The Southbourne Shell House - Andy Foot, Bournemouth, Dorset, England

Bournemouth, Dorset, England
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The Southbourne Shell House

Until February 2001, when it was mysteriously & suddenly demolished to make way for a modern apartment block, one of the things Southbourne was best known for was the Shell House situated on the Overcliff Drive at Southbourne. It was the dedicated work of George Howard, whose reward for all his effort was the pleasure that it gave to all who saw it and the very large amounts of money that the shell house collected for charity. In 1988, Christchurch Hospital named their new patients' activity centre the Howard Centre in recognition of the family's fund-raising efforts. But neighbours said fewer people had donated in later years and the wishing-well was frequently plundered by teenagers.
The Shell House was created by the late George Howard in 1948, believed to be in memory of his son Michael, who died from meningitis at the age of 14. The ex-military man was a shell collector who once said: "Shells are the only things in this world that grow more beautiful after death."
I have been in contact with George Howards Grand Daughter, Carol Mason, who has been kind enough to explain the circumstances of the closure & demolition of the Shell House, Her message is displayed below as I know many of you are interested in the story behind the history and eventual closing of the much loved Shell House. I have been contacted over the years by many people asking all sorts of questions about the Shell House, not just from locals as it was for many years a top attraction for the many holidaymakers that come to Bournemouth throughout the year.
A Message from Carol Mason, George Howards Grandaughter: 30th May 2007
Hi Andy, I was amazed to see that you had a site dedicated to my Grandfathers beautiful Shell House. It was a very special place for many locals, tourists and friends and family of George and Sarah Howard. I myself spent many childhood years at the House and garden, even clearing the wishing well of coins, cleaning and helping to distribute the money to so many worthy charities. I understand that you and so many others were dismayed at the destruction of the garden, so I will try to explain the reason for this. My father Ray Howard, loved the garden, and helped his Father George to run it. George died and left his wife Sarah and my Father to continue it's charitable legacy. Grandma died in 1989, leaving my Father and the family to continue the running and constant upkeep of the garden.

When I was a child and growing up around the garden, there was never a problem with vandals or thieves. But during the late eighties and nineties, the garden was constantly vandalised, money boxes that were bolted down, broken into weekly, and the famous wishing wells emptied of their coins. Statues that Grandad had lovingly placed were either smashed or stolen. One being a huge bronze, of a man on horse back killing a lion, set in concrete. This was stolen one night! It must have been a large operation, as the bronze must have weighed 1/2 a ton, nobody heard a thing and the police were not interested. So this was happening almost every week. It is soul destroying to see something that a loved one has spent so many years building, being slowly violated. My Father and the family spent many years after George and Sarah had died, trying to keep the garden alive. Everything in life has a time span, and nothing lasts for forever. The spirit of the Shell House and my Grandfather had been slowly eroded. Believe me, it took incredible strength on behalf of the whole family to end the Garden. Maybe we should have made public our intentions to demolish the Garden, but it was hard enough without all the adverse comments and publicity that would have ensued if it had been made known. We made the decision as a family, and grieved as a family. It is so heart warming that even now the public still remembers the 'Shell House' with fondness, and I thank you from all the family for keeping it alive for others to remember.

Yours Sincerely,

Carol Mason.
Visitors Section

Since posting my original article about the Southbourne Shell House back in 2006, I have received many messages, often from people who holiday in Bournemouth and have gone to re-visit the Shell House only to find it is no longer there.

Some of those messages are posted below along with pictures that have kindly been sent in.

It's always good to add new pictures & memories so please share yours with future visitors to the page if you can

