Shell GrottoThe Shell Grotto provides a classic example of English understatement. While tourists are forever deluged with the glories of British Royal Palaces, stone circles, Gothic/Georgian/Victorian architecture, the Shell Grotto is a mysterious, marvel. First discovered accidentally in 1835, the shell grotto has only experienced a modest amount of fame.
Entrance is via the shell shop, down some stone stairs, through a chalk passage. Next, you'll find yourself amidst walls decorated with beautiful mosaics composed of some 50 different kinds of shells. Intriguingly, there's a Bacchus as well as a Ganesha, a 3 pointed star, ram's horns, phallic images and an altar room embellished with the sun, moon and stars. The amazing thing is that as yet no one knows where this came from, its age or the people behind it. Oil deposits from the Victorians effectively ruined all chances of carbon-dating while experts at the great old British Museum were stumped in their attempts to reproduce the glue that attaches the shells to the walls. Some estimates place the mysterious 150 foot temple as somewhere between 2000 and 3000 years old. Others believe the grotto to be a hoax and claim that as the patterns are largely Oriental in design, the grotto must surely be a mere 200 years old. The intrigue only adds to the charm and you can't help but wonder why Margate's Shell Grotto has yet to find a place for itself on the preservation list.
The discovery of the grotto itself is also shrouded in conflicting stories. The official version claims that a couple of kids, Fanny and Jushua Newlove, discovered the grotto but decided to keep their treasure a secret. Eventually James Newlove, their father, discovered the grotto and set about buying the property without telling the current owner of the find. It seems they then concocted a story about building a duckpond with the workmen finding the treasure. A plasterer was then hired to add lighting and by 1837, the grotto was opened to the public for the first time.
Address: Grotto Hill
Postcode: CT9 2BU
Town/city or near: Margate