The loss of the old Bombay Burmah Buidling in Phrae
On 3 August 2019, Siamese Heritage Trust of the Siam Society conducted a study trip “Touching the heritage conservation pulse in Phrae”, brought 21 members to visit many architectural heritage sites of Phrae Old Town. We had a lovely coffee break in a beautiful colonial-style house on the bank of Yom river where we also talked about the vision for cultural heritage management. An amazing local resident, Khun Narumon Wongwan, heir of Former Director of the School of Forestry, explained the significance of the building that it served as an office of Bombay Burmah Trading Company, which was granted a logging concession in the western Yom River in 1889 and the East Asiatic Company occupied the place later on. She pointed at the pier where tons of logs were bond together and some of them were transferred through Chetawan village to other places. It was such a beautiful circumstance, when people’s memory, historical evidence, and cultural landscape were telling the same story.
16 June 2020 we were informed by Khun Narumon that the building was torn down. It was unclear what was happening to this historical building. The Forestry Conservation Area Office 13 that allowed the Siam Society to use this building could not give any useful information. We learned from Bangkok Post later that the office director issued an order to dismantle the building as part of the learning center's renovation project, noting the work was financed by a budget sought in the previous fiscal year. No study was carried out in the restoration of the building.
Notice and suggestions:
- When visited the building 10 months ago, we did not notice that the building is severely damage, so that it needs to be deconstructed. There was no warning at all.
- The office made the project unclear to people and led to a misunderstanding by the vague terms of conservation/renovation/reconstruction. Local people did not expect a dismantling and did not be aware of it. If they would have clearly understood the plan, they would have resisted in the early stage.
- Surprisingly, government officials issued an illegal order, without acknowledgment that even though the building is unregistered and located outside of the designated Old Town area, this kind of historic building is a local, regional, and national heritage by itself and it is a subject to the Act on Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art and National Museums, B.E. 2504. This action reflects the lack of heritage protection perspective in the vision and mindset of the leader. This topic should be discussed further, when and how this perspective should it be installed.
- The Siam Society supports that the next process of this renovation project should be more inclusive. The office should open opportunities for residents, and local heritage advocate networks, as well as heritage experts, to become a part of the project working committee.
- The provincial historic listed building system should be installed with a proper mechanism, so that this mismanagement will never happen again anywhere else, and the conservation guidance with respect to the best practices be provided.
- Lastly, a heritage alert platform/application/desk might be useful for people to report right away when they noticed that something wrong is happening to the cultural heritage in their neighborhood. The immediate response could help restrain the situation before it is too late.
There is a significant attempt to repair the damage & restore the magnificent old building to its former glory, with a proper master plan.
The old timber has been collected, itemized & stored under a nearby house on the property.
The Chetawan property is certainly an idyllic location on the banks of the Yom River.
and it's easy to image the teak wallah's sitting out there having a few Gin & Tonics on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Whilst chilling, looking at the view a wonderful little old lady rocked up to engage the old GTR fellah in conversation.
87 & a bit she was and what a wonderful character.
Single, never married, no kids & lived just a couple of hundred metres away all her life.
Talking with her there was no doubt she's seen the changes & witnessed a lot in her life.
The undoubted highlight of the day was so simple & yet so beautiful.