The Shell Grotto is an ornate subterranean passageway shell grotto in Margate, Kent. Almost all the surface area of the walls and roof is covered in mosaics created entirely of seashells, totaling about 190sq meters of mosaic, or 4.6 million shells. It was discovered in 1835 but its age and purpose remain unknown. The Grotto is a Grade I listed building and is open to the public.
The Shell Grotto consists of a winding subterranean passageway, about 2.4 meters high and 21 meters in length, terminating in a rectangular room, referred to as The Altar Chamber and measuring approximately 5 x 6 meters.
The excavations are entirely underground. Steps at the upper end lead into a passage about 1.07 meters wide, roughly drawn out of the chalk, which winds down in serpentine fashion until it reaches an arch, the walls and roof of which here onward are covered in with shell mosaic.
The arch leads to what is known as the Rotunda, a central circular column, meeting at the farther side at the Dome - a shaft rising to the surface, capped to allow some daylight into the structure. The plan of the sub-base of the Dome is triangular, equilateral, and with an arch in the center of each side. The two arches in the sides are those leading from the Rotunda, whilst the arch in the base leads into the Serpentine Passage. This passage, with its curving walls, and over-arching vaults is rich in mosaics of varied design.
At the end of the Serpentine Passage, a further arch leads into the Rectangular Chamber. Here the decoration takes on a more formal and geometric character, but still finely drawn and executed. The subjects are chiefly star and sun shapes. The focal point, the "altar" is the accurate niche which faces the entrance arch.
There are conflicting accounts of the Grotto’s discovery, although most agree on a date of 1835. The earliest reference to the discovery appears in an article in the Kentish Gazette of 22 May 1838, announcing its forthcoming opening as a public attraction.
It has remained in private ownership ever since.
In 1932, the then new owner took over the Grotto, and soon afterwards substituted electric lighting for the gas lighting that, over the decades, had blackened the once-colourful shells. Cleaning trials show that in the majority of the Grotto the shells have lost their colour under the dirt, and are white.
The true Purpose of the grotto
There was a man who lived on top of the location of shell grotto, he was well know spiritual healer just like today he had many people approaching him for healing.
Amongst these people many did not have the funds to pay him so he volunteered as charity helping the poor. The surrounding population grew and of his charitable time became well known. People came to give him gifts for his time as he did not accept funds from his voluntary time these gifts were shells and pearls. Over a long period of time the gifts increased as did the number of people who visited him.
After many years of giving his time helping others with his spiritual healing methods, he formed a large amount of shells and pearls. One day he fell in love and wanted to get married, so he decided to build an alter for his wedding.
The people who became close to him including many of the towns people wanted to help him as a form of repaying him back for his charitable work. So he designed an underground alter forming a large scale as they carved out a cave. Then he decided to place the shells and pearls on the inside of the cave decorating it with flower shapes and other images.
Once completed he got married in the shell grotto, walking down the cave with his wife to the large square room at the bottom of the grotto know today as the (ALTAR). (by grotto)
As shown on the pic from the official grotto website
There is a missing wall located in the altar room facing left as you walk into the room, this wall was originally formed by pearls of various shapes, sizes and colours. This wall now is missing and it has been destroyed.
Many years after his death, this grotto was located left in the condition it was made in. However, today the wall of pearls is missing. Today this wall has been noted as being destroyed by a bomb, and no other wall or part of the shell grotto was affected by the bomb.
That part of the wall has been rebuilt and covered with plaster and another door leading to passage to a road which could have been the main entrance has been blocked off and plastered too.
As shown on the pic from the official grotto website men plastering
Now the question remains today, why was the front main entrance not there and why was the door plastered on the inside? And if that was not the main entrance then where did that passage lead to? Or what could have been there from that door to the main road?
As shown on the pic from the official grotto website Old pic of grotto entrance