Cr(VI) is a toxic water pollutant, which causes cancer and mutation in living organisms. Adsorption has become the most preferred method for removal of Cr(VI) due to its high efficiency and low cost. Peanut and almond shells were used as adsorbents in downflow fixed bed continuous column operation for Cr(VI) removal. The experiments were carried out to scrutinise the adsorptive capacity of the peanut shells and almond shells, as well as to find out the effect of various operating parameters such as column bed depth (5–10 cm), influent flow rate (10–22 ml min−1) and influent Cr(VI) concentration (10–20 mg L−1) on the Cr(VI) removal. The fixed bed column operation for Cr(VI) adsorption the equilibrium was illustrated by Langmuir isotherm. Different well-known mathematical models were applied to the experimental data to identify the best-fitted model to explain the bed dynamics. Prediction of the bed dynamics by Yan et al. model was found to be satisfactory. Applicability of artificial neural network (ANN) modelling is also reported. An ANN modelling of multilayer perceptron with gradient descent and Levenberg-Marquardt algorithms have also been tried to predict the percentage removal of Cr(VI). This study indicates that these adsorbents have an excellent potential and are useful for water treatment particularly small- and medium-sized industries of third world countries. Almond shell represents better adsorptive capacity as breakthrough time and exhaustion time are longer in comparison to peanut shell. © 2017, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.