The Louis Leonowens House in Lampang

The Louis Leonowens House is the former residence of Louis T. Leonowens and office of the Louis T.Leonowens company. “Baan Louis”, as it is known locally, is in the “forestry” neighbourhood 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 colourful 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.

Old colonial house
Louis House Lampang

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.

Group of people with paintings in front of old house
painters in front of the Louis House

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.

Grave at a cemetery
Grave of Louis Leonowens in London

My first visit to the house

I visited this house for the first time 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 poor state.

Old house flooded
Louis House flooded. Undated picture.

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
Event at the Louis House, 2018

Renovation of the Louis Leonowens house

It is great to see that the house is under renovation. 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 and should be completed on October 20, 2020. As it looks now the renovation will not be completed on that date. Apparently there have been issues concerning the roof tiles which have to be the proper ones. We will keep you updated.

The Louis House features in these programs: