Thursday, 3 June 2010


Above are two images taken from Architectural Digest magazine, without their express permission. I don't think they will mind, as I commissioned them in the first place, then sold them to them in the hope of getting more work of the same kind. All I got was a load of companies sending me invitations to buy their products, and they all started, "Dear Designer..."

This grotto was built around 1790, and is near the village of Lacock (or 'La Coq' as a French acquaintance of mine pronounced it). During the hurricane which hit Southern England in the 1980s, a tree near the rear wall swayed backwards and forwards, lifting the wall up and down all night, destabilising all of the shells and crystals at the same time. A builder was brought in to dismantle and rebuild the wall, and I photographed every square inch of the inside, so that I could put it back together again later. The trouble is, I did not photograph the sections which he was not supposed to take down, so I was left with the mother of all jigsaw puzzles. He also put the new wall up about 8 inches out of place, leaving a pile of unmarked crystals in the middle of the floor, all in a heap.

The only person ever to have taken pictures of it before was Lord Snowdon, so I gave him a call, once I had found his number. He told me that all but one of the negatives (of the wrong wall) had been destroyed, then wished me luck. To give you an idea of the scale, the stalactites in the lower photo are about eight feet from the floor.

About 18 months later - with me around £10,000 out of pocket - Elizabeth Lambert came to interview me on site, and this article was printed.

These crystal grottoes were often built after a 'Grand Tour', and were used as a showcase for all the minerals and fossils acquired on it, as well as a spooky place to entertain your friends. This grotto cost around £10,000 to build in the 18th century, so they were not cheap - even then. I should mention that there are a few tons of genuine stalagmites and stalactites in the walls, and these were obtained by going into a cave in the Mendips (probably Cheddar) and shooting them down with a gun. I don't think you would be allowed to do that these days.

Yes, the title of this post actually comes from these subterranean places. It is the 3rd I have worked on, so I have a sort of feel for them now. Anyone want a new one built in their garden?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. And people say that the English are eccentric...

  3. I did employ a couple of people to help me, so I came out of the other side relatively sane (or as sane as I was before). The objective was to make it look as though it hadn't been touched, and I think that worked ok. The last thing I did was to use an icing-sugar bag to pump lime mortar into the crevices, then colour the crevices with a green to look like the rest of the algae. There were over two tons of lime mortar used in total - so that shows the tonnage of crystals, etc in the whole thing. The ceiling was badly restored in the 1970's by someone who just made the whole thing up, using cement mortar and chicken-wire. I developed a light-weight, sticky mortar of chalk dust and lime for the ceiling, but that had it's own problems. Happy days...