It is undoubtedly a part of human nature to be awed and interested in curiosities. The population of Regency England was delighted when William Bullock commissioned the building of the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, to house his collection of oddities collected from his travels as a naturalist.
Born of proprietors of a travelling waxworks, Bullock made his fortune as a goldsmith and jewelry. Undoubtedly, it was in this trade he earned enough to commission the 16,000 GBP building in the Egyptian style, replete with hieroglyphics and columns on the façade.
Finished in 1812, the hall was said to include part of Captain Cook’s collection from his wide travels abroad.
According to a contemporary account, the museum included such items as: A Mexican saddle once belonging to Ex-emperor of Mexico, models and objects of Indians, a variety of fish and birds, a Great Serpent “Among Mexico Serpent 63 is the most extraordinary and Mr Bullock affirms it to be the finest ever known to have existed of that most horrible of reptiles It is coiled up in an irritated erect position with the jaws extended and in the act of gorging a well dressed female who appears in the mouth of the enormous reptile crushed and lacerated the detail of which is too disgusting and horrible for description”, a model of Aztec temples and buildings, and a carriage reported to be pulled by elephants.( London lions for country cousins and friends about Town, 1826).
One of the most profitable exhibitions was in 1816, when Napolean’s carriage, along with other relics from that recent war, were displayed. Seen by some 220,000 visitors, Bullock made a reported £35,000 in entrance fees (Noon, Patrick & Bann, Stephen. Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism, pp. 90-91. London: Tate Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-85437-513-X).
More remarkable than Napolean’s carriage was the reported display of a Mermaid’s carcass in 1822.
(Mermaids, with other tales Charles Henry Ross – 1882)
The Egyptian Hall was torn down in the early 1900s to make way for new tenements, but not without serving to delight and satisfy the Regency London population.