The history of Hillside begins in Steephill where Mrs. Mary Groves owned and kept an inn. When her lease expired in 1801, the landowner, Lord Dysart, wanted to remove the inn from his land so he provided her with a new building at the foot of St. Boniface Down which became known as the New Inn and then Groves Hotel. ‘Old John Green’, the parish clerk of St Lawrence, recounts the story of her move to Ventnor as follows:
There was a house built for an inn for the late Widow Groves by the side of St Boniface Down, now called Hillside House, began to be built in the year 1800. Though Mrs Groves had but a small house for an inn at Steephill, 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 the late Earl of Dysart’s grounds and into this cottage. Mrs Grove’s was the only accommodation for gentry between Shanklin and Niton, except what little was sometimes done at the Crab and Lobster Inn at Ventnor.
While the preparations were being made for the building of the large inn under St Boniface Down, Mrs Groves carried on the business in the small cottage. She had a shed for her kitchen and tap-room, and tents pitched by the side of the down to accommodate company.
The small cottage can be seen in front of ‘Groves Hotel’ in the engraving here by T. Higham from 1824.
We do not know when Mary Groves left, but in 1832 James Whiskard was there and the name had changed to the Montpelier Hotel. Due to ill health Whiskard sold the hotel in 1843 at an auction advertised in the London Times.
It was then purchased by John Sterling (shown here) as a private residence and he changed the name to Hillside. Sterling was a literary gentleman, the owner of the Athenaeum Magazine and a contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine. He published a novel, some poems and several tales. He was a close friend of the Victorian philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle who wrote a biography of Sterling in 1851. Sterling suffered from tuberculosis and came to Ventnor which, due to its micro-climate, was already famous as a health resort for those suffering from chest complaints. He added an upper floor to the building before moving in with his six children. John Sterling died within a year and left his property to his brother.
In the 1851 census Captain David Rae Newall became the occupant of Grove House with his wife Mary and three sons. Although the house was then a private residence, the 1851 census also shows Harry Keele, Physician to the Carisbrooke Lunatic Asylum, as living there. Mrs. Newall died in 1854 but Capt. Newall was still there in 1871 with three of his sons. He then let the furnished property to Mrs Harriet Heal and family who owned the Railway Tavern just up the hill from Hillside.
The 1881 census lists George Henry Mitchell and his wife Mary as keepers of a private boarding house. In 1891 George Mitchell takes on a lease from Col. and Mrs. W.E. Evans for 8.5 years at £110 p.a. He was then with his second wife, Georgina Mitchell, and the number of boarders and staff had increased from ten to twelve. Mitchell Avenue, previously Newport Road, was named after Mary Mitchell who lived at Macrocarpa House just up the hill from Hillside.
See Hillside Part 2 for more about the Mitchell’s ownership and what happened thereafter.
Richard Downing, Ventnor & District Local History Society
This history owes much to an unpublished account by the late Alan Champion and the present Hillside proprietor Gert Bach 2009. Sources: Various Ventnor census reports; Ventnor street directories; Property sale documents and Hillside Hotel brochures in Ventnor Heritage Centre; I remember, I remember Alan. Champion 1989; Recollections of Old John Green Isle of Wight Mercury 25th June 1890.