In Piccadilly stood an impressive edifice: the Egyptian Hall. Built in 1812 by William Bullock to resemble an Egyptian temple with its front covered in hieroglyphics, the hall included lecture rooms, a bazaar, and a large central gallery. The space was also called the London Museum and Bullock’s Museum.
The museum was said to hold 15,000 items, and you paid a shilling to see them once or a guinea for a year’s subscription. At various times, the display included
--items from the South Seas brought back by Captain Cook
--a tropical rain forest with taxidermied animals.
--Napoleon’s traveling carriage, captured at Waterloo, which purportedly contained a bedroom, dressing room, pantry, and kitchen and was seen there by over 800,000 people before it was moved to Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition on Baker Street.
In 1819, Bullock sold the collection and made the space into an exhibition hall that could be rented by various entrepreneurs, artists, and magicians. Exhibitions ranged from the skeleton of Chuny the elephant from Exeter Exchange, to wax impressions and casts of Pharoah Seti I of Egypt, to water colors by Turner, and even eighteen-year-old Siamese twin singers (they came from Siam and they were connected at the stomach). The one I really would have liked to see was the 1822 exhibition of a herd of reindeer with their harnesses and sleds; a family of Laplanders, their furniture, and homes; a pair of wapiti from the upper Missouri; and a “pretended” mermaid that was supposedly the head and shoulders of a monkey attached to the body of a fish. The Laplanders gave lectures on their culture and homeland, which were well attended. In fact, over 300 people a day viewed this spectacle for six weeks before, I imagine, the Laplanders grew heartily tired of it all and decamped.
Kind of puts going the mall to shame, doesn’t it?