“…the building called the Egyptian Hall … is nothing but an uncouth anomaly. The absurdity, however, renders it good advertisement. There is no missing its great lumpish face as you go along.”
-A Saunter Through the West End (1861)
From their office at No. 9, Pall Mall East, the PEF Committee organised these temporary exhibitions to raise public awareness and money for Fund-sponsored work. The PEF had been established in 1865 for the scientific exploration of the Holy Land. A number of scholars have chronicled the early history of the PEF; highlights of this history include Charles Warren’s excavations tunnelling underneath Jerusalem between 1867 and 1870, and the pioneering survey work of Lieuts. Claude Conder, Horatio Kitchener et al in the 1870s, enabling highly detailed maps of the region to be created.
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Messrs Hampton & Sons, upholsterers took over Nos. 8-11 Pall Mall East by the early 1880s. Hampton & Sons eventually became a department store, and was destroyed during the Blitz. The National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing currently stands on the site. Photos: A. Thornton, 2014.
Early Victorian artist Benjamin Robert Haydon’s experience sums up the Hall’s atmosphere. His 1846 exhibition of history paintings was in direct competition with P. T. Barnum’s “Tom Thumb” at the Hall. H. B. Wheatley recorded Haydon writing: “‘Tom Thumb’ had 12,000 people last week. B. R. Haydon 133 ½ (the ½ a little girl). Exquisite taste of the English people!”
This contrast reveals the Hall to be a complex and not un-problematic space, especially for the PEF as a new organisation eager to highlight (and prove) its scientific and cultural credentials while boosting its 'box-office' takings - so to speak.
The PEF’s exhibitions were held in the Hall’s Dudley Gallery. The Gallery, named after the Earl of Dudley, first housed a selection of the Earl’s pictures that was freely accessible to the public, and afterwards other picture collections. This art-gallery aesthetic suited the PEF’s needs.
The Fund reported that over 6,000 visitors wandered through the space between mid-June and the end of August, 1869. Garnishing the walls of the exhibition were more than 300 photographs of Palestine and Syria taken by Sergeant Henry Phillips. The images were described in more detail in the short exhibition catalogue.
Complementing the photographs was a large Ordnance Survey plan of the city of Jerusalem. Alongside this, visitors could see cases of material discovered during Warren’s work. Other items (both ancient and modern) relevant to the region were on loan from collectors and travellers as a complement to the Warren finds.
Images of the Holy Land played a prominent role in the 1873 exhibition as well. In addition to 100 carefully curated photographs (available, like this one of Jerusalem, for sale in a variety of packages) – there were nearly 70 water-colour sketches from the artist Henry A. Harper.
I’d like to see more people reusing, re-presenting and reinterpreting the PEF’s archives. Take a closer look at the collections - maybe you'll be inspired to breathe new life into the material. You can start with the Fund’s Flickr page, where you can see some of those images that graced the walls of the Victorian Egyptian Hall.
Altick, R. 1978. The Shows of London. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.
Bar-Yosef, E. 2005. The Holy Land and English Culture 1799-1917: Palestine and the Question of Orientalism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Moscrop, J. J. 2000. Measuring Jerusalem: The Palestine Exploration Fund and British Interests in the Holy Land. London: Leicester University Press.
PEF. . Catalogue of Photographs and Description of Pottery, &c. Exhibited by the Palestine Exploration Fund. London: Palestine Exploration Fund.
PEF. 1869. Statement of Progress; Publications of the Society. Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (Apr-Jun).
PEF. 1869. Statement of Progress. Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (July-Sept).
PEF. 1873. Catalogue of Water Colour Sketches, Tracings, Models, Photographs and Pottery &c. Exhibited by the Palestine Exploration Fund. London: Palestine Exploration Fund.
PEF. 1873. Preface. Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (April).
PEF. 1873. Preface; Report of the Annual General Meeting. Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (July).
Silberman, N. A. 1982. Digging for God and Country: Exploration, Archeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land 1799-1917. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
The Tablet. 1869. The Palestine Exploration Fund. The Tablet, p 22.
Wheatley, H. B. 1870. Round About Piccadilly and Pall Mall. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
N. B. Special thanks are due to Felicity Cobbing, the PEF's Executive Secretary and Curator.