Britain’s historic Thailand embassy has been demolished to reportedly make way for a shopping mall, sending waves of indignation across Bangkok.
Photos show the landmark, which the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) described as “one of the most spectacular British properties overseas”, reduced to rubble, as the site is cleared by its new owners.
But while social media users have deplored the destruction, the FCO has insisted the ambassador’s former residence will soon be rebuilt with its “original features”.
The UK government sold the lavish property in the heart of Bangkok for £426 million last year in what was the biggest ever sale of Foreign Office property.
It also marked the biggest land deal in Thailand’s history, the Foreign Office announced in January 2018.
The extensive plot was bought in a joint-venture by Hongkong Land and Central Group, a Thai family-owned real estate and retail conglomerate, whose plans are said to include the construction of a new shopping mall.
Until its demolition, the 43,922 square metres of land housed the Ambassador’s residence, two monuments, offices, staff living quarters, tennis courts, a swimming pool, gardens and a private pond.
The country’s International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS Thailand Association) said they had contacted the Thai Department of Fine Arts following the destruction of two of the site’s historical buildings.
The Fine Arts Department said that since the buildings were not listed, they could be altered or destroyed in whatever way their owners chose.
ICOMOS argued that irrespective of ownership the building should not have been knocked down.
Britain bought the site in 1921 in what was then a quiet suburb of Bangkok.
Over the decades, it transformed into a secluded patch of greenery amid skyscrapers and a nearby luxury shopping mall, whose tenants include Prada, Hermes and Chanel.
The sprawling embassy site featured two historic monuments: one to honour British subjects from Siam who had fallen during World War One, the other to Queen Victoria.
The temporary relocation of the latter – a 14ft high bronze statue – during the recent demolition work sparked panic among British expats living in Bangkok.
“The British War Memorial has been saved and has been reconstructed at the British Club. Does anyone know what happened to Queen Victoria’s statue?” tweeted one concerned resident.
“I really hope it hasn’t been melted down. The bronze statue weighs 2 tonnes. It was paid for mainly by donations from British expats.”
Twitter users responded with condemnation of the Embassy’s transformation.
“I believe The British Club requested the Queen Victoria statue as the Club was founded by many of those who donated for the statue. But @foreignoffice sold it with the land so it can be a central feature of the shopping mall,” responded one outraged user.
“Sacrilege. But symbolic of the UK’s imminent decline.”
“What? They sold a statue so it can stand in a shopping mall? Wtf? Who the hell decided that?” commented another.
“Probably sold to the highest bidder – that’s the UK for you,” added another.
The FCO has defended the sale of the embassy building, saying it required “a significant upgrade and refurbishment to make it fit-for-purpose for a modern working environment, with large parts of the embassy building no longer usable.”
It insisted the proceeds of last year’s £426 million deal would pay for up to 40 modernisation projects at Foreign Office buildings around the world.
The then foreign secretary, and current prime minister, Boris Johnson said at the time: “Britain is a leading player on the global stage and I’m determined to ensure that our diplomats have all the necessary tools to do their job effectively.
“This includes working in modern, safe, fit for purpose premises not just in Bangkok but around the world.
“Our workforce in Bangkok will be moving into a state-of-the-art premises by 2019 and this can only enhance our trade links and bilateral relations in Thailand and throughout the region.”
The then foreign secretary announced the move in January 2018 (PA)
The new embassy is in the process of relocating to a “modern office space” in the AIA Sathorn Tower in Bangkok’s central business district, the FCO has confirmed.
But fans of the almost 100-year-old site have lamented its demise and the embassy’s “anonymous” new home.
“Brits moving the embassy from a high profile historic location to a couple of floors in an anonymous office building. Sad, but it will accurately reflect its place in the world after brexit to be fair,” tweeted one critic.
“Desperate shame that will be greatly regretted by future generations of Thais and British people,” added another
“I don’t know who should bear the greater mark: Central Group for tearing the building down despite the potential to make it into an asset… or the Brits for dropping it out of their possession,” added another.
The British Embassy in Bangkok has since sought to diffuse concerns about the historic site’s future, writing on Facebook on Tuesday: “Although the old residence has now come down, it will be rebuilt with its original features on the Wireless Road site by its new owners.
“And for the first time in 100 years will again be accessible to the public.
“The War Memorial has been relocated to the British Club and will continue to be the focus for Remembrance Day commemorations each November.
“And in the final piece of the story, the British Embassy will make its move to modern new offices in Sathorn in early 2020.”
The Standard has contacted the FCO, Hongkong Land and Central Group for comment.