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Neilson Hays Library


Neilson Hays Library is a privately funded English-language library in Bangkok, Thailand. It occupies a historic building on Surawong in Bangkok’s Bang Rak District, designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno. This place is rich with history, for example, getting invaded by the Japanese during WW2 and the variety of cultural influences that affects this location.

STORY I: Relationship between the library and community

The story of this location will be about the relationship between the Neilson Hays Library and the community, history and culture within Bangkok. The community within the Neilson Hays Library is very supportive and friendly with them hosting events every Weekend. The library is also held as an inclusive cultural center for the community. A place that welcomes people to come together and engage in conversations about literature and the arts. The community was very happy with this historic monument that this location was awarded the UNESCO Asia Pacific award for cultural heritage conservation. The jury’s statement noted that, “The project sets a welcome benchmark for the restoration of early twentieth-century buildings of western architectural design in humid tropical environments”.

STORY II: Architecture

The Neilson Hays library is between Italian style and Thai style but the building was designed by an Italian architect called ‘Mario Tamagno’. Mario Tamagno also had other projects in Bangkok like the Hua lamphong Bangkok railway station, Oriental hotel, Makkhawan Rangsan bridge and much more. 

The architect came to Thailand because a lot of foreigners came to work and trade at the time, he also signed a 25-year service contract with the Siamese government. The Library attracts a lot of tourists and visitors because of the beautiful italian architecture, for example they have the signature dome right of the library and the design inside of the library. This architecture also has benefits like the double wall that they have behind every bookshelf, it helps keep the books well ventilated and dry.

STORY III: The Founders and the Gift of Love

Thirteen women established the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association in 1869. It was initially started by volunteers and only open one day a week, by 1897. Originally, it was housed rent-free in various personal homes and by 1914 a plot of land in Surawong Road was purchased.

Around this time, one of the Board members was Jennie Neilson. Danish by birth, she had lived in America and then entered Siam as a protestant missionary in 1881. Hearing that two suitable young American doctors were on their way to Bangkok, Jennie and a friend were said to have selected their respective future husbands prior to the gentlemen disembarking. Jennie Neilson Hays served as President of the Library three times and was a mainstay of the organization for twenty years. Sadly, The hidden love story behind Neilson Hays Library, When Dr. Thomas Heyward Hays’s wife Jennie Neilson passed away suddenly in 1920. So Dr. Thomas chose to honor his wife by commissioning a new library to be built in her memory, using the plot of land that he purchased earlier to build an elegant neo-classical building. The result of this tragic story was this elegant neo-classical building opened on 26 June 1922.

STORY IV: Cultural influence

The library was influenced by a lot of cultures around the world and had a deep history in it. One of the most influential cultures that make this library so unique is Italian culture. He used Italian architecture to build this library which became one of the iconic places in Bangkok. Another culture that influenced the library was the Japanese culture, the reason that the library got influenced is during WW2, the Japanese Army invaded the library in 1941, where they used the library as a military base, and more than 1,000 rare volumes of the book were shipped to Japan. After WW2 ended, many books were subsequently returned, but some of the rarest books are still missing. This library is also influenced by American and Danish culture too, for America, the library got influenced by Dr Thomas Heyward Hays, In 1869, 13 resourceful British and American women established the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association and one of the board members there was Jennies Neilson.

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