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Grotto or Shell House in the Grounds of Thames Eyot, Richmond upon Thames

Description: Grotto or Shell House in the Grounds of Thames Eyot

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 25 June 1983
English Heritage Building ID: 205298

OS Grid Reference: TQ1616572951
OS Grid Coordinates: 516165, 172951
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4436, -0.3299

Location: 3 Cross Deep, Richmond, Greater London TW1 1QY

Locality: Richmond upon Thames
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: TW1 1QY

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Listing Text


Later C18 or early C19 grotto or shell house at Thames Eyot, formerly the site of Poulett Lodge.

Reason for Listing

The later C18 or early C19 grotto or shell house, altered mid-C19, at Thames Eyot, formerly the site of Poulett Lodge, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
Architectural interest: shell house decorated in a precise geometric pattern to resemble a coffered vault which is separated by a deep horizontal band from the more randomly decorated vertical walls, and is possibly applied to an earlier garden structure;
Materials: created using scallops, winkles and other native shells, coloured slag and stone, fragments of glass and ceramic, set in cement on a brick base;
Rarity: rare example of a once common building type, where two thirds of the decoration remains in situ;
Historic interest: Poulett Lodge was one of a group of substantial houses and gardens fronting the River Thames at Twickenham, associated with the literary and dilettante circles which included Alexander Pope and Horace Walpole; the Tuscan loggia, which is typical of the early to mid-C19 development of the garden, reflects a C19 phase in the continuing development of the gardens where the historic and architectural interest ranges from the early C18 to the late C19.


The grotto or shell house and attached loggia (separately listed) are built against the southern boundary wall of the grounds now occupied by Thames Eyot, a 1930s block of serviced flats. In the 1740s Dr William Battie, President of the Royal Society of Physicians, had built a new house on the plot, on the site of an early C18 house which had been destroyed by fire in 1734. It was one of a group of substantial houses and gardens fronting the Thames at Twickenham, which were the centre of the literary and dilettante circle which included Alexander Pope and Horace Walpole. It became known as Poulett Lodge after the family who owned it from 1774 until 1838. The house and grounds were remodelled in the Italianate manner in the 1870s by Frederick Chancellor for the new owner William Punchard, however Poulett Lodge was demolished in the 1930s to make way for Thames Eyot flats. The grounds were re-planned and replanted in 1962.

The owners and tenants of these C18 riverside houses vied with each other to augment their gardens with a fashionable grotto, cold-bath or Chinese pavilion, and were invariably acknowledged by a pithy repost from Pope or Walpole on their neighbour's lack of taste or sincerity. Their aspirations are recorded in Peter Tillemans' panorama of c1725. The painting portrayed the garden on this site with a pair of pavilions at the water's edge and a larger pavilion straddling the boundary wall between it and Cross Deep to the south, conceivably with space for an ice house or grotto beneath it. However they are omitted from an engraving of Dr Battie's house of 1749. The grotto is subject of debate and has been dated inconclusively to either the mid- to later C18, in emulation of Pope's grotto of the 1720s, or to the early C19. According to map evidence the loggia was added between 1818 and1863. Both survived Chancellor's remodelling of the grounds in the 1870s, when the riverside balustrade was built, and the demolition of the house in the 1930s.

At its eastern, riverside, end, the loggia is linked to the 1870s balustrade by a small alcove of the height of the balustrade. The loggia backs onto a canted garden pavilion in the neighbouring property to the south (not included in the listing).


PLAN AND MATERIALS: The grotto or shell house is square on plan internally, approximately 2.3 m x 2.3 m and 2 m high, with a brick built vault supported on low brick walls. The shell house is concealed beneath a turfed mound of earth in the manner and scale of an ice house, such that it has been suggested that it may have been the remodelling of an ice house or the ground level of a raised garden building such as the structure depicted on Tillemans view. It opens from the north-western end of the loggia. The wide, arched opening, in dark red, purple and grey brick appears to coincide with the first phase of decoration of the vault and side and rear walls as a grotto, when it was enclosed on three sides and open to the south-east. At a later date the arched opening was partly in-filled in red-brown brick forming a narrower entrance which appears externally to be asymmetrically placed, but from the inside is placed roughly central, creating an enclosed chamber. The arch is crudely jointed suggesting that it may have been rendered or decorated or that it had been a modest garden structure. The exposed, exterior, southern boundary wall flanking the entrance arch, where the rear of the loggia is not clad in stone, is also clad in knapped flint.

INTERIOR: The interior appears to have a solid, earth floor, which has accumulated within it, and added later C20 brick stub walls. The inner lining of the shell house is decorated in a pattern of shells, pebbles, coloured stone, and slag and fragments of glass and pottery, which survive on the vault where two thirds of the decoration is intact and on the vertical walls. The centre of the roof is designed in a regular pattern of spokes made up of small winkles, which radiate from a central hub, and concentric rings of iron-coloured pebbles and flint, and pink, red and blue slag, on a base infilled in larger scallops. The curved vault is lined in a grid of panels in the manner of a coffered ceiling, which follow the profile of the shell house, marked out in vertical ribs of small scallops. Rectangular sections have large a scallop at the centre, surrounded by smaller scallops, pebbles and blue slag. The rear of the shell house is distinguished by a brown flint and pebble arch with a prominent keystone. Below it, the rear face of the vault is enhanced with fragments of pottery and glass. A deep band of flint and slag marks the distinction between the vault and the walls on three sides. The side walls are decorated in a random scatter of flint and pebbles and slag and circles and lozenges of buff and brown pebbles. The inner face of the entrance wall is lined in bands of blue slag and flint. The springing of the reduced entrance arch is lined in panels of small scallops and blue slag, the southern jamb of the arch is lined in flint which extends to the outer surface of the wall.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.