Pontypool Shell Grotto

Pontypool Park
South Wales
United Kingdom
Telephone: 01495 766754

The Shell Grotto is a Grade II* listed, late-18th-century stone built, slate roofed shell grotto decorated with shells and animal bones on the interior. It stands on a prominent ridge 700 ft (213 m) above sea level, within the boundary of the 64 hectare Pontypool Park, Torfaen in South Wales. It is considered to be the best surviving grotto in Wales and is a local landmark commanding views south towards the Severn Estuary. A little further along the same ridge can be found the Folly Tower.

The grotto was commissioned by John Hanbury as a hunting lodge/summerhouse in the late 18th century (1794). The Hanbury family used the grotto for picnics during game shoots throughout the 19th century. In 1882 the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), is said to have picnicked at the grotto during a shoot.

During the early 19th century, Capel Hanbury-Leigh undertook renovations of his family house and the park's grounds and it is thought that his wife Molly Ann was responsible for the interior shell decoration circa 1830. She apparently originated from the Mackworth family of ironmasters. Although there is only circumstantial evidence that the shell interior was Molly's creation, it is known that she was an avid collector of shells and built another shell grotto at her home at Gnoll. (see Gnoll Grotto entry)

The grotto at Pontypool is constructed of local red Pennant sandstone and conical stone tiled with a fan vaulted roof (with six fans rising from six pillars) and the interior is covered with thousands of shells interspersed with minerals and real stalactites. The floor incorporates animal bones and teeth forming circles, stars and diamonds.

During the 20th century the grotto began to fall into disrepair and by the early 1990s the building was beginning to suffer from the elements as well as vandals. The roof of the grotto had collapsed, and some of the outer walls were beginning to crumble. Public access to the grotto was stopped during the 1970s.

Although some minor restoration to the roof was undertaken in January 1992, the grotto continued to suffer and the external walls were quickly becoming a major issue. It was during 1992 and 1993 that the intervention of the Welsh Heritage Authority, Cadw, and the European Regional Development Fund, that enough donations were secured to cover complete restoration of the building.

The exterior of the building was restored over eight months during 1993 and 1994 which included repairs to damaged stone work, renovation of the chimney, roof timber replacement, a new roof, a replacement door and new windows and shutters.

The summer of 1994 saw completion of the exterior work. Although the exterior was now complete the magnificent shell interior was in complete disarray, due to the elements, the collapsed roof and vandals.

In 1995 a campaign was begun to raise funds to match the local council's resources to restore to former glories the interior of the grotto. Donations were secured once again from Cadw and from the Heritage Lottery Fund in Wales.

Restoration of the shell interior commenced in 1996 and a specialist team of conservators (St Blaise Ltd.) did the restoration of the intricate plaster and shell work. Repairs to the ceiling, pillars, walls and floors took four months to complete.

The restoration of one of the finest shell grottoes in Wales was completed in December 1996. This enabled residents and visitors to once again visit this magnificent hilltop Grotto and enjoy the splendour of the shell interior and the panoramic views.

The Park is now a public leisure facility and the grotto exterior can be viewed when the park is open. The interior of the grotto is only available for viewing at certain times (see website below).

Website: Click Here





Click to go to Grotto.Directory home page


Open set times only


Access on Foot, Free Entry, Grotto - just one, Part of a larger tourism attraction, Restaurant/Food, Toilets, Tourism Information


Park or Garden, Upland




+Cared for and maintained in good condition, +Crystals and/or minerals, either natural or simulated, +Dark and mysterious chambers and cave like spaces, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Fossils and/or shells incorporated into the decor, +Internal stonework that is natural, recycled or simulated to give a subterranean decor, +Stunning setting and location, +Viewing points from within to an intriguing landscape outside, GRADED EIGHT

(C)Copyright The Spas Research Fellowship. To contact the SRF, email: srf@thespas.co.uk or mail to: Tower House, Tower Road, Tadworth, Surrey. KT20 5QY. UK