I’m a lover of surprises – it’s even better when such surprises are big mysteries. There are number of historical mysteries which are yet to be solved.
What’s the secret behind the construction of pyramids? What triggered the Stone-Age period? There is a lot of excitement that surrounds such historical puzzles and it’s something I like.
With that, you can imagine how interested I was when I came across the mystery featured in this story. I’m yet to understand where the architecture and craftsman covered came from. How did they manage to build it and how was that possible? What made the builder to go through the trouble of hiding such an elaborate and enormous structure?
When James Newlove who lived in Margate, England was digging in the filed back in 1835, something strange happened – his shovel disappeared into a hole. Shocked, he decided to do some investigation. He tied some rope around the waist of Joshua (his son,) and gave him a candle and then lowered him into the hole. What followed was an unbelievable discovery.
The breathtaking photos and the story is one of those mysteries which have lasted for two centuries without an answer.
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When Joshua was lowered into this mysterious hole, he was shocked to discover a winding underground tunnel intricately covered with millions and millions of carefully placed shells!
James and Joshua Newlove had stumbled upon the Shell Grotto. Where did this grotto come from and how did it end up below a farmer’s field? The mystery surrounding the Shell Grotto quickly made it one of the biggest tourist attractions around.
James Newlove took full advantage of the marketing appeal of the Shell Grotto and opened it to the public in 1838. Part of its appeal came from its surprise appearance. These tunnels never appeared on any map and no one had ever heard stories of its construction.
Visitors to the mysterious underground chambers were greeted by 4.6 million shells and 70 feet of winding tunnels! Ornate mosaics adorned every wall and were made from mussel, oyster, whelk, cockle, and even a few rare queen conch shells.
The unexplained nature of the Shell Grotto drew all kinds of people — including these women performing a seance in the grotto in the 1930s.
Today, visitors continue to climb down into the Shell Grotto to explore its chambers, but its origins still remain a mystery.
In Europe during the 1700s, shell grotto construction was extremely popular among the powerful and elite. But this Margate Shell Grotto was hidden beneath land that never formed the part of any rich person’s estate, making its origins even more curious.
Because of the scope of building such an undertaking, the people of Margate would certainly have noticed if construction materials and millions of shells were being utilized in the middle of a farm field. But the lack of any knowledge on the part of the townspeople only adds to the mystery!
Over the years, rumors surfaced that perhaps the Shell Grotto was a smuggler’s cave used for hiding stolen treasure. But the grotto is located extremely far inland, away from the sea, making it hard to reach with booty. And even if it were a smuggler’s cove, this wouldn’t explain why it was so meticulously decorated in shells.
Each of the shells was affixed to the walls of the grotto using one of five different types of mortar. Though beautiful, the shells appear extremely dirty. After years of lighting the Shell Grotto with gas lamps, the shells were left covered in layers of carbon deposit.
Most of the Shell Grotto lies less than six feet below the surface underneath a layer of concrete. The concrete, which was applied in the 1980s, accidentally increased damp conditions in the grotto, causing damage to the incredible mosaics.
As a result, a massive conservation effort has been underway to repair damage to the Shell Grotto and keep it preserved for years to come.
To this day, the origin of the Shell Grotto of Margate continues to baffle historians. It remains one of the most beautiful mysteries of the past 200 years!
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