Egyptian London
July 2011

Welcome to the July 2011 issue of the Egyptian London Newsletter, and congratulations if you could work out the meaning of the hieroglyphs.  (If not, read on to the end.)

Even Better Value
If you look at the web site, you will see that by popular request there are now two prices.  Regular pre-booked tours and walks now cost only £6 for 60+ and full-time students.  That works out at between £3 and £4 an hour, and represents great value for money, especially if you consider the price of coffee in London nowadays.

Solved: The Mystery of the Mausoleum
One of the London sites included in 'Egypt in England' is the magnificent Egyptian style Gordon Mausoleum at Putney Vale Cemetery.  This has been featured in books before, such as J S Curl's great 'Egyptomania', but there was a mystery surrounding it.  There is nothing on the outside to show who it belonged to, and on the inside, there is only a single word 'Gordon' on the slab sealing the vault.  Enquiries to the cemetery authorities and local history societies drew a blank, apart from the information that it was occupied by Alexander Gordon, who had died in 1910 aged 69.  But who was Alexander Gordon?  One theory was that he might be a younger brother of the famous Gordon of Khartoum, but no-one knew for certain.

The answer turned out to be quite unexpected.  A  trip to the British Library's Newspaper Library at Colindale, and a dig through the gloomy microfilm copies of the Wandsworth Borough News produced a notice in the 'Deaths' column for 16th September 1910

“On the 11th Sept, at “Woodfield”, Lytton-Grove Putney, SW, the residence of his son. Col. Alexander Gordon, late of President McKinley's staff, of Shrewsbury Park, Seabright, New Jersey, and Hamilton, Ohio USA, aged 69. No flowers, by request.”

So Alexander Gordon was American, a Colonel, and had been attached to a President's staff.  But who was he?  A little more delving turned up an article in an American paper, the Hamilton Journal-News.  Alexander Gordon originally worked for James and Jonathan Niles, brothers whose business, among other things, repaired steamboats on the Ohio River.  During the Civil War, when this side of the business boomed, they needed needed another lathe, but none were available.  Two of their employees, of whom Gordon was one, built the lathe and were so successful that the company started a machine tool department.  After the Civil War, Gordon and his fellow employee went into partnership with a wealthy local businessman, and bought the machine tool business from the Niles brothers.  The Niles Tool Works, as it was called, moved from Cincinnati to Hamilton, and went on to become part of a conglomerate which at the time was the biggest machine tool company in the world.  The company's extensive contracts with the US military would explain Gordon's involvement with President McKinley, although Gordon's title of 'Colonel seems to have been a courtesy one.  Gordon was a technical expert, and travelled all over the world for the company, including to Egypt.  In retirement he may have moved to London to live with his son.  The design of Gordon Senior's monument may have been inspired by his experiences of Egypt, or by the name of his company, but there is a Cairo in America, on the Ohio River, and a Thebes in Illinois, a Memphis in Tennessee, and the Mississippi has been called 'The American Nile', so maybe it isn't so surprising after all.

Egypt in England
'Egyptian London' newsletter is a bit of a misnomer at the moment, as most of my attention has been outside London, and on 'Egypt in England'.  The draft text of the book has now gone off to the referees, and is awaiting their comments.  Despite a delay of several months waiting for the last photos to be taken by English Heritage's photographers, I am keeping my fingers crossed that we are still on track to meet the original publication date of February 2012.

Next Time
In the next issue, how a treasure trove of letters to and from the Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi Junior threw light on the vexed question of who designed Temple Mill in Leeds, and another mystery cleared up as restoration of the Egyptian Hall at Stowe begins.

Send me your comments on this issue, and if you are still wondering about the hieroglyphs at the top, they are read as (something like) Wepoot, and are the Middle Egyptian for...message or news.

Ankh Wedja Seneb

September 2011

Welcome to the September 2011 issue of the Egyptian London Newsletter.

