The influence of Ancient Egypt on British culture has been long-lasting and widespread.
What was Egyptomania?
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 some key places you can see Egyptian-style architecture in England.
1. The Carlton Cinema, London
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.
Later used as a Mecca Bingo, the exterior of the building is London’s only Egyptian-style cinema to survive.
2. Greater London House, London
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 office conversion and renamed Greater London House in 1961. By 1962, all Egyptian details had been removed, but in 1996, a new owner restored the building using the original plans.
3. The East Farleigh Waterworks, Kent
Known locally as ‘the Egyptian House’, the former Maidstone Waterworks buildings at East Farleigh are 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.
4. The Old Synagogue, Canterbury, Kent
The Old Synagogue in Canterbury 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. After restoration, it is now used as a rehearsal and recital space by its music department. The Canterbury Jewish Community holds occasional services.
5. The Ker Street Social Club, Devonport, Devon
The former 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 Odd Fellows friendly society took over the building, and ‘Odd Fellows Hall’ can still be seen above the windows. It’s now the Ker Street Social Club.
6. The Egyptian House, Penzance, Cornwall
One of the most spectacular buildings in the southwest 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 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 and is managed by the Landmark Trust.
7. Blickling Park, Norfolk
The pyramid is an icon of Ancient Egypt. However, although pyramidal mausoleums have been built in England, their main inspiration was Roman.
The Roman, Caius Epulo Cestius, who visited Egypt and died around 12 BC, was buried in a steeply sloping pyramidal mausoleum. It survived 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 on the grounds of Blickling Hall and was probably inspired by the Cestius pyramid.
8. The Freemasons’ Hall, Boston, Lincolnshire
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 centuries, 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.
9. Undercliffe Cemetary, Bradford, West Yorkshire
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 inspired his choice of a monument.
10. Temple Works, Leeds, West Yorkshire
Egypt had an important flax industry in the ancient world, inspiring the design of the Temple Mill (also known as the Temple Works) in Leeds.
Representing the peak of the Marshall Mills flax business, the building acquired a legendary local reputation within a few years of its construction.
The mill’s architect was Ignatius Bonomi, though the design has been attributed to his brother, the Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi. Completed in 1843, the building is a copy of the Temple at Edfu.
11. The Pyramid Cinema, Sale, Greater Manchester
The Pyramid in Sale 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 various businesses, including a nightclub, a conference suite and a fitness centre.