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History & Memories of Clifford Pier Singapore


Known to locals in Cantonese as "Hong Tang Mah Tow 紅燈碼頭" or Hokkien as "Ang Teng Beh Tau" which means Red Lantern Harbour, Clifford Pier held many memories for me.

Clifford Pier located near the mouth of Singapore River was opened in 1933. It was named after Hugh Clifford who from 1927 to 1929 was governor the Straits Settlements (which Singapore was a part). (Image of Clifford Pier in 1938, courtesy of NAS.)

Clifford Pier measures 204-foot long and 110-foot wide. (Image courtesy of NAS.)

Clifford Pier was designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, then chief architect of the Public Works Department. The most distinctive feature of Clifford Pier were its Art Deco style concrete arched trusses. (Image courtesy of NAS.)

Before Clifford Pier, there was Johnston Pier which was in use from 1856 to 1933. When Johnston Pier could not longer cope with traffic demands, it was replaced by Clifford Pier and demolished in 1935 (soon after Clifford Pier was operational in 1933).


Johnston Pier had red lamps to warn seafarers of hazards, so locals called the pier 
"Hong Tang Mah Tow 紅燈碼頭" in Cantonese, "Ang Teng Beh Tau" in Hokkien, "Lampu Merah" in Malay or Red Lantern Harbour. When Johnston Pier was demolished, the red lamps were transferred to Clifford Pier, so the local names were also carried over.

There was a brief controversy when merchants petitioned to retain the name Johnston Pier for the new pier - Johnston was an influential trader and popular man. However, the authorities did not budge. Nevertheless, to the locals, the pier was always "Hong Tang Mah Tow" and for Malays "Lampu Merah".

This was probably what some of our ancestors first saw of Singapore as their boats pulled towards Clifford Pier. Immigrants arriving in Singapore were first quarantined on St. John's island before they were allowed into Singapore proper. For the final leg to Singapore, they got on to small boats at St. John's island and disembarked at Clifford Pier. Clifford Pier was the place where many of our ancestors first stepped foot on Singapore island. (Image courtesy of NAS.)

The car park outside Clifford Pier was a popular foodie haven, coming alive in the evenings with many mobile food stalls. Affordable good food, open spaces, great sea view and sea breeze. (Image of Clifford Pier in 1960s, courtesy of NAS.)

My dad brought us here sometimes. He called it "Hong Tang Mah Tow" as we are Cantonese. It is "Ang Teng Beh Tow" in Hokkien. I never knew my A, B, Cs till I entered primary school in 1967. (Image of Clifford Pier in 1966, courtesy of NAS.)

From the pier, we can see small fish swimming around the concrete stilts below. Small crabs and beach roaches scurried in and out of crevices by the pier side. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

It was fun looking out to the ships anchored off Clifford Pier, smell the sea and hear the gentle lapping waves under the pier stilts. (Image courtesy of NAS.)

Among my best memories of Clifford Pier was the visit of US Navy aircraft carrier, USS Ranger in 1974 or 1975. As we were crazy about aeroplanes, my buddy Tia Teck Peng and I rushed down to Clifford Pier to see the big warship which hosted a public day. (Image of USS Ranger courtesy of Wikipedia.)

When we got there, Clifford Pier was fully packed with people. Yeah, we never thought or planned how to get from the pier to the big warship.

Then, an enterprising boatman pulled up alongside the pier with his empty twakow boat. These entrepreneurs wouldn't miss any opportunity for business. For a small fee (I can't remember how much), he took us to the aircraft carrier anchored in the harbour five minutes boat ride away.

We got underway once his boat was packed with people, standing room only. (Image of twakow courtesy of NAS.)

The twakow pulled alongside the huge dark grey ship. We climbed the stairs to the flight deck. We were allowed onboard for a few minutes. I recalled that the deck was packed with people and planes.

We saw Skyhawks, Phantoms, Corsairs and Prowlers, all planes we fantasised about as boys. (Nah... in those day, studying wasn't at the top of most boys' minds.)

We came here without thinking about the return trip but fortunately, the twakow came back to pick us (for a fee of course).

Later, I spent my entire working life with the Republic of Singapore Air Force to be close to the amazing war birds I love so much.

The USS Ranger served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf before it was decommissioned in 1993 and scrapped in 2017. (Image of CV-61 courtesy of Wikipedia.)

There were food stalls at the pier. I remember visiting the nasi pandan stall and especially the soto ayam and mee soto stalls in the 1990s to mid-2000. The mee soto is the best I've ever tasted and many weekends, we drove over an hour to come here for a fix. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

If you know where the Clifford Pier nasi padang and mee soto stalls are today, please share with us.

One of the memories I associate with Clifford Pier was the distinctive smell of kretek or clove cigarettes which were popular with Indonesians who used the ferry services at the pier to go to the Riau islands of Batam, Bintan, Karimun etc..

Kretek smoke is pungent and smells sweetish. It takes a bit of getting used to and was a rather common smell at Clifford Pier till the mid-2000s. I haven't smelled a kretek in Singapore for at least 10 years.

Clifford Pier was used for ferries for Kusu Island pilgrimage (during the ninth lunar month) until it closed in 2006. All ferry services that once used Clifford Pier were transferred to the Marina South Pier. (Image courtesy of NAS.)

In 2007, Clifford Pier was gazetted by Singapore Urban Renewal Authority (URA) for conservation. After major renovations, the historic site was repurposed into a large upscale Chinese restaurant, One on the Bund which opened in 2008.

One on the Bund closed in 2014, replaced by The Clifford Pier restaurant which is part of The Fullerton Bay Hotel.


I am grateful that URA ensured that the general public can still access Clifford Pier as many have memories of this historic common space. Last week (Nov 2020), I came back here for the first time since it closed in 2006.


Right above the entrance arch, the flagstaff and shield of The Straits Settlements which comprised Singapore, Penang, Malacca and Labuan (in East Malaysia).


The sea in front of Clifford Pier is now Marina Reservoir with a string of various tourist attractions ringing the waterfront.


The modern Singapore skyline over Red Lantern Harbour.


The huge former transit and waiting hall of Clifford Pier under the roof held up with iconic Art Deco style concrete arched trusses. The once grey, bare cement floor is now laid with opulent shiny marble and carpet.


While visiting Clifford Pier, I came across this commemorative plaque on the "Immersion of Mahatma Gandhi's Ashes at Clifford Pier". When Mahatma Gandhi died in 1948, his body was cremated and his ashes were divided into a few urns for immersion in chosen places in India and around the world.

At the request of the Indian community in Singapore, one of the urns was brought to Singapore in 1948. The immersion ceremony conducted at Clifford Pier was attended by over 10,000 people from the Indian, Malay, Chinese and other communities. (Image courtesy of NAS.)


The iconic Red Lantern Revolving Restaurant opened in 1978. The revolving restaurant is now operated by the Tung Lok Group.

Written by Tony Boey on 22 Nov 2020 | Reviewed 21 Jul 2023

1 comment:

  1. In the early 2000's underneath the Red Lion Revolving Restuarant was the Clifford Beer Park - I photographed it in 2001 I think. Do you have any information on that? was it connected to the revolving retuarant?


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