If you would like to add your own pictures or comments please CLICK HERE for an easy upload form
Or you can just email me if you prefer.
Edith Hall - June 2015
I remember as a child and later as adult going to see the shell gardens. My husband and I came down to Dorset a few years back and we were going to visit when we found out it was no longer there. The family must have been heart broken when it was closed. We live up in the North East and I have never seen anything like this garden so sad a lovely thing is no longer here.
Val - May 2015
Had lots of fond memories visiting the shell garden , so sad it was pulled down to make way for apartments , i did have lots of photos , and will download asap .
Annette Minett - March 2015
From the age of 1-17yrs, I used to holiday with my family in Boscombe, travelling down from Birmingham. The Shell House was always a highlight for us but I was so sad to hear that it had been demolished when I took a trip down memory lane after coming to Dorset to live 6yrs ago. I retraced our steps, walking along Christchurch Rd, turning into Woodlands Walk & into the bowling green. After chatting with a lady there about 'old times' & our fond memories of cream teas, home-made cakes & watching the matches, I said I was off to have a look at The Shell House......... What brought me to this web-site is that I'm gathering information for a scrap book I'm compiling for my older brother ( for his birthday) & part of it concentrates on our visits to Bournemouth. I'm glad to know the reason why The Shellhouse is no longer there. What a heartache. Annette
Jacqueline Anderson - September 2014
I remember going to the Shell House as a litttle girl. My grandparents lived in Bournmouth and my parents would take my sister and I to visit the Shell House almost every visit. My strongest memory was in February of 1968, it was my fifth birthday and very early in the morning. There used to be a sign posted asking "visitors to be quite for the convenience of our patrons" I was walking around the outside edge of the fish pond when I slipped, fell, and landed in the freezing February water. The fish charged thinking I was food, I started screaming thinking I was being attacked . To add insult to injury my jacket had absorbed so much water that my parents who were laughing hysterically could not lift me out of the pond. Needless to say we woke the entire hotel! Despite this I still have lovely memories of the Shell House.
Jan Saunders - September 2014
I recently rediscovered a photo of my family visiting the Shell House in around 1962, and I have been trying to remember where it was ever since, so I'm thrilled to find your page and be able to finally know! I know we visited more than once, as I remember being really excited about going back, and I adored all the shells, and all the ornaments and bit and pieces! I'm the little girl sitting on my Dad's knee in this photo, my Mum and sister are on the left, I've no idea who the lady and small child are in the middle! Thanks for much for keeping the memories alive on this page, and how sad that mindless idiots caused the family to take the garden apart - I wonder what happened to all those shells!!! Yours Jan (part of the Anderson family!)
Caroline - June 2014
Thankyou for all the lovely images of the shell house, happy memories of visiting with my mum, it was enchanting. I would have loved to have taken my son. Its a shame no one else was given the opportunity to buy this house and carry on its legacy. Its destruction could not be further from the spirit in which it was built, and is a testiment to the lack of understanding some people have for the affection some of us harbour for simply enjoying a beautiful building.
Jason Peterson - Feb 2014
hi andy im Jason and used to live in southbourne and It was my neighbour who took me to the shell house when I first moved there. well I had to move to kent to be near family and when ever I go past the house which now is apartments, it is sad to see the house gone and always wondered why! so thanks to you having this site has answered my thoughts to it and Its so good to learn more about it. so many thanks regards Jason.
Chris Compton - Dec 2013
Hi Andy so glad to have found your site, my parents owned a flat in Bertie Rd Southbourne in the 60's and 70's and spent many happy holidays there. So sad to see that the shell garden has gone and that Boscombe pier ( where many a penny was happily spent in the one armed bandits) is no more. I used to go to the theatre's in Bournemouth,where I saw the great actors at that time, Jimmy Edwards, Eric Sykes, Rodney Bewes, to name a few. The Aqua show was a firm favourite for the whole family. Thank you for taking me on a trip down memory lane.
Carol Holdaway (Lister) - Dec 2013
I am very interested with the shell house i was brought up in Arnewood road then moved to Southern Road. always visited the shell house. was so very sad to find out it had gone. Lots of happy memories of the shell house. I was lucky to be able to share it with my children but unfortunatly not my grandchildren as by then it was no longer there.
David Ward - Sep 2013
Hi Andy, Thought you might like to add these Shell Garden photos to your collection. Taken in 1982 using a Voigtlander Vitoret 110 camera on Kodachrome transparency film. Shame to read that it has gone. Best regards, David.
Elaine - July 2013
I was sad to see that the Shell House had been demolished. I remember visiting it many years ago and remember being entranced by it. I came across a postcard recently of the house that I had bought, so wondered if it still existed. Now it only exists on your web site and in people's memories. Well done for setting up a page for it.
Ray Chuard - June 2013
Hi Andy, I used to visit boscombe staying at an hotel I think was The Kingsley with my then partner. We would walk to Hengistbury Head and take in the shell house on the way. I have only just discovered it's fate, it is such a shame to hear of it's demise as it held happy memories of myself and Jeanette who sadly died in a car crash in 2006. Please find photo
Dianne - Dec 2012
Our whole family used to love the Shell House in Southbourne, it was one of the most remarkable places I ever went to as a child back in the 1970's. It was a truly enchanting experience to see all of these wonderful shells and the descriptions telling you of the exotic far away places that some of the shells came from. It's such a shame to see it gone as my own children & noow my grandchildren never had the chance to experience the magic that I felt as a child. Thank you so much for keeping it's memory alive.
Michelle Colebourn - August 2012
I have several images to send for inclusion. I grew up in Southbourne and was utterly gutted at the destruction of this piece of heritage. No matter what the family say, this could have been taken over by the council and really looked after. It could have had a much longer lifespan. Even the pyramids still exist!!!
1. Myself as a child
2. My sons Liam and Jake with a friend, Abigail.
3. Liam Colebourn
4. Jake Colebourn

