Grotto Passage, Marylebone, London, was named after John Castles’ successful 18th century grotto-making business. As Marylebone Pleasure Gardens were situated nearby, just on the other side of the High Street, this area was an ideal location for John Castles to exhibit his glittering works to a paying public. A shell grotto opened in the 1730s and remained on display until 1759.
The grotto business may have closed, but the name remained associated with the area, and the Grotto Ragged and Industrial School was established in 1846. Ragged schools had been established in 1818 by John Pounds, a disabled cobbler from Portsmouth, to give free education to working class children. By the 1840s they were booming, with the number of schools in London swelling from 20 in 1845 to 62 in 1848.
In 1865, Octavia Hill, the champion of housing reform, started her first social housing project nearby in Paradise Place (now Garbutt Place). Octavia went on to found the National Trust, 119 years ago today, on 12 January 1895.
Today Marylebone is glittering again, with money rather than shells in a grotto. Those of you who aren’t familiar with the area, think posh, in an independent bookshop and organic farmers market kind of way. It’s a highly desirable central London “village”, and if you visit it’s worth nipping down those small back alleys to discover its ragged past.
Bonus ghost sign