02 November 2012

Egypt in England

From cinemas to cemeteries, factories to furnishings, a new exhibition at London's Wellington Arch explores the influence of Ancient Egypt on English architecture and interiors.

The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London - the first major public building in England to have an exterior in the Egyptian style

The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London - the first major public building in England to have an exterior in the Egyptian style

Ninety years ago, the British discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb triggered Egyptomania. Yet Egypt in England (7 November 2012 - 13 January 2013) shows that the Egyptian style first came into popularity following Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 and had been used before that in the 18th century gardens of wealthy English landowners. The exhibition traces the use of the style through to such 20th century commercial temples as cinemas and shops.

Photographs of Egyptian-style buildings and landmarks across England are on display alongside images of the buildings and the architectural sources from Ancient Egypt that inspired them. Vintage travel brochures illustrate the development of organised tourism to Egypt during the 19th century while a number of shabtis - the small decorative mummy-like figures placed in tombs and often taken home by early tourists as souvenirs - are also on display. Wedgwood ceramics are among the examples of the Egyptian style in the decorative arts.

The Egyptian House in Penzance was built in 1835 and shows Egyptian-style architecture in England at is most exuberant

The Egyptian House in Penzance was built in 1835 and shows Egyptian-style architecture in England at is most exuberant

"For over 200 years, we have been constructing buildings and monuments in England inspired by Ancient Egypt," said Chris Elliott, exhibition curator and author of the accompanying book. "Today, pyramids, sphinxes and obelisks are dotted across England. Cinemas, factories and shops were all designed in the Egyptian style. This exhibition shines a light on this exotic style and looks at how, why and where it was used, often in surprising ways."

Cleopatra's Needle

Egypt in England will also tell the story of Cleopatra's Needle, the 3,500 years old obelisk transplanted from Alexandria to the banks of the Thames in central London in 1878. Nearly 60ft high and weighing about 186 tons, the obelisk is not only the capital's oldest monument but its most travelled and with an eventful history - discovered half buried in Egypt, it took over 75 years for the obelisk to arrive in England, at one point en route it was even abandoned in a hurricane force storm. Egypt in England includes a model of the ingenious vessel used to transport the obelisk.

One of the sphinxes at Cleopatra's Needle in London

One of the sphinxes at Cleopatra's Needle in London

Buildings and places featured in Egypt in England include:

  • Highgate Cemetery, London. The Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon Vaults at Highgate Cemetery are London's largest and most spectacular pieces of Egyptian-style funerary architecture. 
  • The Egyptian Hall, Harrods, London. The legendary wealth of the pharaohs is evoked in the interior of the luxury department store. 
  • Greater London House (the former Carreras factory), London. This one-time temple to tobacco is one of London's finest Egyptian-style buildings and includes a brightly coloured 12-pillared façade and 10ft-high bronze cats either side of the entrance.  
  • Marshall's Mill (or Temple Mill), Leeds. Between 1838 and 1842 a vast and innovative flax mill for spinning linen thread and cloth was designed for John Marshall in Leeds. The Egyptian style chosen for its façade, interior columns and even the steam engine that powered it, may reflect the connection between linen and Ancient Egypt. 
  • The Egyptian House, Penzance. Built in 1835 to house a geological museum and specimen shop, the Egyptian House shows Egyptian-style architecture in England at its most exuberant.
  • Mad Jack's Pyramid, Sussex. This pyramid-shaped monument to John 'Mad Jack' Fuller was designed by British Museum designer, Sir Robert Smirke in c.1810. It sits in the churchyard of St Thomas a Becket in Brightling.
The 10ft high bronze Egyptian-style cats outside Greater London House

The 10ft high bronze Egyptian-style cats outside Greater London House

The accompanying book, Egypt in England (£25.00), by Chris Elliott is the first detailed guide to the use of the Egyptian style in architecture and interiors in England. Published by English Heritage and fully illustrated, it combines a series of topic essays giving the architectural and Egyptological background to the use of the style with a guide allowing sites to be located, and explaining what can still be seen.

Egypt in England is at The Quadriga Gallery, Wellington Arch from Wednesday 7 November 2012 to 13 January 2013, Wednesdays to Sundays and on Bank Holidays, 10am-5pm. Wellington Arch is closed on Wednesday 26 December 2012.

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