Clifford Pier

Singapore Infopedia


Situated on Collyer Quay at the mouth of the Singapore River, Clifford Pier was built between 1927 and 1933, and officially opened by then Governor Cecil Clementi on 3 June 1933.1 It was named after Clementi’s predecessor, Hugh Clifford, who served as governor of the Straits Settlements between 1927 and 1929.2

Clifford Pier, sited further along Collyer Quay from where Johnston’s Pier once stood, was designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, chief architect of the Public Works Department. Local contractor Woh Hup undertook the construction of the project. Its art-deco design was described as “neat and simple”, with a unique roof structure that featured concrete arched trusses in a ribbon-like form, and the Straits Settlements of Singapore emblem sculpted into the top of the entrance. The pier’s foundation was established by driving huge steel piles into the seabed.3

Clifford Pier was built to replace Johnston’s Pier, as the latter had become inadequate in serving the increased volume of sea traffic at the harbour.4 Following the announcement that the new pier would be named Clifford Pier, a highly publicised controversy arose over its name. The Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association protested against naming it Clifford Pier, and instead argued that the new pier should inherit the name of its predecessor, Johnston’s Pier, on the grounds that the latter carried “important historical associations dating back to the foundation of Singapore”.5 The colonial government did not accede and went with the name Clifford Pier.6 As a result, merchants boycotted the pier’s opening on 3 June 1933.7

A key landing and departure point for sea travellers to and from Singapore, the pier bustled with activity, receiving dignitaries, immigrants and daily commuters alike.8 Passengers alighting from ships anchored in the harbour were ferried to the landing steps of the pier in small boats. Being a landing point for immigrants and the site for processing immigrants in its early decades, customs and immigration personnel, as well as the police, were stationed at the pier.9

Facing the pier was the Change Alley bazaar, which was popular with sailing crews and tourists for its money changers and inexpensive goods.10

Clifford Pier was the venue for the New Year’s Day sea sports event – a long-running annual tradition in the colonial days during which skilled boatmen displayed their seamanship in a series of boat races. At the races, one could see the diverse sailing vessels of the region including the koleh, sampan, prahu, canoe, dinghy and yacht. Large crowds of Europeans and locals gathered at the pier and along the waterfront to watch the races and partake in the carnival.11

Japanese Occupation
During the onset of the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), panic and turmoil struck the pier as ships carrying evacuees including nurses, officers and civilians – the latter mostly expatriate women and children as well as Chinese who were involved in the anti-Japanese movement – sought to evacuate the island. Japanese aircraft attacked the evacuees, while the Japanese navy laid in wait in the sea lanes further off Singapore to destroy the ships that managed to leave the harbour.12

Postwar years and subsequent developments
Clifford Pier was renovated for around $10,000 in 1949. Its look was refreshed and areas damaged during the Occupation were repaired. Its clock, which was previously hung above the portico and damaged during the war, was also fixed and moved inside the pier.13

In the postwar years, the pier was a popular embarkation point to neighbouring islands. During the ninth lunar month, devotees set off from the pier for their annual pilgrimage to Kusu Island to visit the temples there. Visitors took boats from the pier for day trips to the southern islands to fish, dive or picnic.14 Day and night leisure cruises also operated from Clifford Pier catering to both tourists and locals.15

Sea sports events continued to be held at the pier in the 1960s, but such activities eventually dwindled. Clifford Pier receded from public consciousness as sea traffic shifted to the ports on the western side of Singapore and air transport became more widely used.16

In the 1970s, Clifford Pier underwent significant changes. In 1970, the pier received a S$120,000 facelift. It was extended to cater to the increasing volume of shipping traffic; shop spaces, offices and a two-storey coffee house were also added to the premises.17 In 1972, a mezzanine was constructed within the pier to house a shopping arcade.18 The move towards attracting consumers to Clifford Pier was complemented by the new S$7-million Change Alley Aerial Plaza – an air-conditioned shopping complex located on the passageway of the bridge connecting the pier to Change Alley – which opened the following year.19

In 1975, the Port of Singapore Authority embarked on a S$2.8-million development to the pier, comprising covered decking, landing for large ships, and a promenade where a beer garden was located.20 In 1978, the Red Lantern Revolving Restaurant opened for business above Change Alley Aerial Plaza.21 The restaurant was patronised mostly by tour groups, and became a popular venue for Chinese wedding banquets by the 1990s.22

In 1980, shops and offices moved out of Clifford Pier, as it was to become a transit point for boat passengers. The pier was subsequently renovated to provide more space for embarking and disembarking.23

Prostitution grew rampant at Clifford Pier in the 1980s and early 1990s. Its colloquial name ang teng beh tau (Hokkien for “red light harbour”, a reference to the red beacon atop the building, used for warning ships) became an ironic allusion to the pier being a red-light district. During that period, police raids were regularly conducted there to stamp out the illicit activities.24

By the 1990s, much of the sea traffic and water sports such as dragon boat racing had been cleared, in line with the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s plans to redevelop the areas around Marina Bay and the river mouth into a commercial and recreation hub.25

Closure and redevelopment
In 2004, it was announced that Clifford Pier would be replaced by the new Marina South Pier. This was part of redevelopment plans to build the Marina Bay area into a lifestyle hub.26 Marina Bay, which Clifford Pier overlooks, was dammed up to create a reservoir, the Marina Barrage.27 On 1 April 2006, the last bumboat left Clifford Pier as sea traffic was relocated to Marina South Pier.28 The closing ceremony for the pier was held on 13 April 2006.29

On 14 March 2007, Clifford Pier was gazetted for conservation.30 The architectural features of the pier were preserved, and the cast-iron red lamps restored and displayed on the eastern side of the building.31

Recent developments
Following 18 months of renovation costing S$6 million, One On The Bund, an upscale contemporary Chinese restaurant, opened on 11 December 2008 at Clifford Pier.32 However, it closed in early 2014 when its lease ended.33 In its place opened The Clifford Pier, a restaurant run by the Fullerton Bay Hotel offering a selection of local, Asian and Western dishes.34

Today, Clifford Pier is a part of the Fullerton Heritage precinct, which was launched in 2010.35 The heritage precinct is a dining and hospitality complex at the Singapore waterfront, and regarded as “Singapore’s downtown necklace of heritage gems stretching from Collyer Quay along Raffles Quay to Shenton Way”.36

Variant names
When Johnston’s Pier was in use, a red lamp used to hang at the end of the pier as a warning sign to ships in the harbour. This led to its colloquial name, lampu merah (Malay for “red lamp”). Clifford Pier inherited the name, and also featured a red beacon, which was located atop the building. The pier was commonly referred to as ang teng beh tau (Hokkien for “red lamp harbour”) by the Chinese.37

Malay: Lampu merah (red lamp)38
Hokkien: Ang teng (red lamp)39 or ang teng beh tau (also spelt ang teng beh thow)40
Cantonese: Hoong tang mah thow (red lamp harbour)41

