Egyptian House reveals the concrete facts of its origins
For generations, the Egyptian House has been a flamboyant flavour of the Middle East set quirkily out of place amid a row of sea captains' houses in West Cornwall.
But now a piece of meticulous architectural detective work has revealed that the head turning folly many consider the jewel in the crown of Penzance is not all that it seems.
During a repair job which turned into a full blown restoration work, elements of the opulent embellishments long believed to be constructed of a valuable artificial stone have been found to be concrete.
However, Ian Burgess, principal conservator on the job, said it was no less valuable because of it.
"The Egyptian House is a fantastic building," he said.
"In my view, what we have found makes it even more remarkable.
"To find this material in this place dating from this time is unheard of."
The colourful Grade I listed Egyptian House was built in Chapel Street in 1835 as a geological museum and shop.
Its rather gaudy decor featuring eagles, lions and Egyptian busts, was long believed to be constructed of Coade stone, a popular material for creating life-like statues in the 1800s.
However, when Mr Burgess, of the building conservation company Osirion, was brought in by owners the Landmark Trust to repair years of damage caused by salty coastal air, he immediately had his doubts.
"My initial reaction was that this was not Coade stone," he said.
"The quality is key with Coade stone and it is said to be just like real life."
The first part to come under scrutiny was the eagle, which hangs with wings outstretched towards the highest point of the building's facade.
"We carefully took it down and stripped the paint off and found straight away that it was not Coade stone at all and it was more like modern concrete.
"I had it in the back of my mind that the eagle didn't look right and it didn't look lifelike or magnificent.
"It looked like a football shaped blob with a big budgie in the middle. It's talons were even just painted on."
After taking some anecdotal evidence, Mr Burgess and the team believe the eagle was replaced in the 1940s and as part of the restoration project have recreated the original vision.
There were also issues over the lion, described as looking a little like Chewbacca, the giant Wookie from Star Wars, and a unicorn which "looked more like a pantomime horse."
Mr Burgess promised the embellishments had been returned to their former glory and would turn heads once more.
But their investigations pointed to the original construction being Parker's Cement, a pioneering material made in Kent in the late 1700s.
The discovery posed many questions, not least of which was how it got to Penzance.
"I think we are looking at a building which may be more unique than if the embellishments had been Coade stone," he said..
"It is remarkable that it is here at all. It's unique. There may not be another building between Penzance and London featuring Parker's cement."