I'm back in London and happily reviving my discoveries of Egyptianising architecture in the city. This week I was walking down Mornington Crescent with friends when something caught my attention, and as a result I was completely soaked by a passing bus veering through a huge puddle! Nevertheless my spirits weren't too dampened since that distraction was in fact the wonderful old Carreras Cigarette Factory in Camden, now Greater London House.
This building is another incredible illustration of the early 20th century vogue for Egyptianising architecture in London, much like the Carlton Cinema on Essex Road, juxtaposing 'traditional' ancient Egyptian temple elements in a distinctive Art Deco design. It was erected in 1926-28 by the Carreras Tobacco Company and the original design included an ornamental winged solar disk and two colossal seated bronze cat statues flanking the entrance in the form of the cat goddess Bastet. Carreras used the black cat as a marketing device; their cigarette packets also included a similar image. The main facade of the building was composed of a row of twelve brightly-painted papyriform columns and the handrails of the main entrance took the form of serpents. The outer ornamental railings incorporated a series of hieroglyphic motifs including the djed-pillar and decorative lotiform elements.
The official opening of the building was a grand event, including a procession of cast members from the contemporary theatrical production of Aida and a chariot race on Hampstead Road. It has since been argued that this design may have been deliberately chosen by the company in order to associate their cigarettes with the glamour and luxury of ancient Egypt.
During the 1960s many of the original Egyptianising elements were removed, in order to give the building a more minimalist modern appearance when it became Greater London House. Thankfully these elements were restored in the 1990s when the building was returned to its former Egyptianising glory, though interestingly the winged solar disc above the main entrance was not restored since it was considered to closely resemble the eagle imagery of the Third Reich.
A very pleasant chance discovery on a rainy London day!