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A Short History Of The Old British Consulate Of Chiang Mai


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A short history of the old British Consulate of Chiang Mai

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This photo was taken during a flood in 1953. The building at rear is the consul, and the consul's residence was on the second floor. The building at front was known as the media building (Photo courtesy of Mr. Boonserm Satrabhaya).

The construction of the British Consulate building in 1915 was one of the first tasks undertaken by the then-newly appointed Consul General in Chiang Mai, William Alfred Rae Wood.

Chiang Mai in the years when W. A. R. Wood arrived was a community with a fluctuating number of British, the majority of them working for British companies in the teak trade. The primary duties of the British consuls were to ensure justice for the Queen’s citizens in Chiang Mai and to protect the interests of the teak companies in northern Thailand.

One D. F. McFie who worked as a forest assistant for the Borneo Company kept a monthly record of events between 1893 and 1919, giving us a taste of life in Chiang Mai at the turn of the century. McFie’s notes mention happenings such as the flooding of the River Ping in 1893, the capture of a revered white elephant a year later, and a memorial statue of Queen Victoria raised in 1903.

Two years after W. A. R. Wood’s appointment, construction began on the building that is now the Restaurant and Bar at the Chedi Chiang Mai. Seven rai (1.12 hectares) of land already owned by the British Government along the banks of the River Ping was set aside for the new building, which would replace an older consulate dating from 1884.

Carried out under the supervision of architect W. Osborn Keats, plans for the building included a residence for the consul’s family, a courtroom, offices, servants’ quarters, and stables for four elephants.

The consulate was modelled on Britain’s standard foreign office design for tropical countries. Spacious verandahs were installed on the upper and lower floors to catch the river breeze, and the dining room was cooled by a punkah – a wooden board with a fabric fringe suspended from the ceiling that rotated by pulling a rope.

The first floor was elevated on a metre-high rectangular base in case of floods. In an edition of the Chiang Mai Newsletter, one Alberto Cosi notes the unusual length of the structure at 22 yards -- the exact length of a cricket pitch.

When it opened, the new consulate became a centre for sport and society, with a constant stream of visitors. British citizens in Chiang Mai came to pay their respects, register their presence, or seek help and advice. The consulate’s parties for the British King’s or Queen’s birthdays were the highlight of the year. Many a drink was shared or a meal served in the consulate’s dining room; many a game of croquet played on its lawn.

A British Consulate Chiengmai Visitor’s Book from November 1947 to April 1953 has been preserved, showing a cross-section of the figures who came to the consulate. Entries for 1949 show the signatures of a clutch of distinguished Thais, members of the Royal Air Force, former consul W. A. R. Wood and his daughter Amala, and the Governor of Chiang Mai.

The building remained a focal point for society in Chiang Mai, only closing for three years during WW2 and again for two years from 1970, before it was officially shut in 1978 and sold.

In the mid 2000s, GHM signed a deal to rehabilitate the old consulate building, and place this structure at the centre of contemporary Asian resort. The second floor was re-imagined as a casual Terrace Bar and Cigar Lounge, and the first floor is now an international restaurant, specialising in Indian and Thai dishes and featuring panoramic views of Chiang Mai’s tranquil river.

Stefan Noll, the General Manager of the Chedi Chiang Mai said, “It is a great pleasure to have such a unique piece of history as a part of the hotel. We appreciate the building and the connections we can build through it. Personally, I love the VIP room on the second floor, which I use whenever I entertain a small group of guests.”

He added that most guests are amazed and love to learn the history of this beautiful building.

When asked about the ghost stories Stefan added, “Most old consulate buildings have ghost stories and ours is no exception. I personally have not seen any of the spirits who other people have spoken to me about, but I respect those stories and find them fascinating.”

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Mr. Stringer, who was British Consul (white-suited man at center), had this photo taken with his staff and some workers in front of the first British Consulate (Photo courtesy of Mr. Boonserm Satrabhaya).

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