Etymology and history
Jalan Besar only appeared in the 1880s, when the Municipality constructed it through nipah land and called it Jalan Besar, meaning "big or wide road" in Malay.
The area belonged to Richard Owen Norris from the 1830s to 1865, before he moved to Paya Lebar. Later, Syed Allie (1814-1858) bought 70 acres of land in this area and filled in what was predominantly swamp land.
The site where Beatty School was and the HDB flats are was a big expanse of open ground. A rubber factory stood on the field, and another in Kitchener Road. The place was full of snipes and a favourite haunt of hunters.
The other side of Jalan Besar between Lavender Street and Syed Alwi Road was swamp land. Flying ducks, snipe, fish, mud lobsters and multi-coloured snakes thrived there. The area was slowly reclaimed by dumping refuse. In 1923, the New World Amusement Park located off Jalan Besar was opened by the enterprising sons of Ong Sam Leong (after whom nearby Sam Leong Road is named), Peng Hock and Boon Tat.
A peculiarity of the street names in Jalan Besar is that many bear the names of World War I British generals and admirals and two French generals — Allenby, Kitchener, French, Maude, Jellicoe, Tyrwhitt, Foch, Sturdee, Beatty and Petain. The names of battle places such as Flanders, Somme and Verdun are also reflected. Today, Jalan Besar is a gazetted conservation area.
Most of the roads above were cut from the 1920s onwards when the then-swampland was filled in with incinerator ash from Singapore's first incinerator built in the vicinity of today's Syed Alwi Road. From 1926, the Municipal Council decided to name the newly opened roads after personalities and battle-sites of the European conflict so as to remind the then-colony of Singapore of the conflicts in Europe.
The street is known to the Hoklos (Hokkien) as kam kong ka poh thai tu long, which means "the slaughter pig depot in Kampong Kapor", a reference to the abattoir in the vicinity.
"Jalan Besar" is also a common street name in Malaysia used as an occasional substitute for the colonially named "Main Street" and "Main Road", as part of the country's increased use of Malay over English. The name is prevalent in individual towns that formerly featured their own set of street names representing main thoroughfares and streets related to specific landmarks.
- Jalan Besar Stadium
- Victor R Savage, Brenda S A Yeoh (2003), Toponymics - A Study of Singapore Street Names, Eastern Universities Press, Template:ISBN
- Jalan Besar: A Heritage Trail (2006), National Heritage Board.