Out of True Love
February is always one of the most memorable months for me. Besides Valentine’s day, it is also my birth month. So, I always consider February as a month of love and new beginning. Given the occasion, it’d be a shame not to mention one of Bangkok’s monuments to love – the Neilson Hays Library.
Founded in 1869, the library has been a much-loved downtown institution for book lovers for decades. It has one of the largest English language book collections in Bangkok with over 17,000 books. The Neilson Hays Library – right in the heart of Silom and only a 15-minute walk from Chong Nonsi or Surasuk BTS stations – is set in an elegant neo-classic building shaded by tall trees.
Back in the 18th century, getting a bit homesick, expats turned to books for solace. English books were rare and considered luxury items back in those days. In 1869, a group of 13 British and American women established the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association in Bangkok. The association over time evolved into a fully operational library in 1897.
Around this time Jennie Neilson, the wife of Dr Thomas Hayward Hays (the chief physician of Royal Thai Navy Hospital), was one of the most active board members of the library. She served as president of the library for three terms and was the mainstay of the organization for 20 years until she passed away in 1920.
Overwhelmed with the love for his wife, Dr Hays decided to honor her by commissioning the construction of a new library in her memory and the result was a magnificent neoclassic building that stands to this day.
The library was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno, who was also responsible for design of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Tamagno ensured that Jennie’s love of reading was wisely portrayed in every square inch of the building. He came up with a design of a symmetrical building which featured practical double-layered walls to keep the library dry and well-ventilated.
The exterior is adorned with a beautiful Italianate dome, giving the place an air of luxury. Upon entering the teakwood-floor foyer, guests are astounded by the imposing entrance that serves as a unique art gallery hosting an art exhibition on a rotational basis. The dome’s skylight allows natural light to enter, which complements the warm touch of the wooden furnishings in the interior.
The building’s classical architecture is impressive with stucco reliefs, columns, and Victorian-style furniture that lends the building its vintage feel.
The stuccoed archway and neoclassic columns at the entrance create a sense of grandness. Plush wooden furniture and a collection of small chandeliers add to the interior’s warm and cozy atmosphere enhanced by perfect lighting that is conducive to reading.
Providing the library with a laid-back atmosphere is a contemporary-style café situated just outside. The café is decorated with floor-to-ceiling windowpanes to let natural sunlight flood in. Near the café is a small English garden that is the perfect setting for a wedding and other private events.
Turning 100 years in 2022, the Neilson Hays Library will continue as a testament to Dr Hays’ true love for his wife Jennie, and poised to serve the book-loving community in Thailand for many more years to come.
Neilson Hays Library
195 Surawong Rd., Suriyawongse, Bangrak
Tel. 02 233 1731