Kreta Ayer Road

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


Kreta Ayer Road, a one-way road in the heart of Chinatown, connects Neil Road to New Bridge Road. The road is historically important as it was the name given to Chinatown in the early 1800sand was known as tua poh (greater town district) in 19th-century Chinatown.2

Kreta Ayer Road was officially named in 1922.3 In Malay, kreta ayer means water cart. In the early 19th and 20th centuries, bullock and ox carts plied this road carrying water. Water was drawn from wells located on Ann Siang Hill and distributed to Chinatown and its surrounding areas.4 Another water source was located at Spring Street, which was named after a spring where water was drawn and transported by bullock cart for distribution round Chinatown.5

From 1826 onwards, land parcels were issued and many roads were developed around Kreta Ayer Road, such as Hokien Street, China Street, Sago Street and Pagoda Street. The Kreta Ayer district of Chinatown, where all these streets were located, developed at a faster pace and was more prosperous. As a result, the Chinese divided Chinatown into two sections: tua poh (greater town district) and sio poh (smaller town). Kreta Ayer Road and its surrounding streets with their restaurants, brothels and theatres, belonged to and shaped the more prosperous tua poh.6

The street is a part of the Chinatown Kreta Ayer Conservation Area and is home to many conserved shophouses. HDB blocks, shops, and eating places also line this street. Built in 1960, the Kreta Ayer Community Centre was originally known as Banda Street Community Centre as it was on Banda Hill.7 In the mid-20th century, many private theatres in the vicinity of the road disappeared for various reasons. The need for a permanent stage for artists to showcase their talents led to the construction of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre in 1969. First started in 1960, the theatre was part of Kreta Ayer Community Centre and used to stage its performances on temporary and makeshift stages.8 The theatre was managed by the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre Foundation until January 2017, where the building’s management was transferred to the People’s Association (PA). Due to the theatre’s poor condition, it closed for major renovations in August 2017.9

Kreta Ayer Complex, a shopping and residential development, was built in 1980. Kreta Ayer Complex, the Kreta Ayer Community Centre and the People’s Theatre were renovated and modernised, and known as the Kreta Ayer Centre.10 Kreta Ayer Complex was later renamed Chinatown Complex as the stallholders in the market felt that its original name did not appeal to tourists.11

In 1996, the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (SATA) Kreta Ayer Clinic opened towards the end of Kreta Ayer Road. Renamed as SATA Chinatown Clinic, the clinic closed in late 2008 and moved to Ang Mo Kio where it commenced operations in the first quarter of 2009.12

Variant Names
Chinese names: Gu chia chui (Hokkien), ngow chay shui (Cantonese), both meaning “bullock water cart road”, refer to the bullock water carts that once plied this street.13

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 178. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
2. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 219. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
3. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 219.
4. S. Durai Raja-Singam, Malayan Street Names: What They Mean and Whom They Commemorate (Ipoh: Mercantile Press, 1939, 117. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 RAJ)
5. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 355.
6. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 219.
7. Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Chinatown: An Album of a Singapore Community (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 116, 118. (Call no. RSING 779.995957 CHI)
8. Leong Weng Kam, “From Makeshift Stages to a New Home,” Straits Times, 3 January 2000, 44. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Benson Ang, “Kreta Ayer Theatre Gets New Lease of Life,” Straits Times, 26 July 2017, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “HDB to Build $12 M Kreta Ayer Complex,” Straits Times, 3 February 1978, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Kreta Ayer Complex Gets New Name,” Straits Times, 29 September 1984, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
12. SATA CommHealth, The SATA Story: Celebrating 65 Years of Caring for the Community (Singapore: SATA CommHealth, 2012), 13–14. (Call no. RSING 614.542095967 SAT)*
13. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 219.

The information in this article is valid as at August 2018 and correct as far as we can 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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