5 things you didn't know about John Little, the man and the building

5 things you didn't know about John Little, the man and the building

Oldie but goodie

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Getty Images,
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As we say goodbye to John Little which will close its last outlet at Plaza Singapura this year, we learn more about the Scotsman who started Singapore's oldest department store

1. John Little was only 20 when he took over his uncle's business as a store-keeper
Born in 1825, the Glasgow native learned the ropes from his uncle Francis Martin, who was an auctioneer and store-keeper in Singapore. Little took over the work and started a partnership in 1845, before keeping it in the family again by bringing his brother Martin into John Little & Co in 1853.

John Little & Co. advertisement poster, circa 1910

2. One of the store's first founders had a Parsi connection
Little started his first company called Little, Cursetjee & Co in 1845 with Cursetjee Frommurzee, a notable Parsi businessman. Frommurzee was among the first Parsis who arrived in Singapore in 1829, establishing themselves as merchants in Singapore. Cursetjee Hill was named after him, though it was changed to Mount Wallich — as in, the Mount Wallich from the famous Percy Carpenter painting, 'Singapore at Sunrise from Mount Wallich' in 1856. Unfortunately, it was removed in 1887 to make way for what is now known as Telok Ayer Street. The legacies of the first Parsis are still remembered with Parsi Road, located off Shenton Way. In 1853, the partnership between Little and Frommurzee was dissolved.

Also of Parsi descent: Freddie Mercury

3. Little Scotland in Siglap
According to old letters, it's suggested that Little's relatives settled in Siglap after Little moved to London. In fact, looking at the streets and roads in the Siglap enclave today, the Scottish connection is undeniable — names such as Lothian Terrace, Burnfoot Terrace, Bowmont Gardens, Jedburgh Gardens and Wilton Gardens are just some of the remnants of the Scots who once resided there. Little and his family settled in Blackheath in London, where he passed away in 1894. Fun fact: His son was named William Dalgliesh, which forms two out of Batman v Superman actor Henry Cavill's full name: Henry William Dalgliesh Cavill.

4. The architects behind the John Little Building were a colonial favourite
The colonial period isn't one to glamourise, but it did give birth to some spectacular buildings thanks to the guys from Swan & Maclaren (who are still operating today at Cecil Street). They were behind buildings such as the Raffles Hotel, Chesed-El Synagogue, Victoria Memorial Hall, Masjid Sultan, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the John Little Building. Opened in 1910, the store bore Renaissance-style architecture based on Spanish and Flemish influences. Besides operating a department store, the building also housed a café, a beauty salon and a general store. The Singapore Tourist and Promotion Board also used the building as its office from 1964 to 1970.

John Little Building, circa early 20th century

5. You've probably passed through a miniature John Little without even noticing
That's because it lies on top of our heads — well, on the roof of the entrances to the Raffles Place MRT station at Raffles Place Park. Located next to the Chartered Bank at the corner of Battery Road and Flint Street, the original John Little Building is now forever remembered in the miniature replicas you see as you enter the station. Weiming and Yizhen, the sibling duo of The Sight Project have lovingly looked back on the building in the short clip below. 

The iconic Raffles Place MRT entrance has always been an easy meeting point for many Singaporeans. However, few would know that its distinct structure is actually a replica of the facade of the John Little Building (dated 1911) , which was constructed in a Spanish style. John Little was a popular departmental store in Singapore, but recently announced its closure after 174 years of operation. It is a pity, but at least a little of it will still remain as an iconic landmark in Singapore. #见国一代 #sight #singapore #design #graphicdesign #art #instaart #illustration #illustrate #illustrator #city #building #architecture #history #discover #gif #video #sgmemory #rafflesplace #mrt #lta #smrt #johnlittle #rafflesplacemrt #174years

A video posted by 见国一代 The Sight Project (@thesightproject) on

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