Part of the Acorn Archive


Penzance, Cornwall

Architecture and Heritage

Egyptian House

and John Lavin


Egyptian House, Penzance


Nr 6-7, Chapel Street (originally Lady Street), Penzance, Cornwall

Now a shop with apartments above, the building was constructed around 1836 for John Lavin, who required the building to display his collection of minerals. Its present colouring has been restored to the original, determined by careful stripping of old layers of  paint.


There has been some speculation as to the architect of the building and, whilst there is no evidence in either direction, it has been supposed that he was the same architect that designed the impressive collection of extraordinary buildings in Devonport, based upon motifs newly acquired by contemporary society, namely John Foulston.


After Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, between 1798 and 1801, Egyptian art and style became a popular source for architectural ideas. Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly was the first complete building in the Egyptian style, in Britain. Britain was beguiled by the Description d'Egypte, the engravings of 1809-28, which first brought the Pyramids and the Sphinx to European eyes. Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly was demolished in 1905.


The building at Penzance is on property previously owned by James Tregarthen, Master Mariner, of St Mary’s Isles of Scilly. The land and buildings were purchased 3rd April 1835 by John Lavin. The dating of the building is dictated solely by the presence of the Royal Arms of William IV.  


In 1841 the building was known as Egyptian Hall.   See the Census records below.


John Foulston had already created the Classical and Mathematical School at Ker Street at Devonport, in the Egyptian style, in 1823.


Another “contender” would be Peter Frederick Robinson, architect of  the Egyptian Hall at Number 22, Piccadilly (South side, opposite Bond Street and owned by William Bullock) in 1812. Peter Robinson had re-designed Trelissick 1825. There is a striking resemblance between the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly and that at Penzance.


It has to be said that the Egyptian style building (later named Oddfellows Hall) designed by John Foulston at Devonport bears no resemblance at all to the Penzance Egyptian House.  GC Boase, in his Reminiscences of Penzance,  states “About 1839, Mr Edward Lavin erected in Chapel Street, opposite the Union Hotel, a new house, planned in imitation of the Egyptian Hall, Picadilly, London. Few had, at this ante-railway period, been in London; and the house, from its peculiar ornamentation, excited considerable interest.”.  These notes were written in 1883-1884, taken from personal memory. Notwithstanding the error as to the Christian name, this contemporaneous report should be given credance.


Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly

[ from an engaving of T H Shepherd ]

Classical and Mathematical School, Devonport

[ from and engraving by T Allom 1838 ]


John Lavin married Frances Roberts of Paul 5th February 1822 at Illogan.

John Lavin died in 1956.

Frances  Lavin died 19th  March 1864, age 61.

Their only child, Edward was a minerologist and printer. The whole of the collection was sold to Baroness Burdett Coutts, and she gave the collection to Oxford University Museum. Edward Lavin was the owner of Mount’s Bay Hotel on the Esplanade, Penzance.


Edward Lavin married Mary Jane Herneman in 1848,

they had two children, a daughter (died young),

and a son John Lavin, a biscuit maker, who moved to Adelaide South Australia;

died 2 May 1881;

Mary Jane Lavin died 1860.


1841 Census for Penzance

Egyptian Hall, John Lavin, 45, Millener's J; Frances Lavin, 30;

Edward Lavin, 18, Bookbinders Ap.; John (Jnr) Lavin,17,Carpenters Ap.


Egyptian Hall, Wm. Pascoe, 65, Grocer; Hodgson Pascoe, 20, Watchmaker;

John Pascoe, 22, Attorney,S Clerk; Sophia Pascoe, 24, Draper's Sh;

Mary Pascoe, 20, Domestic

Ensign Pascoe, brother of Hodgson Pascoe,

together with his wife and two children,

were massacred at Mohaka NZ in April 1869.


1851 Census for Penzance

Chapel Street, John Lavin, 55, Mineralogist, Merthyr Glamorganshire

Frances Lavin, 48, Domestic Duties, Illogan


Chapel Street, Edward Lavin, 28, Printer, Penzance;

Mary Jane Lavin, 39, Printer’s Wife, Penzance


1861 Census for Penzance

Chapel Street, Frances Lavin, W, 58, Mineralogist, Pool
Edward Lavin, Son, W, 38, Mineralogist





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