Earliest commercial centre - Offices of Agency Houses and Department Stores

Soon after the founding of Singapore in 1819 traders from South-east Asia, the Middle East, Europe, China and India began to arrive. Agency Houses were established. Stamford Raffles and the first Resident Major Farquhar found it necessary to establish a Commercial Centre. Major Farquhar suggested that Rochore would be a suitable site for the Centre but Raffles suggested the swampy area next to the Singapore River. Raffles also said that the other side of the town would be deserted and no settlement would be formed for a 100 years. It was necessary therefore to reclaim this area by filling it with earth excavated from Mount Wallich. This was the first reclamation project in Singapore. With the labour of 300 'coolies' comprising Chinese, Malays and Indians the hill was completely cut down, drains, hollows and streams were filled up. Work was completed after 3 or 4 months.

On the reclaimed land Commercial Square (now Raffles Place) emerged; the Square was 200 yards by 50 yards with a garden in the centre. Agency Houses then set up their offices in Commercial Square; the offices were on the ground floor while the top floor was used as living quarters. Raffles allowed businessmen irrespective of race to establish their offices there. One of t e earliest to have his business premises there was Nairaina Pillay who accompanied Raffles on his second visit to Singapore. Naraina Pillay set his textile business there.

Four banks were established in Commercial Square; they were the Oriental Bank of London, the Chartered Mercantile Bank of India and China, the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China and the Asiatic Banking Corporation.

In January 1832 a public house and hotel was started at the northern and of the Square; it included a Billiards Rooms and a Refreshment Hall, the first of its kind in Singapore created by the owner John Francis. The Street was named Tavern Street and renamed Bonham Street now between the Bank of China and Malayan Banking Berhad.

A proposal to put up a portrait of Raffles in the Square was not carried out.

Several fire wells were made in the Square. They were covered by square plate flap doors and lay level with the ground. The Square was laid out with paths and ornamental trees.

Dr Jose D'Almeida, the surgeon, had his dispensary and his business firm of Jose D'Ameida and Sons in Commercial Square. Dr Almeida, a pioneer, died in Singapore and was buried in the old cemetery in Fort Canning. The streets around the Commercial Square were De Souza Street, Market Street and Chulia Street (know earlier as Kling Street).

Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Straits Trading Company, Whiteaway and Laidlaw Departmental Stores, Robinson's and later Asian stores like Gian Singh's and Naina Mohamed appeared in Commercial Square which was renamed Raffles Place in 1858. In 1864 the auctioneer John Gimmill erected the first public drinking fountain which is now in the grounds of the National Museum.

When Japanese places dropped bombs on 8 December 1941 Raffles Place was one of the targets. Robinson's was hit but it continued its business until British Surrender. In 1942 when refugees from Penang and Kuala Lumpur poured into Singapore, many of them needed clothes but had no money. Robinson's sold these refugees clothes on credit. After the Japanese Surrender these grateful clients settled their debts. Robinson's was established in 1858. Tragedy fell on Robinson's on 22 November 1972 when fire completed gutted it. It now functions in Centre Point in Orchard Road.

Commercial Square was also the most lucrative stand for the jinrikishas.

Some of the old firms and banks are still located in Raffles Place Skyscrapers have appeared in and around are still Raffles Place. A Mass Rapid Transport Station is located at Raffles Place. The entrances to it are designed in neo-classical style very similar to that of the entrances to the old cemetery in Fort Canning.

Raffles Place even in the early years used to be deserted after 5 pm but before that there was a never ending stream of traffic - carriages, gharries largely driven by Malays and Indians, rickshaws and foot passengers.