An award of £48,200 has been made to the Shell Grotto – which will be shared with Margate Caves – from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage.
The two Margate attractions will share the slice of the £92million fund which is being managed by Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The cash will help ensure both sites can remain open over the winter and retain staff.
Grotto owner and Chair of Trustees for the Caves, Sarah Vickery said: “The application was in partnership with the Caves. The funding will keep both the Grotto and the Caves open over the winter and ensure we can retain all our staff.
“It will also allow us to work on staff sharing programmes, to make us both more effective and efficient. Plus it means we can embark on some joint marketing to maximise our appeal to visitors, particularly at a time when so many Thanet attractions are closed.”
The Shell Grotto was discovered by the Newlove family in 1835. It consists of 21 metres of winding passages decorated with 4.6 million shells. The walls are covered in images of gods and goddesses, trees of life and patterns of whelks, mussels and oysters. It terminates in a rectangular room, referred to as The Altar Chamber.
The most frequently used shells in the site are mussels, cockles, whelks, limpets, scallops and oysters. They are largely local. They could have been found in sufficient numbers from four possible bays: Walpole Bay in Cliftonville; Pegwell Bay, Cliffsend and Sandwich Bay.
The Grade I site is in Grotto Hill, Margate.
Margate Caves and the new community building in Northdown Road opened in August last year, marking a fresh chapter in the journey by The Margate Caves Community Education Trust which took on the task of bringing the project to reality, following a six year campaign.
The site is thought to have originally been excavated as a chalk mine in the late 17th/early 18th century.
Graffiti at the site dating back as far as 1808, such as some from a member of the Dutch Royal Navy dated late 19th/early 20th century, has been retained, the ice wells and fresh water – at high tide – can be seen and even the old entrance created by late 18th century site owner Francis Forster is evident.
Margate Caves is in Northdown Road.
The visitor attractions are among 152 heritage sites across the South of England allocated a lifesaving financial boost from the government thanks to a £1.57bn pot to support heritage and the wider cultural sector across England during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the first tranche of funding for heritage, covering grants of up to £1 million.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “As a nation it is essential that we preserve our heritage and celebrate and learn from our past. This massive support package will protect our shared heritage for future generations, save jobs and help us prepare for a cultural bounce back post covid.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay added: ““The Shell Grotto and shop is a magical, mysterious and beautiful place – one of Margate’s great little gems on the tourist trail in Thanet.
“This £48,200 of funding will greatly help with the Grotto’s conservation efforts and I would encourage all who have not yet seen it to go.”