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Walhampton is now an Independent Preparatory School but in former times was a stately country home. The estate was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. By the twelfth century it had passed to the Earl of Devon whose son gave it to Christchurch Priory.
Pictures right - the exceptional interior shell work of the grotto today.The crown seized the estate with the dissolution of the monasteries and 150 years later it passed into the hands of the Burrard family. They replaced the former farm house with a country mansion which forms the core of what can be seen today. The family laid out the grounds circa 1730 with the Shell Grotto being added sometime between 1815 and 1820. An earlier map of 1787 on display at the school features a grotto, leading to speculation that the original grotto was much earlier. It is current theory however that this was a later addition to the map.
Picture below - Walhampton School.The estate during the nineteenth century passed through various hands with the house and grounds undergoing various alterations and remodelling over this period. In the twentieth century it remained a stately home until World War II when the house was used as a rest home for American bomber crew. Nineteen forty eight saw the house and about 100 acres being sold for use as a school, which it remains as to this day.
Picture above - The grotto as it appears on the 1787 map. Was this an eighteenth century forerunner of the c.1820 Shell Grotto or merely added to the map at a later date?
Admiral Sir Harry Burrard-Neale was responsible for initiating the building of the grotto seen today circa 1820. Enjoying the creation for 20 or more years, he died in 1840. It was built within 50 yards of the house on the western side allegedly by Sir Harry's boatswain and became known as the Boatswain's Grotto. Having retired he lived at the house spending his declining years in creating the cave full of elaborate designs which, unsubstantiated legend says, reflected the names of Sir Harry's ships: the Dragon Fly, Octopus, Lizard, etc. When completed the boatswain apparently drowned himself in the Solent, having little more in life to absorb his interest.
Picture right - the fountain at the grotto entranceIn 1913 however the external appearance of the grotto was completely altered when it was enclosed with brickwork. A water tower had been constructed prior to this within a few yards of the grotto, first showing on the 1907 Ordnance Survey map. About this time a two headed fountain pouring into a sarcophagus trough was installed at the entrance of the grotto adding a water feature to the now much altered entrance. The fountain was likely fed by water from the tower. The trough and fountain remain to this day albeit lacking water supply. The fountain overlooked what is now the swimming pool but was originally a lawned area with oval pool and fountain.
Picture left - The grotto entrance and fountain feature today.Inside, the grotto chamber measures about 12 feet square. It is elaborately decorated with shells and other coloured stones and glass. The house is now listed grade II* including the grotto in its immediate curtilage. It is open once a year for the annual gardens day but otherwise access is only by appointment.
We are grateful to the staff at Walhampton School for assistance in compiling this history, particularly David Hill who gave an escorted tour of the grotto.
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GREAT BRITISH GROTTO GRADING
Not open to the public, On private property, Open set times only
Access on Foot, Grotto - just one
Coastal, Lowland, Rural
England - Southern
THE GROTTO GRADING FEATURES PRESENT
+A created provenance that links it to ancient mythology or legend, +Cared for and maintained in good condition, +Crystals and/or minerals, either natural or simulated, +Dark and mysterious chambers and cave like spaces, +Fossils and/or shells incorporated into the decor, +Sacred spring or integral water feature, GRADED SIX