Much of Penzance’s Chapel Street is lined with historical buildings, many dating from the 18th century but at the top of the street there is a building truly like no other in the whole of Cornwall.
Egyptian House, Nos 6 -7 Chapel Street, is a rare survivor of a style of architecture that became fashionable after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798. But this grand building had rather more humble beginnings.
In 1835 a sale took place in the Three Tuns Hotel in Penzance and the mineralogist John Lavin purchased two adjacent cottages for £396. Over the next few years he had the buildings completely transformed into this remarkable pseudo-Egyptian masterpiece.
The people of Penzance had never seen anything quite like it and not unsurprisingly it caused a considerable amount of interest. Lavin then turned the bottom floor into a museum and shop filled with his large collection of mineral specimens and he also sold books, maps and stationary.
The house is thought to have been designed by the architect John Foulston, who worked in Plymouth from 1811 to 1842. Completed in 1837 Egyptian House bears a striking resemblance to Odd Fellows Hall in Devonport also designed by Foulston.
The house itself was owned by the Lavin family until 1910 and then fell into disrepair. By the 1960s it was filthy and barely recognisable, the bright colours had been removed and painted over with browns and creams.
Thankfully Egyptian House was sold to the Landmark Trust in 1968, a charity that specialises in the restoration of buildings of architectural and historic importance and they returned it to its former glory!
And this summer you can get a rare peek inside, visit one of the apartments and see the internal spiral staircase and the quirky curved oak doors.