The Egyptian Hall

Bullock's Museum in 1815 artist unknown

The Egyptian Hall owned by William Bullock contained historical arms and armor, and curiosities brought back from the South Seas by Captain Cook. William Bullock began as a jeweller and goldsmith in Sheffield then moved to Liverpool. He developed an interest in collecting natural history and art items and founded a private museum in 1800 which he moved to London in 1810. One year later he had architect Peter Frederick Robinson (1776-1858) draw plans for a building inspired by an Egyptian temple. The Egyptian Hall built at a cost £16,000 was completed in 1812. The Museum at number 22 on Piccadilly contained 15,000 items. Bullock called it the London Museum. According to the guidebook Bullock had formed his collection "during seventeen years of arduous research at a cost of £30,000. Admission was l shilling or 1 guinea for an annual ticket." Shortly after coming to London he was elected Fellow of the Linnean Society, a group devoted to the study of natural history. The appointment, however, faced some dissent due to the publicity with which Bullock seemed always to surround himself. At various times, the museum was referred to as the London Museum, the Egyptian Hall or Museum, or Bullock's Museum. The museum is mentioned in Georgette Heyer's novels Cotillion and Arabella.

Interior of Egyptian Hall in 1810 artist unknown

Bullock's Museum was one of the first major buildings to be influenced by the Description d'Egypte, the monumental 1809-28 engravings series, which first revealed the wonders of the Pyramids and the Sphinx to Europeans, the building was vaguely pylon-shaped with statues, representing Isis and Osiris, flanking a window on the first floor (2nd floor for Americans), above a cavetto cornice supported by papyrus columns on either side of the entrance. Isis' body-hugging pleated draperies and high, domed navel recall statues of Ptolemaic queens. Other Egyptian symbols including ankh-signs, a crocodile and the nemes-headcloths of the figures enriched the facade.

An exhibit of Napoleonic relics in 1816 including Napoleon's carriage taken at Waterloo made Bullock 35,000 pounds. The crush at the exhibit was satirized by Cruikshank and Rowlandson who drew the carriage and the crowds straining to view it.

In 1819, Bullock sold his extensive collection and converted the museum into an exhibition hall. In 1820, Benjamin Robert Hayden rented the Hall to show his painting Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, which was well received and made a handsome profit. The Egyptian Hall was the venue for Belzoni's exhibition of the tomb of Seti I in 1821. In 1822, Bullock exhibited a herd of reindeer with their harnesses and sleds accompanied by a family of Laplanders, their furniture and even their huts. In 1824, after a 1823 visit to Mexico City he held an exhibit on Ancient Mexico. Book seller George Lackington, became owner of the museum in 1825. The museum facilities also were used for panoramas, art exhibits, and entertainment productions. In 1905, The Egyptian Hall was demolished and the office block at 170-173 Piccadilly was built on the site.

Learn more about the 6 ft 7 inch adventurer Giovanni Battista Belzoni's adventures and discoveries in Egypt in Egypt: Rediscovering a Lost World

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