More Than Just a Corridor: The History of the Five Foot Way

by Gan Siang Hong

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image credit: Thimbuktu

When designing Singapore’s town plan, Sir Stamford Raffles introduced many changes to Singapore’s architectural landscape. One significant feature he included was the five feet wide corridor that lined the fronts of shophouses, commonly known as the five foot way.

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image credit: Mothership

The five foot way served many purposes. It provided shelter from the sun and rain, a safe path for pedestrians, and a space for vendors to do business. A unique trend soon emerged from the existence of the five foot way: the five foot way libraries.

In the 1950s, the five foot way libraries were the best source of books for many avid readers of Chinese literature. The libraries had a wide selection of books, from tales of romance to adventure stories. For those who could not read, there was also an assortment of comic books available. To rent a book cost only a few cents, and would provide hours of entertainment for adults and children alike.

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image credit: The Long and Winding Road

The five foot ways were more than just corridors; they grew to become hubs for social and cultural activities (much like the void decks of today), and they hold fond memories for many Singaporeans.

To commemorate the spirit of the five foot way, the Chinatown Business Association has organised the Five Foot Way Festival, to be held on the weekend of 23 – 24 March.

As part of the event, Asiapac Books will be opening our very own Pop-up Five Foot Way Library featuring our favourite vintage and new comic books! Grab a stool and travel back in time to Chinatown’s early days of roadside libraries and storytellers. Make sure to play our old-school Tikam-Tikam Books game with attractive prizes to be won.

Do come early to reserve a good spot for the Street Storytelling performances on Saturday(2PM) and Sunday(3PM)!

five foot way library

Pop-up Five Foot Way Library
Saturday 23 March: 11AM-9PM
Sunday 24 March: 11AM-9PM

storytelling

Street Storytelling 讲古
Chinese legends narrated in English
Saturday 23 March: 2-230PM
Sunday 24 March: 3-30PM

We’ll see you there!

 

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