Towards the close of the 18th century the Steephill Estate was bought by Lord Dysart (Wilbraham Tollemache) who proceeded to clear the estate and develop it to his own taste. (See Steephill Castle 1 – from Cottage to Castle). One casualty of this was Mrs. Mary Groves who kept an inn there, painted by Thomas Rowlandson as shown below.
The St. Lawrence Parish Clerk, John Green, wrote in his Recollections (1847): Though Mrs. Groves had but a small cottage for an inn, she accommodated the greater part of the gentry that came to the Undercliffe in those days. She had many fine, shady trees and arbours around the inn, the gentry could walk through Lord Dysart’s grounds and into this cottage. It was the only accommodation for gentry between Shanklin and Niton, except what little was sometimes done by the Crab and Lobster Inn at Ventnor.”
John Green’s sister worked as a cook at the inn and reported that she had cooked 19 dinners on one day.
When Mary Grove’s lease expired, Lord Dysart provided her with a new property at the foot of St. Boniface Down. John Green continues:
Mrs. Groves, being highly respectable, had many great friends, and her licence was transferred in 1801 to the building then in course of erection. While the preparations were being made for the building of the large inn, Mrs Groves carried on the business from a small cottage. She had a shed for a kitchen and tap-room and tents pitched on the side of the down to accommodate company. I was in her tap room when the Commander in Chief of the army on the Island came with a party of officers. When they dismounted, we who were there began to go out to give place for them, but the Commander ordered us to keep our seats. Mrs. Groves made an apology, but the Commander said that he had met with many worse accommodations than that shed and he ordered lunch for his party and two gallons of beer for us.
The 1810 engraving below shows the new Groves Hotel, now the Hillside Hotel, with the small cottage in front.
Richard Downing, Ventnor and District Local History Society. Sources: records in the Society Collection.