All sitting in that same shell for posterity! I think I have some more images for you... I will have a hunt! :D
Robert Rogers, January 2012
I wanted to say thank you for your site, the photos and the memories, My father was a good friend to George and he would often vist us, to me he was uncle George, those gardens were stunning, it is a great loss to the area, your photos save what was a beautiful place to vist
Andrew Foote - May 2011
Dear Andy, What a super site and what a set of coincidences. I lived in Bournemouth all my life up until a few years ago. I now live in Portugal with my young family. Only this morning my 10yr old daughter decided to decorate our concrete rabbit hutch by gluing shells to it. Which reminded me and prompted me to look on the web for pics of the old Southbourne shell house that I used to visit with my lovley Nana who ran a guest house on the Southbourne overcliffe, we would walk passed the shell house on the way to the chipshop once a week. Thanks again for the memories. Kind Regards (and the final coincidence) Andrew Foote ;)
Jane B. - May 2011
Hi I am 51 this year and remember the shell house even now, my parents took me every year when we visited my auntie in bournemouth, just re read and realized it has been demolished and i am so sad at least i have my photos and memories why couldnt the council have saved it???
Sue M - April 2011
hi andy, i have great memories of the shell garden. i have the slides that my dad took of me and my sister in the large shells. when i know how i will attach them. Sue
Mark Harrow, September 2010
Sad to hear the shell house was taken away. Here's a snap of me and my sister visiting, sometime in the early Eighties.
Matt Howard, September 2010
Thanks so much for the info on the shell house, we came to bournemouth for my mums 80th birthday hoping to see the shell house. My nan Annie Howard I am told was George Howards brother, my nan passed away 15 years ago strange how things change and happen in this world, thanks for all your help yours gratefully Matt Howard.
Pat Scott - August 2010
have just found the Shell House website as we are coming to re-visit my childhood haunts with my son and his wife. My parents brought us to Bournemouth every year.( A long journey from Hull) and in turn, we brought our children too. We always visited the Shell House. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the video and saw my father going round the garden!!!! How sad both he and the Shell House have gone from our lives. thank you though for providing a wonderful memory. Pat
Anne Spencer - August 2010
Just came across your website after explaining to a friend about Shell House - great to see the old photos and the Pathe news movie but it was particularly interesting to read the reason it was removed - how sad but I quite understand why the family made the decision.
My aunt and uncle lived in Hengistbury Road for some years before moving to Christchurch and we spent holidays with them so I remember Southbourne in the 50s and 60s very well and visited Shell House many times over the years. The old postcards of Southbourne are amazing - especially the one of the houses on the promenade - can't believe they existed!!
Thanks for your interesting website.
Jasper Gilder - August 2010
Hi Andy- One of my earliest memories is being taken to see the Shell House by my Dad when we were on holiday and I was about 3 - We took my son to see it in the nearly 90s when he was about the same age. Its a real real shame that you've had to demolish it and a great shame that the local police couldn't have done more to support you. It does, however, explain why I couldn't find it when I went looking today!
Derek John Henderson - August 2010
Hi Andy, I actually rented the top room in the shell house when i was first married in 1981,and i really got on well with George, who told me of his life in the merchant navy, where he collected the shells from around the world on his travels. I left George and moved to poole in1983, before returning to Newcastle in 1983 and didnt know the house had been demolished, or when george died. He was a real gent who originally came from Wales before he joined the merchant navy and i enjoyed many a day over a cuppa as he tried, but failed to copy my geordie accent!
Anyway, its sad that the house is no longer there but thanks for the memories on your site. I'll look through some old photos and if there is anything of interest I'll send it on, thanks again.
Rachael Lyons - July 2010
As a young girl whenever I visited my grandparents in Bournemouth I would always ask to go and see the shell house. My brother and I would travel with our Nana and Papa to visit the shell house that we were so fond of. I am so happy that there is this site and so sad to hear why the shell house had to be demolished. I used to be in love with the magical style of the house and it would light up my imagination of an amazing world inside the house itself. Thank you for creating a beautiful place that created so many fond memories. Rachael Lyons, London
Daniel - July 2010
Just to say it's nice to see a page on the net about the Southbourne shell house, I can remember going there as a kid :)
Helen White - June 2010
I have just been speaking to my sister on the phone and we were talking about the great holidays we had when we were young in Bournemouth. I am now 53 and my sister Julie is 44, we had the best holidays there and she said she would like to take her 2 boys to see the Shell House if it was still there, so I googled it and sadly found it has been demolished. It was so nice to see all the photos, I will let her know and at least she can show them the pictures. How sad though that it was vandalised, when it has brought so much pleasure over the years.
Kara Garcia - May 2010
