Way down in the Grotto

To be honest, I’m unsure as to how much of this project I can show here so I’ll do my best to describe it, and not elaborate beyond what is already available in the public domain; the restoration of the grotto in the landscape gardens at Ascot Place (a private residence).

This was another project I joined in place of attending MA Practical sessions on campus. I completely fell in love with it and how strange and fanciful the structure was.

This particular grotto – a stunning example of an 18th century folly – is thought to have been designed by T. Sandby, and decorated by the Lanes, based on its resemblance to images of another of their grottoes and known work in the region (i.e. Painshill Grotto).

It’s an artificial structure, created to look like a cave. A slag-lined passage from the main sarsen entrance opens into the central, asymmetrical, domed chamber. From there, a series of tunnels lead away to other chambers and smaller niche areas with wooden bench seats built into the walls.  It was built beside the lake, at a level lower than the water of the lake, in order to provide high water pressure for the water system and rock pools within the chambers.

Two rock pools are set into the decorative pebble floors open to the lakeside. Each pool has a pedestal surface where it is thought either a sculpture would have been set (possibly Orpheus), or a water feature would have cascaded water.

The core structure of the grotto is made of bricks and mortar. The walls, on the interior, are faced with lime render and, either decorated with lumps of slag, flint, clinker and tufa in varying sizes and coated with a white and yellow lime wash, or decorated with flint up to dado level, with oblong hand-cut flakes of quartz and mica crystals stretching upward, on to the ceiling. In the passages between the chambers, the ceilings are faced with lime render and crystals in patterns.

Man-made stalactites hang in clusters from the chamber ceilings. Made of lath and plaster construction on wood timber bases, they too are faced with render and decorated with crystals, broken up by red quartz in zigzag patterns.

To provide the grotto with light, candle niches are built into the walls. Light also comes through skylights and lantern windows high up in the chamber ceilings, and from passages leading towards the lakeside of the grotto. Each chamber is deceptively tall with ceilings as high as five to six meters.

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