Egypt in England - Update

Egypt Uncovered - the restoration of the Egyptian Hall at Stowe

The Mystery of Marshall’s Mill

Egypt in England

One reason there was no August newsletter was that The Scribe of Light was busy with revisions to the draft of Egypt in England.  The text needed to be revised to reflect comments from internal and external referees, and updated to incorporate late breaking discoveries on several of the sites.  There was also a lot of tweaking and polishing of text along the way to improve readability. A few extra figures (illustrations or photos to you and I) have been squeezed in.  This meant renumbering all the existing figures (by hand, to prevent problems with the desk top publishing software), but gave me the chance to look through printouts of the existing figures.  Given more time and a bigger budget...but that would be getting greedy.  I actually think that the number and variety of illustrations is really impressive, for which all credit to English Heritage.

The next step is copy editing, and then the design and layout begins.  Because of the delay in getting the final new photos of locations, the publishing date has slipped, and is now estimated as June 2012.  This seems like a long time at the moment, but will soon pass.  Another update as soon as there is anything significant to report.

Egypt Uncovered - Restoration at Stowe

The Egyptian Hall at Stowe was one of the first Egyptian style interiors in England, but like many great country houses Stowe suffered an almost terminal decline, and at one point was faced with demolition.  Thankfully, that never happened, but the contents of the house, including the Egyptian Hall, were sold off in two great auctions.  As a result, the Egyptian Hall was a shadow of its former self, although still of considerable interest.

The good news is that, as part of the overall restoration of Stowe, work has now begun on the Egyptian Hall.  Scraping through layers of paint revealed that much of the walls had originally been finished in a textured surface designed to resemble sandstone, original mouldings have been uncovered, and window openings unblocked.  Most exciting of all, it should be possible to restore all of the painted canvas panels that once decorated the hall.  These were sold off in 1922, and their current whereabouts, or even if they have survived, is unknown.  The main central panel was also a bit of a mystery, as it was not shown in the watercolour which is the only known depiction of the hall.  Some shrewd detective work in the British Library has almost certainly provided the source for the missing panel, which can now be restored.  It is hoped that restoration will be complete by the end of September, although some fixtures and fittings may not be in by then.

The Egyptian Hall at Stowe is, of course, one of the locations in ‘Egypt in England’, and is well worth a visit.  (Check on the web site for details -

Marshall’s Mill - the missing links

One of the most spectacular pieces of Egyptian style architecture in England is the former flax mill in Leeds, built by the Marshall family, and now better known as Temple Mill.

For a long time, the designer of the mill, and the office building which is attached to it, was uncertain.  Several people were credited, including the painter David Roberts, famous for his engravings of Egypt, and Ignatius Bonomi, the brother of the artist and Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi Junior.  Roberts was known to have been involved, because of correspondence mentioning him which is held in Cambridge University Library, and Ignatius Bonomi was an architect, whereas his brother, although he did some architectural work, was better known for his illustrations of Egyptological books.

When the entry for Marshall’s/Temple Mill was first written for ‘Egypt in England’, it seemed that the full story might never be known, and so, having assessed the available evidence, I made my best guess.  Then, at almost the last minute, I was put in touch with Eric Throssle, a conservation architect (and a very active nonegenarian to boot) who has been researching Joseph Bonomi’s architectural work.  He in turn put me in touch with a descendant of Bonomi, who had a treasure trove of correspondence to and from Bonomi.  This provided the missing links which established who had been responsible for the design of the main mill and the offices, and it wasn’t Ignatius Bonomi.  For the full, and quite complicated story, you’ll have to wait for the book, but all is revealed there, together with sheep on the roof and giant Egyptian style steam engines.

Until next time,

Ankh Wedja Seneb

October 2011

Welcome to the October 2011 issue of the Egyptian London Newsletter.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Trying to organise tours and walks on a fixed schedule is always a problem, so the booking system for Egyptian London Tours and Walks has just undergone a major overhaul to make it much more flexible.  It now allows people to request any walk for any day or time.  This may not always be possible, but it does mean that you are much more likely to get what you want.  The new system may need a few tweaks, and any feedback is welcome.

