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Touring Ancient Egypt in the North



 WITH our travelling exhibition ‘Resurrecting Ancient Egypt: a Monumental Yorkshire Journey’ opening at its third Yorkshire destination the Holding Space Gallery, it highlights the rich seam of Egyptian inspiration to be found right here on our Northern doorsteps. 


For the exhibition’s new venue in Saltaire (above left) lies close to Bradford’s Undercliffe Cemetery (above right), in which the magnificent Illingworth Mausoleum - complete with winged sun disks and guardian sphinxes - was built as a permanent memorial to the local MP and industrialist Alfred Illingworth (1827-1907) (as featured at: ANCIENT EGYPT IN YORKSHIRE & THE FESTIVE SEASON (immortalegypt.co.uk)

Temple Works aka Temple Mill in Leeds © LeedsLive


And with West Yorkshire’s Egyptian splendours continuing over in Leeds, the UK’s only full-sized Egyptian temple can be found at Holbeck (above). Originally created as a textile mill in the 1830s, ‘Temple Works’ (aka Temple Mill) was modelled on aspects of Edfu, Dendera and Philae temples, complete with a long-gone chimney disguised as a huge obelisk. As a Grade-I listed building it is currently undergoing much-needed long term restoration by Heritage Architecture Ltd, who kindly allowed University of York conservation students - and us - to take an in-depth tour of progress so far – amazing! 


But this isn’t West Yorkshire’s only Egyptian temple, since another albeit much smaller one houses a reservoir valve house high on the moors above Hebden Bridge. And there are pyramids too, to be found in Adel, Badsworth, West Bretton, Nostell Priory and over the North Yorkshire border at Castle Howard, whose grounds also feature a 100 foot tall obelisk. 


Built to rival the UK’s oldest obelisk erected over 300 years ago in Ripon marketplace, this first Ripon obelisk was commissioned by local MP John Aislabie of nearby Studley Royal, where a second such obelisk stands on the site of Aislabie’s 50-foot high stepped pyramid memorial. Unfortunately demolished soon after construction, apparently due to subsidence, Egyptomania nonetheless remained strong in Ripon, where a pyramid tops the gravesite of husband-and-wife explorers Charles and Jessie Smyth (below left) in fitting tribute to their pioneering work surveying and photographing the interior of Giza’s Great Pyramid back in 1864. 

Pyramid memorial over the grave of Charles and Jessie Smyth near Ripon © Gavin/Atlas Obscura, with Scarborough’s Egyptian Gates © D.Chalmers


A quick trip across to the seaside then takes in the Burniston Pyramids of the SeaLife Centre beside Scarborough’s North Bay sands, and with a huge stone obelisk war memorial set atop the town’s highest point above South Bay, a splendid pair of wrought iron Egyptian gates were erected here too in 1840, replicating the papyrus-form stone columns of Egypt’s many temples. 


Further down the coast where East Yorkshire’s Egyptian-inspired monuments are entirely obelisk-shaped, Egypt’s influence then increases dramatically towards the industrial heartlands of South Yorkshire. For here can be found the Egyptian gates and buildings of Sheffield’s Sharrow Vale Cemetery, and the multiple pyramid-topped memorial in Barnsley’s Silkstone churchyard, testament to the 26 children tragically killed in the 1838 Huskar Pit disaster (below left) which has distant links to our own family history. 

The pyramid-topped Huskar Pit memorial © Kyte Photography with Barnsley’s Locke Park Tower © ImmortalEgypt


Yet it was the vast wealth once derived from coal which largely paid for the building of Wentworth Woodhouse, a stately home set between Barnsley and Rotherham. With its 618 feet wide main façade the longest in the UK, its original approach once passed through a steep-sided Pyramid Gateway, ironically now suffering from subsidence due to its location above the rich Barnsley coal seam. It also sits on the same ridge of high land as Wentworth’s nearby Pyramid Memorial, a glorified viewing platform whose purpose has much in common with Barnsley’s own Locke Park Tower (above right).


As a prominent local landmark visible from my window as a child, already dreaming of becoming an Egyptologist, I then had no idea that the tower’s architect had been part of a pioneering expedition to Egypt in the 1860s. Yet as we’ve discovered since, he’d studied, drawn and painted many of the ancient sites including the aforementioned Edfu, Philae and Dendera temples with their blend of Egyptian, Greek and Roman architecture, all of which had clearly inspired his later Barnsley commission. From its classical-style engaged columns to its repeated lion head carvings, the inside of the tower’s conical roof was even once painted blue with gold stars, not only tapping into the Victorians’ love for Gothic Revival but the star-spangled ceilings of the royal tombs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

Jo in Tuthmosis III’s burial chamber - in Bolton © L.Campbell


Yet even these we can visit right here in the North simply by travelling over the Pennines to Bolton, whose wonderful museum has the only replica royal tomb from the valley outside Egypt! And with its ceiling festooned with these same golden stars above walls covered in thousands of little figures from the Egyptian Underworld, watch out for our new YouTube film of the tomb at Video | Immortal Egypt coming soon .... see you there!


'Resurrecting Ancient Egypt: a Monumental Yorkshire Journey’ can be seen at the Holding Space Gallery, John Street, Saltaire BD18 3HU until 6th May (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). For Bolton Museum’s daily opening times see Bolton Museum – Bolton Libraries and Museums (boltonlams.co.uk) 

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Jo at Abu Simbel_edited.jpg

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