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Jalan Besar, parallels Serangoon Road, cutting through Little India. Its name literally means wide road. Beginning as a road through the Norris brothers' plantation, Jalan Besar soon developed into a major highway in early Singapore, along which multiracial communities resided and worked.
Initially a betel nut and nipah orchard, it was bought over by the Norris brothers. Richard Owen Norris and George Norris were sons of an Army Officer. They paid 113 Rps to the East India Company for the land in the 1830s. Upon the acquisition of the land, the brothers added mangosteens and other fruit trees. The road was partially completed by 1836 but the area around it remained swampy for some time.
In the 1880s, a road through the plantation was constructed by the Municipality. A decade later, this road was widened to enable smooth traffic for the carriages and bullock carts. The remaining land was sold as building lots, marking the first phase of urban development plans. The residents around Jalan Besar were a colourful mix from various communities including Indians, Chinese, Peranakan, Boyanese, Europeans, Eurasians and Malays.
The shophouses and other buildings that had lined this street had architectural characteristics typical of the late 19th century and early 20th century architecture. The colours that dominated the buildings in this area were favourites with the general Malay and Straits Chinese population predominant in the area. The soft pastel shades of pink, blue, beige and green were considered pleasant and harmonious colours. Many of these buildings lasted for several decades until the construction of the Housing Development board flats in the area. However, some shophouses continue to give this street an old world charm.
With such a high population density along the Jalan Besar area, it was not surprising that Singapore's first refuse incinerator was constructed here in 1889. The Grand Theatre and New World Park of 1923 were famous landmarks in Jalan Besar. Norris Road is named in honour of its original owners. Other landmarks include the Jalan Besar Stadium and the Thieves Market.
Jalan Besar is also a reference to a political constituency around the area.
Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore (pp. 117-118). Singapore: Who's Who Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN)
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW)
Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)
Saini, R. (1990, February 9). Stroll open windows to S'pore's colourful past. The Straits Times, p. 29.
Jalan Besar Town Council news. (1990). Singapore: Jalan Besar Town Council.
(Call no.: RSING 307.095957 JBTCN)
Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1995). Conservation guidelines: Our heritage is in our hands. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority.
(Call no.: SING 363.69095957 CON)
Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). Secondary settlements: Conservation guidelines for Jalan Besar conservation area. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority.
(Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 SEC)
The information in this article is valid as at 2003 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.