With the French occupation and exploration of Egypt in 1798 (Napoleon was seeking to cut off British interests in India) a mania for all things Pharonic came into vogue. The Battle of the Nile, in August, 1798, allowed the British to gain an advantage, and by 1801 they were in the process of taking over French positions and possessions. One of these acquisitions was the recently discovered Rosetta Stone (discovered in 1799 and on display at the British Museum since 1802) which would prove to be the key to unlocking the ancient hieroglyphics which decorated many of the temples and royal tombs that were being discovered. Egyptian style architecture and furniture were in high demand, and as ever, the enterprising among Britain’s populace were keen to take their share. No one was more prepared to do this than William Bullock. Bullock was the son of William Bullock and his wife Elizabeth (née Smallwood) proprietors of a travelling waxworks. He began as a goldsmith and jeweller in Birmingham. By 1795 Bullock was in Liverpool, where he founded a Museum of Natural Curiosities at 24 Lord Street. While still trading as a jeweller and goldsmith, in 1801 he published a descriptive catalogue of the works of art, armoury, objects of natural history, and other curiosities in the collection, some of which had been brought back by members of James Cook's expeditions. Bullock, who had displayed his curiosities in Sheffield and Liverpool before opening in London in 1809, first housed his collection (which included over 32,000 items ) at 22 Piccadilly Road until 1812, when it was moved to the newly built Egyptian Hall. While visiting her brother Henry, in London, in 1811, Jane Austen visited the museum, though she was not overly impressed by the works of art on display.
MY DEAR CASSANDRA, I have so many little matters to tell you of, that I cannot wait any longer before I begin to put them down…The badness of the weather disconcerted an excellent plan of mine -- that of calling on Miss Beckford again; but from the middle of the day it rained incessantly. Mary and I, after disposing of her father and mother, went to the Liverpool Museum and the British Gallery, and I had some amusement at each, though my preference for men and women always inclines me to attend more to the company than the sight. Jane Austen to Cassandra Sloane St.: Thursday (April 18, 1811)At this time, architect Peter Frederick Robinson was hard at work designing the new home for Bullock’s collection—The Egyptian Hall. The building was completed in 1812 at a cost of £16,000. It was the first building in England to be influenced by the Egyptian style, partly inspired by the success of the Egyptian Room in Thomas Hope's house in Duchess Street, which was open to the public and had been well illustrated in Hope's Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (London, 1807). But, unlike Bullock's Egyptian temple in Piccadilly, Hope's neoclassical façade betrayed no hint of the Egyptianizing decor it contained. Detailed renderings of various temples on the Nile, the Pyramids and the Sphinx had been accumulating for connoisseurs and designers in works such as Bernard de Montfaucon's, ten-volume L'Antiquité expliquée et representée en figures (1719-1724), which reproduces, methodically grouped, all the ancient monuments, Benoît de Maillet's Description de l'Égypte (1735), Richard Pococke's A Description of the East and Some Other Countries (1743), and Frederic Louis Norden's Voyage d'Egypte et de Nubie (1755); the first volume of the magisterial Description de l'Egypte (1810) had recently appeared in Paris. The Hall was a considerable success, with an exhibition of Napoleonic era relics in 1816 including Napoleon's carriage taken at Waterloo being seen by about 220,000 visitors; Bullock made £35,000. In 1819, Bullock sold his ethnographical and natural history collection at auction and converted the museum into an exhibition hall. Subsequently the Hall became a major venue for the exhibiting of works of art; it had the advantage of being almost the only London venue able to exhibit really large works. Usually admission was one shilling. In 1820, The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault was exhibited from June 10 until the end of the year, rather overshadowing Benjamin Robert Haydon's painting, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, on show in an adjacent room; Haydon rented rooms to show his work on several occasions. In 1821, exhibitions included Giovanni Battista Belzoni's show of the tomb of Seti I in 1821, and James Ward's gigantic Allegory of Waterloo. In 1822, a family of Laplanders with their reindeer were imported to be displayed in front of a painted backdrop, and give short sleigh-rides to visitors. In the same year, Bullock went to Mexico where he became involved in silver mine speculation. He brought back many artefacts and specimens which formed a new exhibition in the Egyptian Hall. The bookseller George Lackington became owner of the Hall in 1825 and went on to use the facilities to show panoramas, art exhibits, and entertainment productions. The Hall became especially associated with watercolours. The old Water-Colour Society exhibited there in 1821–22, and it was hired by Charles Heath to display the watercolours commissioned by from Joseph Mallord William Turner forming Picturesque Views in England and Wales. Turner exhibited at the Hall for a number of years and it was also used as a venue for exhibitions by the Society of Painters in Water Colours. In the "Dudley Gallery" at the Egyptian Hall, the valuable collection of pictures belonging to the Earl of Dudley was deposited during the erection of his own gallery at Dudley House in Park Lane. The room gave its name to the Dudley Gallery Art Society (also known as The Old Dudley Art Society) when they were founded in 1861 and used it for their exhibitions. It was the venue chosen for their first exhibitions by the influential New English Art Club. By the end of the 19th century, the Hall was also associated with magic and spiritualism, as a number of performers and lecturers had hired it for shows. It was also the venue chosen for the showing of some of the very first films (or animated photographs) to be shown, including those of Albert Smith relating his ascent of Mont Blanc. Later, when the hall came under the control of the Maskelyne family, a more settled policy was adopted and it soon became known as England's Home of Mystery. Many illusions were staged including the exposition of fraudulent spiritualistic manifestations then being practised by charlatans. In 1905 the building was demolished to make room for blocks of flats and offices at 170–173 Piccadilly. Muirhead Bone captured its demise in his work The Dissolution of Egyptian Hall. The Maskelynes relocated to the St. George's Hall in Langham Place, which became known as Maskelyne's Theatre.