Grotto Passage in Marylebone is one of those locations that you are more likely to stumble across by accident than by design.
Its name derives from a exhibit of (sea)shell work by John Castles who began displaying here in 1737. Collecting shells had been a popular hobby and the Georgians in particular were keen to flaunt them. Grottoes would be constructed on the estates of their wealthy owners. These flamboyant structures would often include crystals, minerals, bones and fossils. The 'Grotto' in Marylebone proved to be a hit at a time when the district was well known for its pleasure gardens.
By the end of the 18th Century, this crowd-pleaser and the surrounding area had succumbed to redevelopment. A school was erected on the site in the mid 19th Century which catered for the poorest of the poor. The so-called 'Ragged Schools' referenced the appearance of the children who attended. Regarded as being too difficult and disruptive to educate, these youngsters were frequently shunned by other institutions.
Led by volunteers, 'Ragged Schools' offered a basic level of education as well as supplying meals, clothes, refuge and the obligatory righteous guidance. The 'Industrial' tag relates to schools specifically created for the offspring of the poor who had not yet become unteachable. Effectively, the academy served a number of functions for the neighbourhood's destitute children; the ultimate goal being to save them from slipping into delinquency. Expanding across several buildings, the school survived until the early part of the last century.
Grotto Passage is best approached from Paddington Street - the entrance is on the southern side with Nottingham Place being almost opposite.