Some people prefer not to pay on-line, and so the option of paying on the day has been added as well.

The Elderly Lady’s Elephant

It’s hard now to believe that the whole Egyptian London tours and walks thing started off as one walk, from Cleopatra’s Needle to the British Museum.  Over the years, as more and more material came out of the research, this spawned (if that’s the right word) the current family of tours and walks, but it didn’t stop there.  Doing justice to the story of Cleopatra’s Needle was getting more and more difficult, so The Elderly Lady’s Elephant walk now starts in Trafalgar Square, rather than Leicester Square.  This not only makes it more closely focused on the story of the London Obelisk, but gives more time at the Needle itself.  (The Leicester Square material is still covered on two other walks.)  So if you fancy finding out how the Needle came to London, and why it took so long, not to mention what is under the obelisk, and what the mysterious Browning’s Invisible Preservative is, wrap up warm and come and find out.  (Or book one of the British Museum tours if you prefer to be indoors at this time of the year.)

Been there, seen it, and got the fridge magnet

No t-shirts (yet), but as going on one of the tours and walks qualifies you as an honorary Egyptian Londoner, there should be some way of marking it.  So our discriminating clients now have the opportunity to acquire a souvenir of their visit in the shape of a fridge magnet featuring the Egyptian London logo.  Manufactured to the same quality as those on sale at the British Museum, but at a fraction of the cost.  (Well, £2, anyway.)  Impress your friends, family and neighbours, and keep shopping lists on the fridge in a way the Ancient Egyptians could only dream of.

Until next time,

Ankh Wedja Seneb

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November 2011

Welcome to the November 2011 issue of the Egyptian London Newsletter.

Egypt in England - Points of Interest

Right from the start, I wanted Egypt in England to be not just a book about Egyptian style architecture in England, but a practical guide that people could use to visit the locations described and illustrated in it.  When I was doing the research, I relied on my trusty sat nav to find sites and get me from one to another.  Finding a post code to put in it was sometimes tricky, but once I had found what I was looking for I could log my location in a Points of Interest file.  Recently, I made the last location visit, to the pyramidal mausoleum at Blickling designed by Joseph Bonomi Senior, and the POI file is now complete.  When the book is published, I hope that English Heritage will make it available as a download from their web site, and I'll certainly be putting it on the Egyptian London site.  At the moment, I know the file works with TomTom devices, although it hasn't been tested for other makes, but it should be a fairly simple job to convert it if necessary.

A Flavour of Egypt

If you live within reasonable travelling distance of Aylesbury, and are interested in gardening, you may be interested to know that the Buckinghamshire Gardens Trust have an annual seminar,  and next year's is on the theme of 'The Egyptian Flavour in the English Garden'.  It is held at Hartwell House, now a very chic country hotel, and in its grounds can be found the Egyptian Seat designed by Joseph Bonomi Junior for Dr John Lee, which is one of the locations in Egypt in England.  The seminar is on Saturday 11th August 2012, and I will announce further details as they emerge, or you can visit the Trust’s web site:
I was both pleased and flattered to be asked to give the keynote speech at the seminar, and am looking forward myself to the other proposed speakers.  Last year, the cost was £70 for the day, but I think this includes lunch and refreshments, and the standard of both should be good, judging from my own experience.

