Until the mid-20th century, the hinterland beyond Lavender Street was a vast tidal basin fed by the Kallang River. Originally named Rochor Road in 1846, this was a dirt track flanked by brick kilns and vegetable gardens. Urine and night soil (human waste collected from households in buckets) were used to fertilise the crops, making the area one of the most foul-smelling on the island. In 1858, a resident cynically suggested that the road be renamed Lavender Street (lavender is an aromatic shrub), which was accepted. The new name also avoided confusion with Rochor Road (now Victoria Street). The Hokkiens called the street Chai Hng Lai, or ‘within the vegetable gardens’.
In the 1880s, fields around Lavender Street were used for cattle grazing, an activity that led to the building of abattoirs further down Jalan Besar. Hence even though the vegetable gardens vanished by the 1910s, Lavender Street’s foul reputation carried into the 20th century as swill collectors would obtain leftovers from houses in the area for mixing with water hyacinths from the nearby Kallang Basin to feed pigs.
With the building of the Jalan Besar Stadium and filling in of the swampland between Lavender Street and Jalan Besar in the late 1920s, new shophouses began to emerge along the southern flank of Lavender Street as well as along Hamil- ton, Tyrwhitt and Cavan Roads. Many of these developments were in the Art Deco style that was becoming popular at that time, featuring clean lines, simple facades with well-proportioned windows, continuous windowsills and roof pediments topped by flagpoles. The owners of these shophouses lived in the upper storeys with their families or rented out the units to labourers and dancers from New World.
Today, many hardware suppliers can be found in the small roads between Lavender Street and Jalan Besar Stadium. These businesses began moving into the area in the 1970s, taking over car repair and motor engineering companies which had to move out under new zoning rules.
Along the street, there is also Tai Pei Buddhist Centre, which was founded by Mdm Poon Sin Kiew or the Venerable Sek Fatt Kuan and promotes Buddhist teachings.