Lampang: the Louis Leonowens House

Lampang: the Louis Leonowens House

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The Louis Leonowens House in Lampang

The Louis Leonowens House is the former residence of Louis T. Leonowens and the office of the Louis T.Leonowens company. “Baan Louis”, as it is known locally, is in the “forestry” neighborhood of Lampang. The location is not far from the Wang River and the iconic Rachadapisek Bridge. Louis (1856-1919) was the son of Anna Leonowens. She was the British tutor to the children of the King Mongkut (Rama IV).

Anna became famous through the musical and movie The King and I. From 1884 onwards Louis involved himself in the teak trade. He worked for the British Borneo Company and the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. Louis himself is known as a colorful character. He spoke fluent Thai. People have described him as being and behaving like a Thai person. Louis grew up with King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). He was also one of the founding members of the Gymkhana Sports Club in Chiang Mai.

The Louis T.Leonowens Company

In 1905 Louis founded his own company: the Louis T.Leonowens Company. At that time construction started on the Louis House. It became the office of the company. Louis lived there until he sold the company. Staff were stationed in Raheng (Tak), Paknampho (Nakhon Sawan), Sukhotai and Sawankalok. The head office was in London, the country office in Bangkok. The Leonowens Company is still active today as a trading company. Apart from teak logging, the company also became an agent for imported whisky. It even has an office in Bangkok.

The flooded Louis T.Leonowens House in the past. Source unknown.

Louis goes back to the UK

Louis returned to the UK in 1913. He passed away in 1919 during the global influenza pandemic. He is Buried at the Brompton Cemetery, London. I visited this last resting place in August 2019. The grave was not easy to find because the website of the cemetery gives the wrong location of the grave. It is a vast cemetery with more than 35000 gravestones. I had to do a lot of walking, which was a pleasure though. It is a beautiful place with lots of squirrels, amazing trees and a great atmosphere. His second wife Reta May Leonowens is buried there as well. She passed away in 1936.
Old colonial house Lampang things to do
The Louis T.Leonowens House in Lampang before the restoration, 2018

My first visit to the house

I visited this house for the first time in early 2016 to do research for the visit of Oliver Backhouse. Oliver’s grandfather worked as a forest manager for the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation in Lampang and in Chiang Mai. He had contacted me to arrange a guided tour to Lampang, Phrae, and Chiang Mai which I did. Kanokwan Uthongsap guided me and my British friends, Alan and Jenny Dovey, to the house in February 2016 on a preliminary trip of Oliver’s tour. The house was in a poor state.

Horse cart in front of old house From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train
Louis Leonowens House with horse carriage

Recognition of “Baan Louis”

I have been back to visit the house many times since that first visit. Over the years the “Baan Louis”, as local people call the house, gained recognition from the Tha Ma-O community as a cultural heritage. Kittichai Wattananikorn, the author of several books in Thai and in English about the teak industry in North Thailand, played an important role in this. In January 2018 K.Kittichai gave an excellent presentation at an event organised by the community. Local artists gathered to paint the house and a fingernail dance performance took place in front of the house. Recently the BBC series The Great Asian Railway Journeys, presented by Michael Portillo, featured Kittichai and the Louis Leonowens House.
Old house with screen
Presentation about the teak trade at the Louis Leonowens House, 2018

Renovation of the Louis Leonowens house

The house and the land are the property of the Treasury Department of the Thai government. The Forest Industry Organization of Lampang is the supervisor of the property. It resorts under the Forest Industry Organization which is part of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The renovation of the main house and the smaller office started on March 26, 2020 and should have been completed on October 20, 2020.
Old house under renovation

The restoration of Baan Louis has been completed

I visited Lampang several time in 2020 and 2021. Every time I visited the Louis compound to check on the progress of the restoration of the house. The Covid crisis also affected the restoration. Slowly but surely I noticed progress. In May 2021 they completed the restoration after which the local people started to turn the main house into a small museum about the history of the Tha Ma-O neighbourhood and of the teak industry.

Bicycle in front of nice house
My bicycle in front of the restored Louis House in July 2021

Reference for this article

I visited the Louis House numerous times since 2016. The house became a symbol of the increasing interest of the local people in history and in the preservation of historic heritage houses in particular. The people who I owe thanks to are Oliver Backhouse, Prof.Kittichai Wattanikorn and K.Sodsri Kattiawong, representative of the Tha Ma-O community in Lampang.

Man with helmet in front of old house
Me in front of the restored Louis House in 2021

Some facts about the Louis House

As of now the house is a kind of makeshift museum and tourist information center for the Tha Ma-O community. If you want to visit the house, please contact K.Sodsri Kattiawong via FB messenger. You can also try your luck and just go there. On most days there are people of the community around the house. The compound is always open. There are no costs involved in visiting the house. It is located in the forestry quarter north of the Wang River.

Baan Louis features in these tours

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