The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London
Above - The Egyptian Hall in London's Piccadilly
The Egyptian Hall, in London's Piccadilly, was built in 1812 by G.F. Robinson as a museum of natural history. In George Jenness's book 'Maskelyne & Cooke: Egyptian Hall, London, 1873-1904' he quotes an advert from the Daily Telegraph for the 23rd of January 1905 which read: "The Egyptian Hall is closed for demolition. Mr Maskelyne has removed to his new Home of Mystery - St George's Hall." Jenness also says that the last shows at the Egyptian Hall were on the 21st of January 1905.
The Egyptian Hall - 'Old and New London'
The Egyptian Hall, the front of which forms one of the most noticeable features on the southern side of Piccadilly, nearly opposite to Bond Street, was erected in the year 1812, from the designs of Mr. G. F. Robinson, at a cost of £16,000, for a museum of natural history, the objects of which were in part collected by William Bullock, F.L.S., during his thirty years' travel in Central America.
The edifice was so named from its being in the Egyptian style of architecture and ornament, the inclined pilasters and sides being covered with hieroglyphics; and the hall is now used principally for popular entertainments, lectures, and exhibitions. Bullock's Museum was at one time one of the most popular exhibitions in the metropolis. It comprised curiosities from the South Sea, Africa, and North and South America; works of art; armoury, and the travelling carriage of Bonaparte. The collection, which was made up to a very great extent out of the Lichfield Museum and that of Sir Ashton Lever, was sold off by auction, and dispersed in lots, in 1819.
Here, in 1825, was exhibited a curious phenomenon, known as "the Living Skeleton," or "the Anatomic Vivante," of whom a short account will be found in Hone's "Every-Day Book." His name was Claude Amboise Seurat, and he was born in Champagne, in April, 1798. His height was 5 feet 7½ inches, and as he consisted literally of nothing but skin and bone, he weighed only 77¾ lbs. He (or another living skeleton) was shown subsequently - in 1830, we believe - at "Bartlemy Fair," but died shortly afterwards. There is extant a portrait of M. Seurat, published by John Williams, of 13, Paternoster Row, which quite enables us to identify in him the perfect French native.
Of the various entertainments and exhibitions that have found a home here, it would, perhaps, be needless to attempt to give a complete catalogue; but we may, at least, mention a few of the most successful. In 1829, the Siamese Twins made their first appearance here, and were described at the time as "two youths of eighteen, natives of Siam, united by a short band at the pit of the stomach - two perfect bodies, bound together by an inseparable link." They died in America in the early part of the year 1874. The American dwarf, Charles S. Stratton, "Tom Thumb," was exhibited here in 1844; and subsequently, Mr. Albert Smith gave the narrative of his ascent of Mont Blanc, his lecture being illustrated by some cleverly-painted dioramic views of the perils and sublimities of the Alpine regions. Latterly, the Egyptian Hall has been almost continually used for the exhibition of feats of legerdemain, the most successful of these - if one may judge from the "run" which the entertainment has enjoyed - being the extraordinary performances of Messrs. Maskelyne and Cooke.
Text from 'Old and New London' Volume IV by Edward Walford, M.A. 1897.
The Romance of London Theatres
The Egyptian Hall was so named because of its Egyptian style of architecture and ornamentation. For nearly a century it faced Burlington House and was one of the most noticeable features in Piccadilly. The site is now occupied, I believe by an arcade leading to jermyn Street. The hall was erected at a cost of sixteen thousand pounds, from the designs of Mr. G. F. Robinson in 1812, and was originally used as a museum of natural history.
The museum comprised curiosities from North and South America, Africa, and the South Seas, collected in part by William Bullock during his thirty years travel in Central America, and supplemented from the Lichfield Museum also that of Sir Ashton Lever. Here too was to be seen Bonaparte's travelling carriage. The collection was sold by auction in lots in 1819.
Here, after the days of the museum many entertainments and exhibitions subsequently found a home. In 1825 was shown a curious phenomenon known as the living skeleton - a Frenchman from the Champagne district of France. He was five feet seven and a half inches in height, but weighed only seventy seven and three-quarter pounds. He consisted literally of nothing else but skin and bone.
In 1829, the Siamese Twins made their first appearance here and were described as "two youths of eighteen, natives of Siam, united by a short band at the pit of the stomach - two perfect bodies bound together by an inseparable link." These twins certainly set the fashion in freaks - they were really pathetic but for nearly thirty years they were popular favourites. When an operation, was proposed in order to separate them there was much speculation as to whether as a result of this, the one would survive without the other. The operation however, did not take place and they died in America in 1874.
Another curious twist of nature was the American dwarf Charles S. Stratton, who was known as "Tom Thumb" and was exhibited in 1844. London was obsessed at that time with "Tom Thumb." Another show was "The Missing Link" to all intents half man, half monkey and terribly savage, but Curtes, the then lion king, forced his way into the cage, tore off the mask and revealed the acrobat, Henry Leach.
The Two-Headed Nghtingale, Millie Christen, was another popular visitor to the Egyptian Hall.
Concerts of a first class character were also given and will be remembered by many.
The hall was used principally for popular entertainments and lectures. Here Albert Smith gave the narrative of his ascent of Mont Blanc and illustrated his story by some cleverly dioramic views of the Alpine peaks. Later, when the hall came under the control of the Maskelynes, a more settled policy was adopted and it soon grew famous as England's Home of Mystery All sorts of clever illusions were staged including the exposition of fraudulent spiritualistic manifestations then being practised by various charlatans who were imposing on a credulous public.
When in 1903 the hall was demolished to make room for blocks of flats and offices, (see note top of page M.L.) Maskelynes transferred their entertainment to the St. George's Hall, Langharn Place - now known as Maskelyne's Theatre where they have been ever since.
Text from 'The Romance of London Theatres' by Ronald Mayes - From a programme for the Lewisham Hippodrome, March 1930.
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