The mysterious shell grotto of Margate

We discovered this on an episode of Bargain Hunt of all things. They always have a ‘local interest’ piece in the middle of the programme and yesterday was the turn of Margate and its amazing shell grotto.

According to both the programme and articles online (like this one in Atlas Obscura), the grotto was ‘discovered’ in 1835 by a local man digging a duck pond. He must have got quite a shock when instead of a few feet of clay he unearthed a large hole in the ground which led down to this amazing space.

The grotto consists of various passages and rooms, all heavily decorated with shells. Unlike similar constructions (at A La Ronde near Exeter, for instance) the shells aren’t particularly exotic – just everyday oyster, clam and mussel shells that would have been readily available from the nearby beach.

More mysterious, though, is the grotto’s history. There are no records of it being built and the unusual, Eastern-influenced designs – and the fact that Victorian gas lighting has rendered it impossible to date by radio-carbon – have led people to suggest some rather wild theories including Phoenicians, Romans and even aliens!

My own feeling is that it’s unlikely to be Roman because the arches have pointed tops, but pretty much anything else is up for grabs. What’s your favourite theory?

(Photo from the Historic Mysteries website.)

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