The Shell Grotto, South East England

The Shell Grotto, South East England

Located in the picturesque town of Margate, the Shell Grotto remains one of England’s most enigmatic and captivating attractions.

Hidden beneath the earth, its winding passages are intricately adorned with around 4.6 million shells, meticulously arranged in mesmerising patterns and mysterious symbols.

Yet, despite its undeniable beauty, the origin and purpose of the Shell Grotto remain shrouded in mystery, beckoning visitors with its intriguing past.

A Mysterious Discovery

The grotto’s story began in 1835 when James Newlove accidentally unearthed it while digging a pond. Upon lowering his son into the cavity, they discovered the remarkable subterranean cavern, its walls embellished with a myriad of seashells.

This discovery instantly piqued the interest of locals and, before long, the grotto was opened to the public, turning into a Victorian sensation.

A Tapestry of Shells

Spanning over 70 feet, the grotto comprises a series of winding passages leading to an oblong chamber, known as the Altar Room. Every inch of the space dazzles with intricate designs created from cockles, whelks, mussels and oysters.

The artistry suggests that its creators had a profound appreciation for beauty and detail, and their handiwork feels almost meditative in its execution.

Theories and Legends

As time has passed, a web of theories have been woven around the grotto’s beginnings. Some speculate it once served as a pagan sanctuary, while others suggest it could have been a clandestine rendezvous for a hidden society.

Yet another captivating notion posits that it was a lavish 18th-century folly. Despite exhaustive studies, its genuine inception and purpose continue to be enigmatic, further magnifying its mystique.

Modern-Day Attraction

Today, the Shell Grotto is a cherished attraction, drawing visitors from far and wide. Every step inside feels like a journey into a different world, where the soft flicker of lights accentuates the shimmering beauty of the shells.

The quiet, almost reverent atmosphere allows visitors to ponder its mysteries and appreciate the incredible handiwork that must have taken countless hours to complete.


The grotto’s charm extends far beyond its guided explorations. Over the years, it has become a venue for a myriad of events, encompassing art showcases and melodic renditions. The unique acoustics of its chambers provide a magical backdrop for close-knit musical sessions.

The Gift Shop and More

The experience deepens with a visit to the grotto’s gift shop, a treasure trove filled with shell-inspired keepsakes, informative books detailing the grotto’s enigma, and distinctive curios. It offers the perfect opportunity to secure a tangible memory from this mysterious English gem.

Accessibility and Facilities

Understanding the varied needs of its visitors, the Shell Grotto ensures that most of its areas are accessible. While the nature of the site means that some parts might pose challenges for those with mobility issues, the management has gone to great lengths to provide as much access as possible. Informative signage and friendly staff are always on hand to assist and provide insights.

Visiting Margate

Being in Margate, the grotto offers the perfect start or end to a day exploring this charming seaside town. Rich in art, culture, and history, Margate complements the mysterious beauty of the Shell Grotto, making it a must-visit destination on England’s coast.

Address – 33 Grotto Hill, Cliftonville, Margate, CT9 2BU
Telephone – 01843 220008


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