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Latitude: 51.7036 / 51°42'12"N
Longitude: -3.024 / 3°1'26"W
OS Eastings: 329333
OS Northings: 201031
OS Grid: SO293010
Mapcode National: GBR J4.3XQJ
Mapcode Global: VH79S.JFPX
Entry Name: Shell Grotto
Listing Date: 2 July 1962
Last Amended: 29 May 1997
Source ID: 3112
Building Class: Gardens, Parks and Urban Spaces
Location: At the summit of the hill in the north east corner of Pontypool Park.
Locality: Pontypool Park
Traditional County: Monmouthshire
This grotto is reported by Barbara Jones to have been decorated by the hermit who occupied it between 1830-1844, but this appears an unlikely origin. It is more likely to have been built for Capel Hanbury Leigh, the owner of Pontypool Park, in the 1830's when there were 85 workers unemployed on the estate and this building was put up to provide work. The building is said to have been designed by a Bath architect, Stephen Gunstan Tit. The decoration is supposed to have been designed, and partly executed, by Molly Mackworth who was Capel Hanbury Leigh's first wife. The building was used for picnics by the Hanbury Leigh family, where they could escape from the elements on this beautiful but extremely exposed hilltop.
A grotto or summer-house built at the summit of the hill with wonderful views but no outlook since it is a building designed purely for interior effect. The exterior, which was restored in 1994, is almost circular, with a wall of roughly coursed limestone rubble on the windward side, this contains a deeply indented doorway; and a random rubble wall with four small windows on the north side. These windows are metal framed casements with leaded lattices of partly coloured glass and Y-tracery and plank shutters. These are reproduction features of 1994. The roof is a cone of stone slates, and there is a small chimney.
The interior of this grotto is particularly fine and is undergoing full restoration at the time of writing (November 1996). It has a small fireplace and four windows with partly-coloured glass as already described. The roof is vaulted and is supported on six slender columns, which were traditionally supposed to be trees but are actually stone built. The whole of the wall and ceiling surface is plastered and decorated in patterns of shells, and with quartz, spar, mica and other reflective crystals.The patterning includes stars, flowers and geometric designs. Each arch is outlined in larger shells, with plate oysters at the springing of each arch, while each roof section has a pendant with a pink conch as the finial. The teeth and bone floor is patterned with interlacing arcs, flowers and a ring of hearts and diamonds. Much of this work is entirely new, but reproduces the previous patterning as far as possible. This is a high quality piece of imaginative design, and is entirely typical of the age and society which produced it.
Listed Grade II* as an exceptionally fine folly/grotto which is probably the most important surviving example in Wales, as well as the most significant building in the important Pontypool Park.
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