1816 – 1950
The first permanent British Resident in Nepal, sent by the East India Company in 1816, was Edward Gardner. The Rajah gave him the use of a piece of land (extending to about 44 acres) at Lainchaur, just north of Kathmandu, on which to establish his Residency, and a stone house, with neo-Gothic features, was subsequently built on it at the Company’s expense. This land, and the several buildings on it, passed to the British government when the East India Company was wound up in 1858, after which [?] it was enlarged with a neo-Classical extension. A new Residency was built [?on the same site] in 1884, and extended in [?], but seriously damaged in the great earthquake of 1934 and finally demolished in 1940. It was replaced in 1942 with a spacious, colonnaded building of more modern appearance. The status of the Post was raised to a legation in 1923, and to an embassy in 1947. By then, the compound was surrounded by Kathmandu city.
Indian Independence in 1947 meant that Britain and India needed to settle between themselves (and India with Pakistan) an equitable division of the compound for their new and separate embassies. The result, which took seven years of fractious exchanges and rival proposals, was that most of the 1816 compound, including its relatively recent main legation buildings, would pass to the Indians, leaving Britain only an awkward area with two staff bungalows on it, and insufficient space for a new embassy. The deficiency was made good by the Nepalese government selling an adjacent 7 acre piece of land to the Ministry of Works for £11,000. This new land comprised three plots: a British [?] post office, a vacant area; and a European house called Forest House, built for (and designed by) a former Forest Adviser to the Nepal Government, Evelyn Smythies, in the very early 1940s.
During 1953, Forest House was converted and extended to become the ambassador’s new residence, the post office was extended for the offices, and other cottages were extended for staff houses. When all was ready, on 12 March 1954, the British ambassador handed his office and residence and most of the 1816 site over to the Indian ambassador, and moved his mission 350 metres southwards..
The Nepalese proposed a diplomatic enclave in 1970 at Baneshwar but the embassy succeeded in not moving. The compound at Lainchaur remains the embassy, and various buildings, including staff houses, new offices and a small hall, and sports amenities, have been built at intervals since the 1960s. A skilful retrofit in 2011 secured the residence against any damage in the 2015 earthquake. The Indian embassy remains in the former British legation building and grounds.
The first two residents had the use of a bungalow at Koulia, near the village of Ranipauwa. This burned down in the 1840s, and around 1850 the Rajah gave the British resident an indefinite and free right to use a spectacular site in the nearby village of Kakani, about 30 kilometres north-west of Kathmandu on the Trisuli road. It had magnificent views of the Himalayas. and here a resident not long afterwards built a spartan bungalow as a retreat from the city. The Ministry of Public Building and Works took over maintenance responsibility from the Foreign Office in 1965. No documentary evidence was to be found that underpinned the right of use.
In 1971, the ambassador, Terence O’Brien, suggested to the Royal Army that they should formally take possession of the nearby old Troopers’ Lines and Chief Clerk’s House, which they occasionally used for training, in the hope that this would help consolidate Britain’s tenure. He had equal hopes of HM the King calling on him at Kakani in March 1972 and put in hand some refurbishment work to make the bungalow fit for the visit. Unfortunately, the king died six weeks before the visit and the royal family’s observance of a year’s mourning put paid to organising another. The bungalow remains in use today as the embassy staff’s retreat. It was seriously damaged in the 2015 earthquake [? now restored].
Olive Smythies described the origin of the design for Forest House, now the residence, on pp. 152-4 of her Ten Thousand Miles on Elephants, 1961.
Andrew Hall, ambassador at Kathmandu, 2006-10, wrote an illuminating short account of the British residences in Kathmandu in The Britain-Nepal Society Journal No. 34, 2010, pp.21-26. He has kindly permitted me to use seven of his photographs on this page.