Egyptian Londoners

A long time ago, when I started to research London's Egyptian connections, I intended to publish the results as a book.  At first, I wasn't even sure that there would be enough material, but after a while it was obvious that this wasn't going to be a problem.  When English Heritage commissioned Egypt in England, the theme narrowed to architecture and interiors, but the scope expanded to cover the whole of England.  Egyptian London, the book, is starting to morph into something much wider, so rather than save it all for the book, when that eventually emerges, I thought that I would make at least some of the material available through my web site.  The first of this is 'Egyptian Londoners', short biographical notes on people with a link to London and a connection with Egypt.  The first three are up on the web site, but to give you a sample, here is the first one, on Sir Ralph Abercromby.  Who? I hear you ask.  Someone as famous as Nelson in his own day, but virtually forgotten now, which I think is a shame.  Read on, and find out more:

Abercromby, Gen Sir Ralph

1734 – 1801

Victor of the Battle of Alexandria, which saw the defeat of French land forces in Egypt, and the end of Napoleon's expedition. Despite being extremely short sighted, the Scottish born Abercromby had served with great distinction in every important campaign of his era, from the Seven Years War to the Napoleonic. At the age of sixty-six, he was appointed Commander in Chief British Forces in the Mediterranean, and on 24th October 1800 was ordered to proceed to expel or capture the French army left in Egypt by Napoleon. With a force of 14,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 600 artillery, he anchored in Aboukir Bay on 2nd March 1801, and landed against heavy opposition on 8th March. After a series of skirmishes en route to Alexandria, he was attacked by the forces of General Menou on 21st March. Menou was defeated with heavy losses, with over a thousand dead, including three French generals, while the English lost less than 250 men. During the battle, Abercromby suffered a sabre cut to the chest when he was almost captured by French cavalry, but was also hit by a musket ball in the thigh, and died of gangrene a week later on the British flagship. He was buried on Malta, but Parliament paid for a monument to him, flanked by sphinxes, in St Paul's Cathedral. In despatches signed by nine generals, one admiral, two rear admirals and four Captains, his death was described as

“Recorded in the annals of his country, sacred to every British soldier and embalmed in the recollection of a grateful posterity.”

It was also less elegantly eulogised by his fellow Scot, William Topaz McGonagall, often described as one of the worst poets in the English language.

“Oh! It was a glorious victory, the British gained that day,
But the joy of it, alas! Was unfortunately taken away,
Because Sir Ralph Abercrombie, in the hottest of the fight, was shot,
And for his undaunted bravery, his name will never be forgot.”

The Battle of Alexandria, or the Reconquest of Egypt

William McGonagall (1825 - 1902)

For many, the main motivation for bringing Cleopatra's Needle to London was so that it could act as a memorial to Nelson and Abercromby, and their military victories.

Until next time,

Ankh Wedja Seneb

December 2011

Welcome to the December 2011 issue of the Egyptian London newsletter.

Egyptian Londoners

Three more potted biographies on the web site, this time of three very different military men.  There is the father of modern Egypt, Mohammed Ali (who wasn't Egyptian), who planned to demolish the Pyramids, and was only narrowly persuaded not to; the High Commissioner who helped to negotiate Egyptian independence in the 1920s; and the Scottish general who decided that Cleopatra's Needle was finally going to come to England.  Read all about them by going to the Egyptian London page of the web site, and following the link at the bottom of the page.

Egypt in England

Last issue I mentioned the sat nav Points of Interest file for Egypt in England, but for those who prefer the fail safe technology of print, there will be maps as well.  One has now been completed, and the other is in hand.  These are the last outstanding elements before the production process starts in earnest, and the anticipated publication date is now late summer 2012.

Blue is the colour...

Filming is going on at the moment for a BBC documentary on Flinders Petrie, who has a good claim to be not only the Father of Egyptology, but of modern archaeology as well.  Petrie is one of only two Egyptologists currently commemorated in London by an iconic Blue Plaque, the other being Howard Carter.  However, I have also proposed Amelia Edwards, foundress of the Egypt Exploration Society, and sometimes referred to as the first woman Egyptologist, for her own Blue Plaque.  The process is a very long drawn out one, but she is slowly moving up to the top of the short list of candidates.

Compliments of the Season

From the Scribe of Light, to all his readers, a very merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and as always:

Ankh Wedja Seneb

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If you are wondering about the hieroglyphs at the top, they are read as (something like) Wepoot, and are the Middle Egyptian for...message or news.
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