The Shell Grotto, an English tourist attraction in Margate Kent, is a 70-foot underground passageway, decorated with around 4 million seashells. According to the story, in 1835 James Newlove lowered his son Joshua into a hole in the ground that had appeared during the digging of a duck pond. When he came out, he told his father about this underground tunnel covered entirely in seashell mosaics. He had discovered the Shell Grotto.
Actually, many different stories about the discovery have been told and may not have involved duck ponds and small boys. By whatever means he did find it, James Newlove clearly saw the potential of his find. He installed gas lamps to light the passageway and three years later opened it to the public, coming as a surprise to the locals , as the place had never been marked on any maps, and nobody knew about its existence.
Debate of its origins has raged ever since the first paying customers went down the chalk stairway. Everything from an ancient temple, to a meeting place for a secret society or a wealthy family’s “folly”, that they were known to build for their amusement. At first glance the Grotto’s design just adds to the confusion, with shells creating swirling patterns and symbols. There are any number of explanations as to the meaning, trees of life, phalluses, gods, and something looking like an altar. However, there’s only one fact about the Grotto that is indisputable, that it is a unique work of art that should be preserved, whatever its origins.
Despite the multiple theories going around, no one has been able to solve the mystery of the Shell Grotto. Today, shell mosaics once again cover the entire 2000 square feet of the grotto and a team of conservationists is making sure this unique tourist attraction will be around to amaze and astonish visitors for years to come.