The Shell House


Perched on cliffs overlooking the panoramic sweep of Bournemouth bay is a house with a very curious front garden. It is known locally as the Shell House. It's not too difficult to see why it has that name.


For over 30 years the man who lived in this house, spent all his spare time filling his front garden with a strange mixture of grottos, ponds, wishing wells, lighthouses and other miniature buildings, all covered in mosaics.



I think this sign is a bit of an exaggeration, but the garden is certainly unique in this area! Bournemouth is a large tourist resort and many of the visitors to the town stay in hotels and guest houses nearby. You can often see families, loaded down with bags for a day out, popping into Shell House for 10 minutes on their way down to the beach.



As you can see from the following photographs every corner of this garden has been covered with mosaics made from shells, stones, glass, old bits of china, broken statues and anything else that came to hand.


Even the ground is completely covered with mosaics. The garden benches are provided for visitors to sit down and enjoy the view.


In Spring and early Summer some flowers and a few shrubs manage to peek through between all the ornaments.


As you can see from the metal plaque, which is on display in the garden, this is all the work of a man named George Howard. He came from a poor background and was one of 16 children in his family. From 1948 he spent all his spare time creating these mosaics.

Entrance to the garden is free. If visitors wish to make a donation to one of the charities they support, they can put coins in a collection box, or throw them into a wishing well.


Throughout the garden there are signs like the one on the left, telling us where the shells come from. There are supposed to be shells from every continent. 

Of course many of the smaller shells in the garden have come from the local beaches, one of which is only a short walk down a cliff path from the house.


The coral fragments here look rather sad, but I like the plate beneath it. The tile is rather attractive too. I think all these little cockle shells surrounding the objects must have come from Bournemouth beach.



This is the largest shell in garden. The inscription on the sign reads 'Please take a photo of your wee one sitting in shell' ( it should read 'sitting in the shell' but obviously he ran out of space ). 'Wee one' is a Scottish expression meaning 'small one', or child.



As you can see from the photo on the right this child is trying out the chair, ready to have her photo taken.

The garden contains two grottos that you can enter. A 'grotto' was originally the name given to a small cave that added an attractive element to a landscape. During the 18th and 19th centuries there was a fashion for creating them in the in the grounds of stately homes to give a 'romantic' look to the scenery. The interiors of these grottos were also often decorated with shells.

Here they are not quite so grand! The largest one is the size of a small garage. You can enter it and look at a lot of memorabilia connected to the shell house. There are books containing records of donations made to charity and framed letters from visitors. Along one wall is the strange mixture of objects and notices that you can see in the photo on the right.



The second grotto is smaller, as you can see on the left, but more popular with younger visitors who love to clamber down the few steps it takes to enter this tiny room. It is richly decorated inside with a variety of tiles and other objects. Pretty coloured glass insets provide some light.

In this picture we can see some of the details of the decoration beside the steps leading down into this second grotto. Some of these Victorian tiles would be really quite valuable now!



As you wander around the garden you can see all sorts of interesting things, if you look closely.

One of the first things to notice are the many old pieces of broken china. Some of the 19th century blue and white plates in particular are wonderful quality. They would probably have  have been thrown away long ago if they had not been incorporated into these mosaics. I suppose you could say that the garden is an exercise in recycling.



There is even a small piece of a prehistoric tree. I don't know where that came from, but it certainly wasn't found locally! Further along the Dorset coast there is an area where many fossils have been found, but those are from ancient seas and do not include trees.

This little church is a favourite with visitors, especially children, who like to climb on it, which is why there is a 'Please don't touch' sign, no doubt. Behind the church is the entrance to the largest grotto. Over on the wall, a sign says  'the marvels of nature',  referring to the shells and also the coastal view that you can glimpse from that spot.


There are several small water features in the garden. You throw a coin into the wishing well and make a wish. People say that the wish won't come true if you tell anyone what it is. The money is collected for various charities. 


 A small stream flows down from this wall. A 'brook' is a name for a small stream. People ' babble' when they talk in an excited way and a brook is supposed to make a similar sound.

Dotted around the garden are a number of these little buildings that look like shrines. In actual fact they are purely decorative, there is no religious purpose to them. The figure in the picture on the left appears to be Queen Victoria. She is placed above a sign saying ' Welcome Folks'. Not very dignified for such a regal lady.


This one contains a statue of Buddha, but I don't think George Howard was a Buddhist. He also included some Christian objects on the site. 

The inscription below these two figures reads-

'She sells sea shells on the seashore'

It's  what we call a 'tongue twister'. The idea is to say it a few times  quickly, without making a mistake. Difficult.

On this page we would normally list the details of where to find the Shell House. However, sadly, since I took these photos, this shell garden has been dismantled. The condition of the shells was deteriorating and the owner decided he could no longer go on maintaining it. Many people in Bournemouth were very saddened to see it go.

perched on cliff

When you say something or someone is 'perched' you imply that they are resting on the edge of something.

'The girl perched on the edge of the chair as she watched the exciting film.'

Birds often perch on a branch.

guest house

A term frequently used for a small hotel, often run by one family.



To peek means to sneak a quick glance at something or someone.

'The shy child peeked around the door to see who the visitors were.'



This word is most commonly used in relation to love,

'The young couple spent a romantic afternoon together, walking in the woods.'

but it also has a wider meaning. The 'romantic' scenery mentioned was artificially created with lakes and woods, grottos and temples, to invoke a feeling of fantasy and as a reaction to the ordered, classical style that had previously been popular.


The grottos are not very grand. Here it means that they are not very large or impressive.

This word has many other meanings. 

A grand-mother is the mother of one of your parents.

In slang a thousand pounds is a 'grand'.

You might say that you feel 'grand' if you are feeling particularly wonderful, but this is an old-fashioned expression not used much now (unless you are Wallace and Grommit).

memorabilia These are objects that are connected with an event, place or group. Here it refers to objects connected with Shell House. A person might also collect objects connected with the Olympic Games, a television programme or club of which he is a member.

'dotted' around the garden

A casual way of saying that ornaments are placed at uneven intervals around the garden, as if you took a pencil and drew dots randomly on a sheet of paper.