, is at the junction of Cross Street and Telok Ayer Street.

The reason why Cross Street is so named is unknown. Peter Dunlop posited in his book Street Names of Singapore that it could be due to how the road “crosses” Chinatown, linking New Bridge and South Bridge roads with the commercial district at Raffles Quay.3

One of the oldest streets in Singapore, Cross Street was featured in the first implementation of Stamford Raffles’s plan for Chinatown. Drawn up by Philip Jackson, the 1828 town plan incorporated Raffles’s recommendations to allocate specific areas for various racial groups. In the plan, Kling houses and a Kling chapel (probably a temple) are marked out on Cross Street, although the surrounding area was designated as a “Chinese Campong [kampong]”. The street also appears in the first topographical survey of Singapore by G. D. Coleman, published in 1836.4

Each of the major races in Singapore referred to Cross Street in their own way. The Chinese called it kiat leng kia koi or “Klingman’s street”, because there was a community of Indians who lived there in the 1820s. “Kling” was a derogatory local term for Indians. Before the street became predominantly Chinese, the area was mainly an Indian residential one. In the 1820s, Indian boatmen lived and operated shops along the street, selling goat milk, mutton and herbs. Hence, the Tamils called the street paalkadei sadakku or “street of the milk shops”, while the Malays called it kampong susu or “milk village”.5

Upper Cross Street was also known as “Hai San Street”, which was derived from the Chinese secret society of the same name that had created much trouble in the area. Hai San was the group that was involved in violent conflict with another Chinese secret society, Ghee Hin, in Perak and Penang in the 1860s and early 1870s.6

The Sook Ching centre, where Chinese males were rounded up and screened for anti-Japanese involvement during the Japanese Occupation, was located at the junction of South Bridge Road and Cross Street. The site, where Hong Lim Complex now stands, is marked by a bronze historic marker.7

From the 1950s to the late 1970s, Cross Street had numerous Chinese stationery and book shops thriving in the area.8

Situated at the start of Cross Street, at the junction with Raffles Quay, is Lau Pa Sat. Formerly the Telok Ayer Market, it is a popular hawker centre and one of Singapore’s most prominent landmarks. Its striking octagonal cast-iron structure was built in 1894 by municipal engineer, James MacRitchie, on land reclaimed from the sea in 1881. The grande dame of markets in Singapore, it was gazetted as a national monument in 1973.9

Opposite Lau Pa Sat, on the other side of Cross Street, is the Hong Leong Building. A 44-storey commercial-and-residential building, it was constructed in 1974 by Swan & Maclaren and conceived as a “vertical town”.10

The former Market Street Car Park, the first multi-storey carpark in Singapore, was constructed in 1963 at the junction of Cross Street and Market Street. It was built by the Public Works Department at the cost of $2.5 million to alleviate the problem of insufficient parking spaces in the central business district. In 2011, CapitaCommercial Trust decided to use the land for a new office development and the nine-storey Market Street Car Park was thus demolished. On the site now stands CapitaGreen, a 40-storey, 245-metre-tall officer tower. It was designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito and completed in December 2014.11

Another heritage landmark still standing on Upper Cross Street is the former Great Southern Hotel, which was once considered the “Raffles Hotel of Chinatown”. Occupying a building named Nam Tin (which means “southern sky” in Cantonese) at the junction of Eu Tong Sen Street and Upper Cross Street, it was the first Chinese hotel in Singapore with a lift. Nam Tin was the tallest building in Chinatown when it was built in 1927. It now houses a department store called Yue Hwa Chinese Products.12

Upper Cross Street is also home to Singapore’s oldest counselling centre – Counselling and Care Centre, which introduced counselling as a professional service in the field of mental health in Singapore in 1966.13

Variant names
Hokkien: Kit-ling-a koi, which means “Kling street”.14
Cantonese: Hoi-san kai-ha kai, which means “lower street of Upper Cross Street”. Hoi-san kai refers to Upper Cross Street (hoi-san in Cantonese refers to the secret society Hai San (海山), while kai means “street”), and ha kai means “lower street”.15

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Streetdirectory Pte Ltd, Cross Street, map, accessed 8 June 2020; Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 454. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
2. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 136. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
3. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 62. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
4. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 95 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 136.
5. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 454; Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 95; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 136.
6. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 95; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 136; Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Outram Planning Area: Planning Report 1995 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1995), 6 (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN); Survey Department, Singapore, Map of the Town and Environs of Singapore, 1836, map, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. TM000037); Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 62–63.
7. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 62; Chong Zi Liang, After the Fall of Singapore: Horror and, Today, Peace,” Straits Times, 13 February 2017, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 95.
9. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 429–30; Streetdirectory Pte Ltd, Cross Street; “Lau Pa Sat,” Singapore Tourism Board, accessed 21 May 2021.
10. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 428.
11. Jessica Cheam, “Market Street Car Park May Convert to $1.5B Office Site,” Straits Times, 4 January 2008, 58; Kalpana Rashiwala, “83% Committed Occupancy at CapitaGreen,” Business Times, 10 September 2015, 15 (From  NewspaperSG); “CapitaGreen,” CapitaLand, accessed 8 June 2020; Melissa Tan, “CBD Parking High Fees and Lack of Season Carpark Spaces Drive Away Many Motorists,” Straits Times, 16 October 2013; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 136.
12. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 403; Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, 1991), 82 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Sit Yin Fong, “New Life for Old Chinatown Hotel as Retail Store,” Straits Times, 16 April 1994, 10; “$25M Spent to Restore, Extend Building,” Straits Times, 10 July 1997, 37; Ou Rubai 区如柏,“Xiri de xianggelila nantian zouguo 63 nian” 昔日的香格里拉南天走过63年 [The old Shangri-La Nantian has gone through 63 years], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 9 September 1990, 42 (From NewspaperSG); Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 62.
13. Janice Tai, “Counselling Centre Celebrates 50 Years with 50 Stories of Hope,” Straits Times, 22 August 2016, 4 (From NewspaperSG); “About Us,” The Counselling and Care Centre, accessed 8 June 2020.
14. 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): 82–83. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
15. Firmstone, Chinese Names of Streets and Places,” 82–83.

The information in this article is valid as at June 2020 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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