Egyptian-inspired architecture in Britain

By Jo Phillips

Britain is home to some of the most iconic Egyptian-inspired architecture in the world – a fact that is often overlooked. So, here we take a look at just a couple of must-see examples that need to be added to your bucket list. 

The influence of Egyptian culture on media and design

Over the years, ancient Egypt has had an enduring impact on popular culture – from fashion to architecture, writing and entertainment. Ancient Egypt still inspires a wide range of media to this day, such as viral TV shows, blockbusting movies like Exodus: God and Kings, and even a wide range of games to be played on an online casino for real cash like Eye of Horus, Cleopatra, Book of Dead, Gold Hit: Shrine of Anubis, and Pharaoh’s Daughter, to just name a few.

This lasting influence of ancient Egypt is typically thought to be thanks to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, which led to a renewed interest in this history, and inspired some of the most iconic and unique English architecture that blends the Art Deco styles of the 1920s with classic Egyptian motifs.

Carlton Cinema, Islington

Carlton Cinema Essex Road” by Matt From London

Perhaps the most striking of all is the former Carlton Cinema in Islington, London. The Carlton Cinema was designed by George Coles, and was built around 1930, still standing today as a Grade II listed building. Inside, the design largely reflects the French Empire and Renaissance styles, drawn together with subtle Egyptian decorative elements. However, the exterior facade of the building is very much inspired by Egyptian design, with large columns and clean lines all dressed in multi-coloured Hathernware faience tiles and mouldings. 

As the only surviving Egyptian-inspired cinema left standing in London, it is a nationally protected historic building and now operates as both a place for worship and cinema. 

The Old Synagogue, Canterbury

The Old Synagogue in Canterbury, Kent, is one of a mere handful of Egyptian Revival synagogues throughout the world, but the only one to exist in the UK. The building was commissioned in 1847 as an Ashkenazi synagogue, enlisting a local architect Hezekiah Marshall to design the now iconic building, which was built on the site supposedly once occupied by the Knights Templar.

Canterbury by amandabhslater

The front of the building is trapezoid-shaped, with large columns extending the entire height of the porch, which are topped by lotus designs that appear to hold the roof. The columns and exterior facade are then faced in white Portland stone, contrasting to the grey glazing. After serving as a synagogue for over 100 years, it was purchased by The King’s School, who restored the building to be used as a rehearsal space for their music department. Nevertheless, The Canterbury Jewish Community still holds the occasional service here to this day. 

When visiting Canterbury, many tourists will be drawn in by the striking architecture of the epic cathedral, Medieval streets, and nearby abbeys. However, The Old Synagogue is something of a hidden gem, tucked away in the streets behind the cathedral, and is a nice quiet contemplative spot away from the bustling crowds. As this is a working school building, The Old Synagogue is not open to the public all year round – instead, they are known to host regular heritage days and open days where the general public can explore the building and grounds at their leisure. 

Of course, there are many other examples of Egyptian-inspired architecture throughout the country, including Sale, Leeds, Bradford, Boston, and Penzance. All that’s left to do is explore and gaze upon this unique style of design. 

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