Irene Lim & Fiona Lim

1. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993) (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), 85–86 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Richard Lim, “Up Singapore River,” New Nation, 9 September 1980, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Sir Hugh Clifford,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 June 1932, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Pugalenthi Sr., Singapore Landmarks: Monuments, Memorials, Statues and Historic Sites (Singapore: VJ Times International, 1999), 211–2 (Call no. RSING 959.57 PUG-[HIS]); Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 16. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
4. “Modern Pier for Singapore,” Straits Times, 23 October 1929, 17; “New Pier in Memory of Governor,” Straits Times, 16 December 1988, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Sir Hugh Clifford”; “Protest against Renaming Pier,” Straits Times, 10 August 1932, 12; “No Reason Why It Should Be Johnston’s Pier,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 August 1932, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Protest against Renaming Pier.”
7. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 85–86.
8. Derek Drabble, “Clifford Pier Comes to Life: Gateway to Singapore Is Well Watched,” Straits Times, 20 April 1950, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Kevin Ang, “Clifford Pier – A Gateway to a New Life,” Skyline (May–June 2013), 18.
9. Drabble, “Clifford Pier Comes to Life”; “A Glimpse into the Colourful Past of the Red Lamp Pier,” Straits Times, 26 January 2004, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Peter Ong, “The Closing Ceremony of Clifford Pier,” speech, Clifford Pier, 13 April 2006, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
10. IIsa Sharp, The Fullerton Heritage: Where the Past Meets the Present (Singapore: ORO Editions, 2011), 35. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SHA-[HIS]); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 100.
11. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Historic Waterfront (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2013), 2; “Sea Sports,” Straits Times, 2 January 1937, 20; Big Crowds Will Pack Collyer Quay for the Koleh Races,” Straits Times, 1 January 1955, 4; “Off to a Good Start at the New Year Sea Sports,” Straits Times, 3 January 1961, 1; “Great New Year’s Day Regatta in Singapore Harbour,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 3 January 1936, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
12. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 189–90. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
13. “New Look By New Year for Clifford Pier,” Straits Times, 22 December 1949, 5; “Clifford Pier Renovations,” Straits Times, 21 October 1949, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 16; Sharp,  Fullerton Heritage, 36; Augustine Low, “Kusu: From Rock Outcrop to Holiday Resort,” Straits Times, 5 October 1986, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Sharp,  Fullerton Heritage, 41; Night Harbour Cruises by Port Authority to Continue,” Straits Times, 29 August 1973, 18; “Waterfront Pleasure Rides from Tomorrow,” Straits Times, 2 September 1987, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
16. MediaCorp Pte Ltd, “Opening of Sea Sports at Clifford Pier,” 16 September 1963, video, 13:08. (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. 1997020132); “Day of Sports at the Waterfront,” Singapore Free Press, 3 December 1959, 2; “Singapore Sports on National Day,” Straits Times, 8 May 1964, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Urban Redevelopment Authority, Historic Waterfront, 2.
17. “New Look for Clifford Pier By End of the Year,” Straits Times, 17 September 1970, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “17 More Shops to Open at Clifford Pier,” Straits Times, 8 September 1972, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “New Look for Collyer Quay Bridge,” New Nation, 7 December 1973, 3; Mok Sin Pin, “An Aerial Plaza May Replace Change Alley,” Straits Times, 18 April 1973, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Jacob Daniel, “Clifford Pier’s $2.8 Mil Extension,” Straits Times, 26 August 1975, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Third Revolving Restaurant Will Open Soon,” Straits Times, 29 June 1978, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Mainly for Tour Groups, Weddings,” Straits Times, 20 February 1993, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Clifford Pier Shops Move Out,” Straits Times, 2 May 1980, 14; “30 Clifford Pier Tenants Told to Quit,” Straits Times, 8 November 1979, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Paul Wee, “Operation Clean-Up in Clifford Pier Area,” Straits Times, 9 December 1982, 40; Paul Wee, “Another Big Swoop as the Girls Come Back,” Straits Times, 12 December 1982, 1; Gerard Lee, “Clifford Pier a Haunt for Indonesian Prostitutes,” Straits Times, 11 September 1991, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Colin Tan and Yeow Pei Lin, “New Wave of Changes,” Straits Times, 30 September 1997, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Goh Chin Lian, Clifford Pier Moving to Marina South,” Straits Times, 26 January 2004, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “An Icon Makes Way,” Straits Times, 14 April 2006, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Chen Siya, “End of an Era for Boatman,” Today, 6 April 2006, 18 (From NewspaperSG); Urban Redevelopment Authority, Historic Waterfront, 2.
29. Ong, “Closing Ceremony of Clifford Pier.”
30. “Conservation: Clifford Pier, former Customs Harbour Branch building and Change Alley Aerial Plaza,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, 21 June 2015.
31. Sharp,  Fullerton Heritage, 38.
32. Tay Suan Chiang, “Pier Pleasure,” Strait Times, 27 December 2008, 104. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Rebecca Lynne Tan, “One On The Bund at Clifford Pier to Close,” Straits Times, 14 November 2013, 6–7. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “The Clifford Pier,” The Fullerton Bay Hotel, n.d.
35. Lui Tuck Yew, “The Opening Ceremony of the Fullerton Heritage Gallery,” speech, Fullerton Hotel Singapore, 8 July 2010, transcript, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 20100715001)
36. Sharp,  Fullerton Heritage, 8.
37. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 100; Sharp,  Fullerton Heritage, 35; Sit Ying Fong, Collyer Quay Is Its Official Name,” Straits Times, 12 December 1948, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Protest against Renaming Pier.”
39. “‘Ang Teng’ Thai Girls Remain in Police Custody as Probe Goes On,” Singapore Monitor, 9 December 1982, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
40. “An Icon Makes Way”; Marc Tan, “A Road By Any Other Name’s Still a Street,” Straits Times, 19 February 1985, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Sit, “Collyer Quay Is Its Official Name,”

Further resources
Frank W. Robinson, “It’s a Place to Go,” Straits Times, 29 May 1949, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

Ng Tze Yong, “Ang Teng Uncle’s Bittersweet Goodbye,” New Paper, 29 March 2006, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Stephanie Hua, “Pier Pressure,” Straits Times, 1 February 2004, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 13 July 2015 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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