Hello There! Today for some unknown reason I suddenly wanted to research into the Shell House that amazed me as a child and I am so sad to hear it got taken down due to vandals, it saddens me that people would be that cruel to destroy something that was so close to so many peoples hearts in Bournemouth. I have such fond memories of the Shell House and all of the beautiful shells and it will always be a treasured part of my childhood and I thank you for the photos which bring my memories back to life, I am truely grateful for being able to visit there as a child and witness the beauty of the Shell House. Regards, Kara Garcia
Ray Cook - April 2010
Andy, thank you for keeping the Shell House alive. When I found it had been destroyed it was as if someone had stolen part of my childhood. I took my two boys there in the 1990s and have very fond memories from the 1960s It was a fascinating place for young children in more innocent times. What a shame that it could not be preserved. There is no sentiment left in the world, it seems.
Margarete Drews - February 2010
I have attached 7 photos from October 1988. I hope you can use them and of course you have the permission to add some of them to your website.
Best regards and all the best for the future of “my” Shell house.
Kevin Hunt - February 2010
Hi Andy I just came across your site, whilst searching for something else in Southbourne and read of the sad demise and demolition of the Shell House. I was born nearby and lived at 144 Overcliff Drive, now part of the clifftop "space" opposite to where the Shell House used to be. ( part of our house went over the cliff and then had to be pulled down in the early 50s. As a small boy I used to sneak across the road and go into the grotto - very exciting and mysterious! ) As Carol Mason wrote, in life has a time span, and nothing lasts for forever, but it will live on in my memory for as long as I survive! Thank you for an interesting site filled with so many reminders of my early life in Southbourne and Bournemouth. Regards Kevin Hunt
Linda Eyles - February 2010
Hi Andy I was going through some photos on the weekend and found two postcards bought by my mother when we visited the Shell Garden on a holiday back in 1964 I think. I decided to have a look online and see if I could find anything about it as I remember very well the day that we went there and how fascinated I was. I would have been about 7 at the time. We moved to Australia in 1965 and I have never been back to England. Your pictures brought back lots of memories, thanks. Linda
Fraser Donachie - January 2010
Hi Andy - I have a couple of photos from c. 1960 that you are welcome to display on your site - regards - Fraser
Cherry Rogers - July 2009
Dear Andy,have just discovered your website re Southbourne. How sad I felt about the Shell House. It used to be the first thing I made my parents take me to see, even before they had unpacked the suitcases!!! We stayed at South Beach hotel in Overcliff Drive. Do you remember a small cafe called Anns Pantry? It was just round the corner near a small roundabout if memory serves. Is the Guiness clock still there in Fishermans Walk? Oh, such memories. I am eight years old again!!! Once again thanks for the memories. Kind Regards, Cherry.
David Robinson - June 2009
Good pix of the former shell house. We were gobsmacked when we passed through Southbourne circa 2001 and saw them knocking it down -- another nod to the nearsightedness of local authorities: rough and ready this unofficial tourist attraction may have been, but it must nestle in the nooks and crannies of many childhood memories.
David Robinson, Peterborough
Helen - April 2009
Just wanted to say thanks for the great website about the Shell House in Southbourne.  It brought back happy memories of long, hot summers spent in Boscombe and Southbourne.  It's very sad, though understandable, that it had to close.  Things aren't the same as they used to be, and Southbourne isn't the same without it.
Julia - April 2009
Hi Andy Thank you so much for the lovely pictures on your site. We have visited Bournemouth this Easter intending to show our sons the Shell House and were mystified because we couldn't find it! I spent many summers on holiday in Bournemouth and we were frequent visitors. We took our oldest son when he was 6 months old and wanted to show his brother, He's now 15!
It was such a shame it had to be destroyed but it is great to see your pics, mainly to prove to our kids we are not quite crazy yet. Hopefully people will be inspired and carry on collecting shells. We always come home with a few to add to our own collection.
Julia, Graham, Luke and Thomas
Helen - May 2008
Thanks so much for all the lovely pictures of the beautiful shellhouse. The pictures bought back so many long forgotten happy memories of my childhood with my mum, holidaying in southbourne. I'm so sorry it's no longer there but thankyou for many happy memories.
Margaret Pettitt - September 2007
Thank you so much for your website on the shell house. My 84 year old mother is staying with me and today we drove up and down Overcliffe Drive looking for it as she visited it many years ago with my father and wanted to see it again. It brought back many memories and we are so sorry to hear about the vandalism and subsequent closure.
Margaret Pettitt, Corfe Castle
Sara Spiegel - August 2007
I was saddened to read on your website that the Shell House had been demolished in 2001.  

What a shame.

I have found this picture of me, my mum and my brother.  It was taken around 1980.
Paul France - August 2006
Hi, Please find attached a scan of  a J.Salmon postcard The Shrine, Shell House, postmark 1972. I was looking for info for ebay listings and found your site.
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