Imagine if one day, you’re just going about your own business, digging a duck pond in your back garden (as you do, because you can) and your shovel doesn’t get stuck in the earth, but is swallowed by it. Whole. Literally, there’s no longer any dirt beneath your feet but a massive cavern like grotto. Well, this is exactly what happened to James Newline in 1835 when he stumbled upon the Margate shell grotto in his hometown of Margate.
In truth, this whole account may just be fabricated. In fact, there may never have been any intention of creating a duck pond at all. This is because no one’s quite sure when the Margate Shell Grotto was built/ conceived/ created or even by who! Was it the meeting point for pagan rituals? Was it a Roman temple? Or was it just created in the 1700s (most probable) so to draw crowds to the seaside town and mark Margate as a tourist hotspot by the water.
Margate Shell Grotto in Kent
Recently, I wrote an article about the lost Amber Room of Russia (otherwise known as the eighth wonder of the World) and how the entire space was tiled with amber mosaics. Well, the Margate Shell grotto goes one step further, decorating the entire cavern with shell mosaics. Estimates put the number of shells at 4.6 million; woah, can you even imagine all that work!
Because the cavern is decorated in shells (an organic material), you’d think that carbon dating would be able to solve the dating issue. Well, unfortunately, the Victorians ruined that one for us; the prolific use of gas lamps during the late 1800s/ early 1900s have rendered carbon dating useless. The gas lamps have also left the shells incredibly dirty and in need of a good clean. Unfortunately, no one has worked out how to clean the shells without destroying them yet!
Oh, and did I forget to mention that you can visit the grotto today? Opened to the public in 1838 (just three short years after its’ discovery), today the long passageway with one square room at the end (referred to the altar room) is a grade 1 listed building. Referred to ‘Shellhenge’ by Time Out, the Margate Shell Grotto in Kent should definitely grace more UK guidebooks than it does!
Opening times and prices can be found on the Shell Grotto’s website here.
(Cover photo source)