Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Shell Grotto at Margate

Thanks to my neighbor David, I just got my mitts on the June 2004 issue of World of Interiors. In the issue, there is an article on the Shell Grotto in Margate, England. The underground grotto's origins remain a mystery. There are some who believe its roots lie in ancient times; in fact, there are shell symbols and patterns on the walls that resemble those used by ancient Hindu, Egyptian, and Zoroastrian civilizations. Others, however, wonder if the shell grotto was a folly created during the Regency era. This debate will continue as carbon dating isn't an option. During the 19th century, the grotto was lit by gas lanterns, thus rendering carbon dating impossible. And by the way, the grotto was discovered in the 1830s by two school children who fell into the grotto while playing in their garden.

The grotto is really quite stunning as almost every surface is decorated with shells- 4.6 million shells, to be exact. Surely this is an estimate; who in the world would and could count all of those shells? An even bigger question for me, though, is how long it took to craft this marvel? Inquiring minds want to know.

This lancet arch leads to the altar chamber.

The altar chamber.

Designs on the altar chamber's walls include the Shield of Dionysus and the Tree of Life.

In this passageway, the designs resemble the lyre of Apollo on top of a flower motif.

Twin passageways lead to a rotunda.

The rotunda.

A "sacred ogee" in one of the passageways.

In the entry passageway, you see a three-pointed star, believed to represent a Vishnu turtle.

Etchings on a piece of slate.

All photos from World of Interiors, June 2004; Bill Batten photographer.


  1. How I adore the pages that you share from the older magazines and books! These shell designs are exquisite. I've featured your blog today at stylesson.

  2. This is amazing!! There is "something about" shells...I want to "SEA" it! fanki

  3. when i lived in the uk, i remember seeing a documentary on this place. it was fascinating.

  4. decoratorsinsider.com10:39 AM

    jennifer lovely blog on the shell grottos of Margate Wonderfully informative -- many years ago in print Decorators Insider did a column on Lake Maggiore's beautiful island Isola Bella with its Palace and terraced gardens ,Naploleons bedroom state rooms etc and six glorious grottoes all id B&W pebbles of sea creatures ,shells and swirling waves all concieved as summer vacation rooms to beat the Italian heat best Lemeau decorators insider

  5. Anonymous2:14 PM

    That's fabulous and mysterious! I used to live right down the road from Margate and never heard of this. I'll definitely look it up on my next visit.

  6. Anonymous4:23 AM

    cf. The Grotto Hall in the Neues Palais at Sanssouci in Potsdam for a glamorous above ground example.

  7. I love a great mystery; especially when it is a bit spooky and these grotto rooms are definitely spooky. I cannot imagine the number of hours that went into not only creation, but also the design of these rooms. I have made shell mirrors and they were definitely a labor of love and sweat. Thanks. Mary

  8. Love this post Jennifer! The planning, detail and time that went into this is almost unimaginable....And, I can't imagine it happening today, :)! Loved see you this week and our conversation.

  9. Amazing...The World of Interiors is my favourite of all the magazines... xv

  10. That is truly amazing! I can only imagine how long that would take and the intricacies.

  11. Thank you for sharing these. Those patterns - they should be made into textiles or something. Really very pretty.
    Jennifer @decaporter