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.
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??