Friday, November 7, 2008

Amusements in London: The Egyptian Hall

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?


Anonymous said...

Was it Captian James Cook? I read about about him! He sounds very interesting. Those are some neat pictures, where do you find them?

+Evie S.

aupoohbear said...

Regina said she would have liked to have seen:
"1822 exhibition of a herd of reindeer with their harnesses and sleds; a family of Laplanders, their furniture, and homes"

My ancestors lived in Norway above the Arctic Circle at that time. My great-great grandmother's grandparents were newly married and ran a tourist hotel in Tromso. We have later 19th c. photographs of the Saami in their traditional clothing. We also have a few Saami toys like a canoe. Their culture is similar to our North American Indian nomadic tribes.


Regina Scott said...

Evie, yes, it was Captain James Cook. As to the pictures, some I have in reference books or antique prints; some I find online. God bless Google and Wikimedia Commons!

QnPoohBear, how cool! My great-great aunt left me her collection of post cards, which have some wonderful pictures of the early 1900s. But nothing like yours! I used to go to the Washington State Historical Museum every year as a kid. Now it's 300 miles away. I miss good museums! We have very little history-related things here in my town, sadly enough. When my husband and I went shopping for our first house about 20 years ago now, I asked whether there might be any historic homes on the market. The real estate agent assured me he had some great ones from the 1950s.

He was serious.