September 28, 2009

William R. Bisset, Shell decorated house

this postcard and the next two 
from Facebook (page Scottish Beach Find)

The above pictured shell decorated site, in the 1920s and 1930s a well-visited tourist attraction in the community of Leven, located along the east coast of Scotland, currently doesn't exist anymore.

Life and works 

William R. Bisset (1869-1964), an inhabitant of the community, in the 1920s began decorating his house and the ornaments in his garden with shells. He also installed a small menagerie with some monkeys and other small animals.

In 1927 the site was opened to the public and it was quite a success: every summer in the 1930s some 30.000 people visited it.

Bisset's son James, who continued the work of his father, got the idea to install a shell decorated old Leyland bus in the garden, probably as kind of a diner. (On Flickr there is a picture of the bus with a family in front of it).

After World War II, in the 1950s, the shell house and garden remained a tourist attraction.

The site has been removed

In 1978 James Bisset died. The inheritors wanted to sell the property, but there was no interest in buying a house with a shell garden, so the site was "normalized" and on the premises a bungalow was built.

The house itself, on the corner of Seagate, near the Promenade is still extant, but just with a limited number of decorations.

Here is a picture via streetview

And another one from a website about making walking trips:

picture from the website "The Airdrie Rambler"

So, apart from the few decorations which have been left, a full view of this art environment will be available only on postcards.

And it is still in the memory of older people who in their youth happened to visit the site.

Except pictures on Pinterest etc, the internet hasn't links to articles or comparable documentation about this site

* Video by Scottish Mudlarking (June 2020, 14'19", YouTube), mainly about gathering shells at the beach, but starting at 11'25" scenes of currently (2020) still existing shell decorations

first published September 2009, last revised July 2020

William R. Bisset
Shell house
Leven, Scotland, UK
site doesn't exist anymore


  1. "The path of the shell" that you, dear Henk, with your job, have allowed us to walk through, is a road plenty of living memories and valuable imperishable instants, instants of people and their universes, people who dare to transform their reallity and to obey their inner voice, a voice silent like a whisper but with enough energy such as for producing a bonfire of inspiration, a revolution of sense and sensibility. I think on the little shells, lying over the sand, with no idea of what kind of fate or destiny await for them with the time, to delight a child with the echoes of the waves when he puts the shell close to his ear, or to be part of a palace, a house of shells, the dream of a man living in a faraway land. And I think of people as well, like those shells, lying on the beach, and wondering what our destiny or our purpose on this life will be. Best regards.

  2. Thanks Alberto Oliver. The way you loook at this topic is very sensitive and inspiring. Indeed, little things can mean a lot. For me it is also important that the creations made of shells (or other non-commercial items) have contributed to moments of happiness of people who came to visit them. Like one can note how many Scottish people there are nowadays who have good feelings about there former visits to the Leven shell garden.
    All the best