Telok Ayer Market

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Coordinates: 1°16′50.2″N 103°51′01.2″E / 1.280611°N 103.850333°E / 1.280611; 103.850333

Telok Ayer Market or Lau Pa Sat
Telok Ayer Market from above

Telok Ayer Market also known colloquially as Lau Pa Sat ("old market"), is a historic building in Singapore, and is located in Downtown Core within the Central Area, Singapore's central business district. It is currently a food centre. There are several shops inside the market such as a 24 hours Cheers Store, a shoe repair shop, a tailor and a laundry store. In the evenings on the weekend a live band plays at the stage in the middle of the market.


In the early nineteenth century, Telok Ayer Market was a simple wooden building, located on piles just over the waters of Telok Ayer Bay and hence the market's name. The Malay name Telok Ayer means "water bay" as the coastal road Telok Ayer Street lies alongside the bay. Because of its Victorian iron structure, the market is referred to in Malay as pasar besi (market of iron).

Lau means old; pa sat is the Hokkien pronunciation of the Persian loanword bazaar (market). Therefore, Lau Pa Sat means the old market among Chinese Singaporean. During the day many bankers from Shenton Way converge there for a good hearty lunch.


The distinctive clock tower of Telok Ayer Market.

Singapore's first market was located at the south bank of the Singapore River. When the government acquired that land for more lucrative commercial use in 1823,[1] the market was moved to Telok Ayer Street.

When Telok Ayer Market first opened in 1825, it extended over the sea. Jetties leading from the market allowed produce to be loaded and unloaded directly onto boats. The simple 30-feet by 80-feet timber and attap structure that rested on timber piles was not sturdy enough to face the elements. It was repaired and remained in use for several more years until 1836 when a bigger market was needed.

Architect George Drumgoole Coleman conceptualised an octagonal building with ornamental columns at the entrance. This market opened in 1838[1] and stood until 1879, when land reclamation called for its demolition.

Telok Ayer Market was revived yet again in 1894. Designed by Municipal Engineer James MacRitchie and built on newly reclaimed land,[1] the new building is more or less as it appears today. Adopting Coleman's octagonal shape, MacRitchie added cast-iron supports to strengthen the structure. In the centre of the market, he incorporated a fountain which remained at Telok Ayer Market until 1920, when it was moved to the now non-existent Orchard Road Market.

By the early 1970s, the area around Telok Ayer Market — Shenton Way, Robinson Road, Cecil Street and Raffles Place — had swelled into a busy commercial district with sparkling new skyscrapers. In 1973, the market was converted into a hawker centre and by 1986, it was closed to make way for a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line. The building's historical and architectural value was recognised and its signature cast-iron supports were put into storage.

Telok Ayer Market was reconstructed for the last time in the late 1980s, when tunnelling work for the MRT was completed. The latest building remains true to MacRitchie's and Coleman's designs and the cast-iron supports have been reinstated.

Renamed Lau Pa Sat, the vernacular name by which most Singaporeans refer to the market, the old market reopened in 1991 as a festival market, a supposedly modern food court catering to office workers and tourists. The owner was Rafiq Jumabhoy's Renaissance Property (part of now defunct Scotts Holding). The grandiose food court was opened with a lot of fanfare and wide media publicity. But it soon became a flop, business dropped a few weeks after it opened, due largely to poor ventilation (no air conditioning). Lau Par Sat was later taken over in 1995 by Kopitiam - another food court operator, and still in operation today albeit messier than Festival Market. The market most recently reopened on 4 July 2014 after a $4 million renovation.

Lau Par Sat was gazetted as a national monument on 6 July 1973.[2]


The intricate roof and column structures of the Telok Ayer Market are typically Victorian.

Telok Ayer Market's unique, octagonal, cast-iron structure is delicate in its execution, and was designed by James MacRitchie. It was shipped out from Glasgow[1] by P&W MacLellan, who had also made the iron for the Cavenagh Bridge in 1868. This may be true, but the great cast-iron columns which support the structure clearly bear the maker's mark of W. MacFarlane and Co., also of Glasgow.

The use of cast iron for the structure, as well as for decorative reasons, is typically Victorian. Slender columns are topped with composite capitals supporting trusses with filigree-like infills. The cast-iron archways and fretted eaves brackets are good examples of the craftsmanship of the day. It was erected by Riley Hargreaves & Co. (now United Engineers).


Renovation began on September 1, 2013 with the current reopening on June 30, 2014.[3]


The photographs of the renovated Lau pa sat are below.



  • National Heritage Board (2002), Singapore's 100 Historic Places, Archipelago Press, ISBN 981-4068-23-3
  • Norman Edwards, Peter Keys (1996), Singapore - A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, Times Books International, ISBN 9971-65-231-5
  • Victor R Savage, Brenda S A Yeoh (2003), Toponymics - A Study of Singapore Street Names, Eastern Universities Press, ISBN 981-210-205-1

Further reading[edit]

  • Lee Kip Lin (1983) 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

External links[edit]