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Shell House Showcase: Alexander Pope’s Grotto, Cross Deep, Twickenham

“Let all nature never be forgot/ Consult the Genius of the place in all”

This subterranean grotto/‘museum’ dating from 1719, is one of Britain’s earliest and most important for the Garden Historian.

It was frequently visited by wealthy estate owners wishing to create their own landscape retreats. Alexander Pope’s idea of placing a grotto within a naturalised landscape influenced Lord Cobham at Stowe; Ralph Allen at Prior Park, Bath; Lady Hertford at Marlborough; William Kent at Rousham and Mary Delany at Delville, Dublin.

At Twickenham, Pope’s grotto tunnel went under the Palladian villa, exiting into a garden with paths, statuary, a mound and shell pavilion. The included sketch, based on an 18th century drawing by William Kent, shows the grotto’s rusticated interior.

Today the grotto’s framework remains and the main tunnel and its two chambers can still be visited. A secondary chamber, with an early 18th century statue of St John of Bolingbroke, contains evidence of Pope’s collection of curiosities which he embedded into the walls - large ammonites- a gift from Sir Hans Sloane, a piece of basalt from the Giant’s Causeway, acanthus mouldings and a scallop shell probably ordered from Judge Fortesque, Devonshire, 1741.

In another ante chamber is a statue of St James with the scallop motif - this area has recently been restored by the Pope Preservation Society. All photographs are pre-restoration.

We are hoping to make a return visit in September 2021.

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