Built in 1812, the temple-like structure was drawn up by architect Peter Frederick Robinson and was one of the first buildings in England design in a style resembling that found in ancient Egyptian architecture. It had been commissioned by William Bullock, originally a goldsmith and jeweller who was collector of curiosities and had previously founded a museum in Liverpool.
Having relocated to London in 1809, he established a new museum at an existing property in Piccadilly before deciding to build the Egyptian Hall as a purpose-built museum (shown here is an image of The Egyptian House in Penzance, Cornwall, which was built in 1835 in imitation of The Egyptian Hall and gives some sense of what the Egyptian Hall must have looked like).
Bullock’s collection of thousands of items – including arms and armour and objects brought back by Captain James Cook on his expeditions to the southern hemisphere – was housed in the new museum, also known variously as Bullock’s Museum or the London Museum, after its opening (at least until 1819 when Bullock auctioned the collection off) and the hall was also used to house exhibitions.
Perhaps the most famous exhibition held there was in 1816, when hundreds of thousands visited an exhibition of Napoleonic memorabilia including the bullet-proof carriage of the Emperor Napoleon captured at Waterloo. Other exhibitions included the display of artworks by the likes of Benjamin Haydon and JMW Turner and in 1822, Bullock held an exhibition of some of the artefacts he himself had collected during a visit to Mexico.
Bookseller George Lackington bought the hall in 1825 and continued to use the premises for exhibits but the tone gradually changed and the premises became more associated with the display of such ‘curiosities’ as Siamese twins Cheng and Eng, the ‘living skeleton’ – Frenchman Claude Amboise Seurat, General ‘Tom Thumb’, an entire family of Laplanders (they apparently gave lectures on their lifestyle) and the entire skeleton of a mammoth.
Having already been hired by performers and lecturers for shows relating to magic and spiritualism over the latter half of the 18th century, when the building later came into control of the Maskelyne family this association was formalised and the building was renamed England’s Home of Mystery.
In 1905, the building was demolished and flats and offices built on the site at 170-173 Piccadilly.
For more on William Bullock and the Egyptian Hall, check out William Bullock: Connoisseur and Virtuoso of the Egyptian Hall: Piccadilly to Mexico (1773-1849).