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Shell House

A collection of curiousities Take me here now

Make sure your volume is on: "Sir George talks about the Shell House"

Show transcript

Aha, the Shell House – this is one of my favourites. You probably recognise the general design… go on, you know you’ve seen it before somewhere … it’s on the tip of your tongue… CHICHESTER!

It is a miniature version of the old Chichester Cross, that marvellous Gothicky structure by the old market in the middle of town. I do like a bit of English Gothic, as you may have noticed with my library building back at the house.

So when I bought this estate, and had the main road rerouted and all that, my clever architect Mr. Lewis Vuliamy designed a tiny little version of the Chichester Cross for me, with a patterned pebble path and walls decorated with shells picked up from the beach at Hayling Island. At least I think that’s where they picked them – I have people to do that sort of thing for me, obviously, I’m far to busy and important to go shell collecting!

If we had more time I’d take you inside and show you some of the collection of curiosities I keep in there. I’ve got Roman pottery, and some of that modern stuff by Mr. Wedgewood, and various minerals, and a small stuffed crocodile and a sea hedgehog – one of those spiky things, what’s the other word for them… ANEMONIES! – rather delicate but very interesting. But another time, perhaps.

In a garden full of exotic trees, classical temples and oriental buildings the Shell House stands out as essentially English. It is based on the building known as the market cross in Chichester, which still survives today. The Chichester building is larger but they share the many-sided shape and the elaborate flying butresses holding up the roof. The one here was decorated with shells collected from Hayling Island near Portsmouth, hence the name. 

Sir George used the Shell House as a sort of miniature museum, holding some of his collection of interesting or curious specimens. In his notes he mentions it containing items such as a small stuffed crocodile, a sea mushroom, a sea hedgehog, a toucan's bill, Bristol diamonds, Puddingstone, Wedgewood's designs, lead ores and a specimen of lava. 

The Shell House became very dilapidated, but is being restored to its former state in 2020.

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