The Egyptian House – A Rare Piece of Architecture in Penzance:
A rather bizarre sight near the top of Chapel Street in Penzance is the Egyptian House, a bright-looking building with a pseudo-Egyptian facade.
The Egyptian House is probably one of Cornwall’s most flamboyantly designed buildings. With its ornate lotus columns and stylised cornices, the building looks quite out of place in Penzance, as if by some miscalculation or time warp, the building was transported to Penzance instead of Egypt.
The Egyptian Fashion Craze
The facade of the Egyptian House was commissioned around 1835 by John Lavin, a local Penzance mineralogist. Following Napoleon’s North African campaign in 1798, all things Egyptian became very fashionable and Egyptian arts and style also became the inspiration for architectural ideas. The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly London, completed in 1812, was the first of such Egyptian architectural-style buildings to be commissioned in Britain. This style remained very much in vogue into the next century and the Penzance Egyptian House is a rare survivor of that splendid era.
Egyptian House Features
In amongst the traditional Egyptian motifs and sphinx-like adornments of the Egyptian House, you can find the royal coat of arms of George III and William IV and the inscription ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ (God and my right), the motto of the British Monarch.
John Lavin lived in the upstairs part of the house, while his mineral collection was housed on the ground floor. His extensive collection was eventually sold by his son and it is believed that it has since been donated to the Oxford University Museum.
By the 1960s, the Egyptian House had fallen into a state of disrepair. The Landmark Trust purchased it in 1968 and restored to its original glory by 1973. The upstairs apartments are available as holiday lets from the Trust.
6-7 Chapel Street
Map of Penzance: