In Kent England, in1835 a labourer was digging a
field just outside the English seaside town of Margate. His work was interrupted when he thrust his spade in to the soil and it simply vanished into the ground. The master of the nearby Dane House School, was made aware of this strange disappearance. He volunteered his young son, Joshua, for the task of being lowered, candle in hand, into the void via a length of rope
Joshua’s tale was nowhere near as tall as people may have at first imagined. When the hole was widened enough for adults to enter they too witnessed the wondrous contents of the winding subterranean passageway, complete with an altar chamber and rotunda.
We recently discovered that Lewis Carroll came to see the Grotto, on 28 September, 1870. He described it in his diaries as “a marvellous subterranean chamber, lined with elaborate shell-work”.
In 1837, just two years after its discovery, the grotto opened to a curious public. Yet to this day debate rages (in a very English way, of course, involving polite discussion over tea and cucumber sandwiches) about it origins.
It has been suggested that the grotto was a smuggler’s cave – almost all the shells are British and so it could have been a hideaway made by locals for stolen and contraband goods. Yet this idea doesn’t hold much water. Although near to the sea, the waves remain a number of miles
away and there are no tunnels from coast to ‘cave’. Plus with a distinct lack of an escape route any smuggler would have been mad to hide their booty here – not to mention the fact that they would have had to spend more of their time decorating the place than doing any actual smuggling. So, it’s a no to that theory.
Could it be a Roman temple? A remnant of dark-age rituals? A prehistoric astronomical calendar? Make up a theory and it could well be feasible. There have even been séances held in the grotto to try and contact the spirits of the builders, such as the one from the 1930s above.
The latest research which took place in 2006 points
towards an explanation which might please Indiana Jones fans. Mick Twyman of the Margate Historical Society put forward the suggestion that the grotto was built by the Knights Templar or their associates sometime in the middle 1100s.
Why not get the shells carbon-dated? This has been advised against. First and foremost quite a number of shell samples would be needed to ensure that dating caught the earliest shells and not just those used in previous (unknown) restoration work over the centuries. Secondly it’s expensive and money needs to be more urgently spent on conservation of the grotto.
What are your thoughts on who built this mysterious wonder?
Go here for a virtual tour of this spectacular grotto.
Photo thank you to: