Ancient Egypt in England

Whilst we might not be able to experience all of England’s heritage in person at the moment, here’s our guide to the influence of Ancient Egypt on English architecture – from the comfort of your sofa.

The influence of Ancient Egypt on British culture has been long-lasting and widespread.

In the 18th century, European travellers to Egypt began to bring back accounts of ancient remains. ‘Egyptomania’ subsequently became the height of fashion in Regency England and Napoleonic France, and its influence on architecture continued long after.

Here are just some of the places you can spot Egyptian style architecture across the country.

Carlton Cinema, London

Former Carlton Cinema, Essex Road, London © Historic England. Ref: DP103867

The Carlton, built as a cinema, opened in 1930 and was designed by architect George Coles.

The columns are characteristic of architecture from Amarna, an archaeological site of the capital city built under the pharaoh Akhenaten. The site was excavated during the 1920s and 1930s and inspired many architects of the time.

Later used as a Mecca Bingo and now on our Heritage at Risk Register, the exterior of the building is London’s only Egyptian style cinema to survive.

Greater London House, London

Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London © Historic England. Ref: DP103866

The former Carreras cigarette factory is one of London’s finest Egyptian style buildings.

Originally built between 1926 and 1928, the façade was described as a ‘copy of the Temple of Bubastis, the cat-headed goddess of Ancient Egypt’. Whilst this is possible, it’s more likely that this was claimed to create a link with one of the company’s best-known cigarette brands – The Black Cat.

The factory was sold in 1959 for conversion to offices and renamed as Greater London House in 1961. By 1962, all Egyptian detail had been removed, but in 1996, a new owner restored the building using the original plans.

Pumping Station, East Farleigh

Former East Farleigh Waterworks, Maidstone, Kent © Historic England. Ref: DP139351

Known locally as ‘the Egyptian House’, the former Maidstone Waterworks buildings at East Farleigh is one of only a few buildings associated with water in the Egyptian style.

Designed by civil engineer James Pilbrow, an inscribed plaque suggests it was built in 1860. Pilbrow was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and it’s probably through these interests that he became familiar with Ancient Egyptian architecture.

The Old Synagogue, Canterbury

Kings School Music Room, Canterbury, Kent © Historic England. Ref: DP139129

This building is unique in England and one of only a few examples of Egyptian style synagogues anywhere in the world.

In 1847, local architect Hezekiah Marshall was appointed to design a new synagogue. His initial design had to be modified to bring it within budget but the choice of the Egyptian style seems to have been there from the outset.

In 1982, the synagogue was sold to the King’s School and, after restoration, is now used as rehearsal and recital spaces by its music department. Occasional services are held by the Canterbury Jewish Community.

Civil and Military Library, Devonport

Ker Street Social Club, Ker Street, Devonport, Devon © Historic England. Ref: DP130084

The Civil and Military Library was designed by architect John Foulston in 1823.

The Library was intended to show that the Egyptian style could be adapted to what he called ‘modern and domestic purposes’.

At some point the building was taken over by the Odd Fellows friendly society, and ‘Odd Fellows Hall’ can still be seen above the windows. It is now the Ker Street Social Club.

The Egyptian House, Penzance

The Egyptian House, Penzance, Cornwall © Historic England. Ref: DP114986

One of the most spectacular buildings in the south-west is the Egyptian House in Penzance, built between 1834 and 1837 to house the mineral collection of dealer John Lavin.

The choice of the Egyptian style for a mineral shop may seem odd, but the building was clearly inspired by the now lost Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London, which opened in 1812 to display the private museum of collector William Bullock.

Today the building is occupied by shops and apartments.

Blickling Park, Blickling

Mausoleum, Blickling Park, Norfolk © Crown Copyright. Historic England. Ref: BB93_09310

The pyramid is an icon of Ancient Egypt. However, although pyramidal mausoleums have been built in England, their main inspiration was actually Roman.

The Roman, Caius Epulo Cestius – who visited Egypt and died around 12 BC – was buried in a steeply sloping pyramidal mausoleum. It survived into modern times and would have been seen by many 18th century travellers and architectural students visiting Rome.

In 1794, the architect Joseph Bonomi built a mausoleum for John Bobard, the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire. It stands in the grounds of Blickling Hall and was probably inspired by the Cestius pyramid.

Freemasons’ Hall, Boston

Freemasons Hall, Boston, Lincolnshire © Historic England. Ref: DP103991

Several Masonic temples in England have been built with Egyptian decoration, but the most impressive example is the Freemasons Hall created for the Lodge of Harmony in Boston between 1860 and 1863.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the idea that Freemasonry had its roots in Ancient Egypt was popular within some Masonic circles.

The building was described as a ‘reproduction of the Temple of Dandour, in Nubia’. The Boston hall does indeed resemble it, without being a direct copy.

Undercliffe Cemetary, Bradford

Illingworth Mausoleum, Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford, West Yorkshire © Historic England. Ref: DP116904

The Illingworth family made their fortune in spinning wool, and the mausoleum of Alfred Illingworth can be found in the central avenue of Undercliff Cemetery.

A Member of Parliament for Knaresborough and later Bradford West, Illingworth was a member of the Peace Campaign and opposed many of Britain’s military campaigns.

He was against British intervention in Egypt, and his political interest in the country may have been the inspiration for his choice of a monument.

Pyramid Cinema, Sale

Former Pyramid Cinema, Washway Road, Sale, Manchester © Historic England. Ref: DP109990

The Pyramid was one of the last Egyptian style cinemas to be built in England.

Built in 1933, it was designed as the Pyramid Theatre by architect Joseph Gomersall. The Egyptian theme of the cinema extended to the programme (which featured hieroglyphics) and an Egyptian style organ for theatre productions.

The cinema closed in 1984 but the building became listed in 1987 – although its original clock and name have been lost from the façade. It has been converted into a variety of business including a nightclub, a conference suite and a fitness centre.

What have we missed? Let us know where you’ve seen Egyptian style architecture in England in the comments below.

This blog draws on our publication Egypt in England by Chris Elliott. Order a copy here.

Further reading

6 responses to Ancient Egypt in England

  1. Vivien says:

    What! No Temple Mill in Holbeck, Leeds! With sheep on the roof, one falling in through the skylight? (not very Egyptian, I know)

  2. Richard Taylor says:

    Thanks for this good selection but I’m very surprised that you haven’t included Temple Works in Leeds. It must surely be the largest Egyptian-style site in England.

  3. Donal says:

    Don’t forget Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol 🙂

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