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Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Shell Grotto, Margate, Kent.


This is a modern copy of a panel in the Altar room, it took the lady who made it 5 months to do, which makes you realize the amount of work involved in making the whole grotto!!





Looking back to the entrance tunnel

The Shell Grotto in Margate was discovered in 1838, supposedly by some workmen, but there is also a tale that 2 children discovered the site. Either way the hole at the top of the dome was uncovered, and to the discoverers the shells inside must have looked like an Aladdin’s cave. It was an amazing discovery, with the walls and ceilings totally covered with shells. No one knows who or why the grotto was made, but there are over 4 million shells in an area of 2000 sq.ft.



A face?



The Serpentine path


The entrance to the Altar room


The entrance to the grotto is through a shop and small cafe, and is situated well off the usual tourist routes in Margate. We walked down a few steps from the shop into a small display area, then down a sloping passage and entered the grotto in the area known as the Rotunda, a circular chamber with a very large centre post. We chose the left hand path and followed it round until we came to the Dome. It is an awesome sight to see so many shells, although sadly the shells are all of a uniform colour. Originally the shells would have been beautifully coloured, but the Victorians used gas lamps to illuminate the grotto and the shells have been dulled by the soot from the lamps.




The Dome is amazing, and it has been noted that starting at the Spring equinox the sun moves down a line of double shells to the bottom of the dome chamber week by week until it hits the bottom of the line of shells at Midsummer before making its way back up to the top of the chamber for the Autumn equinox.



The panel that was copied, see the top photo.


The Altar alcove

There are many patterns and designs shown on the walls and it struck me straight away that this site is of pagan origin, with no Christian symbols anywhere. There are a lot of flowers and hearts, a panel which looks like a face in one, a skeleton, a phallic symbol and a womb complete with umbilical cord, and numerous suns and stars. The whole site had been described as a life journey with the Rotunda representing birth, the Serpentine Passage representing our journey through life, and rebirth being represented by the Altar chamber. The Altar chamber is incomplete, due to bomb damage sustained during WW2. Whatever the explanation is, the Shell Grotto is a fascinating place to visit, I hope one day someone will find all the answers!



Entering the Rotunda from the Altar room


The phallic symbol


The womb and the umbilical cord


A snake panel in the centre of the photo, the panel on the left shows bare slate which the shells are attached to, these bare spots probably had flowers on them originally.



The base of the Dome, showing the entrances to the Rotunda.



I am just about to start reading a novel about the Shell Grotto, ‘The Realm of Shells’, written by a local author Sonia Overall, I think it will be a very interesting read, I will let you know when I have finished reading it.


And finally, an example of what happens when you have the camera on the wrong setting!!! It looks quite nice gold don’t you think??


  1. That is absolutely fantastic Val, I've never hears of it, and what a story it tells, the work that has gone into it is phenomenal and must have taken years. Yes the bottom picture does look rather splendid, And fancy working out the phallic symbol LOL, I'm far too innocent to have done so. ;-)

    1. Arlene, as Pat says below the phallic symbol is pretty obvious, I did take a photo of the skeleton too but it didn't come out very well. It is an amazing place :)

  2. Arlene - you can't MISS the phallic symbol !! It's pretty much *in your face* when you come across it 11

    Val - told you it was a fab little place to see. I'm glad you managed to get there.

    1. Pat, I am so glad I got there, its just a shame Shaun wouldn't be able to get down there. I bet I go back to the grotto again, maybe after I have read the book mentioned in the blog :) See you Wednesday xx

  3. Fabulous Place Poppy now that is truly worth a visit.
    Enjoy your book lets know how you get on.
    Your photo's are great as always.
    Hugs Sheila

  4. Wow Poppy! That is truly amazing, I have never seen anything like it!
    Thanks for sharing & thanks for your recent visit... : ) Have a great week.

  5. Looks an interesting visit Val, and the statutoty tea retailing outlet attached :) I wounder if "discovered" in 1838 is all just part of the Victorian story. Doesn't change what it is though. Just as well I'm at sea or I'd be off to B&Q for a big tub of polyfilla and then off to the beach to see what I could find.

    1. The cafe is a fairly recent thing. When I was a kid, it wasn't there, it was just a small, dark shop with the entrance to the grotto behind the counter. It was the same when my husband & I took our daughter there in the mid/late 90s. I believe it was in the early 2000s that the shop was expanded & the cafe area was introduced. The last time I went,about 6 years or so ago, it had changed considerably - the counter was more to the right, the shop front was bigger, there were grotto souvenirs to buy, there were a few tables & chairs to sit & have snacks etc. The owner really has tried to make it more of a tourist attraction. It really is worth a visit, you won't see anything else quite like it :o)

  6. Awesome place Poppy...fantastic! Beautiful workmanship and must just say...I am totally awestruck by the last photo ;) lol :D It does indeed look wonderful in gold!!

  7. What a great place. the time spent doing this amount of work !!!!


  8. Amazing place, and the shells, good find, brilliant photos.