It was out of consideration for his own family, and perhaps the need to express his new status, that prompted the move from suburbia of St. John’s Wood to Hampstead. By 1856 the Scotts had lived at 12, Avenue Road for twelve years. It was presumably to get away from the increasing urbanisation of St. John’s Wood, which Scott complains about, that they decided to move and find somewhere healthier for Caroline. He had already written about the salubrity of the atmosphere of Hampstead, its remarkable scenery and, something that always interested Scott, its geology.
If the geologist makes a section through London from the Menai Straits to those of Dover, he will find that the highest stratum (in the language of his science) is the little cap of sand on Hampstead Heath. If he confines his observations to the tertiary basin of London, he finds this is the central spot from which its whole breadth can be surveyed, from the Surrey Downs on the south to the Chiltern Hills on the north. The lover of fine scenery will see here, within four miles of London, views which would be difficult to surpass within a hundred …
He must have been delighted to discover, soon after he had written the above passage in the Remarks, that a house on the exact spot that he had described was available. This was The Grove at Hampstead, which has since been renamed Admiral’s House. It is a very large rambling old house of some importance, and much more in keeping with the Scotts’ status in society. It was built in 1700 by Charles Keys, as a three-storied symmetrical house, with an attic and a basement, overlooking a walled garden on the south side. This was somewhat reduced in the 1790s when a large extension was added to the house.
The house is particularly famous as being the subject of at least four paintings by John Constable, who could see it from an upper window of the house that he rented between 1821 and 1822 in Lower Terrace, just to the west of The Grove. One of these paintings, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1832, Constable entitled ‘A Romantic House in Hampstead’. Clearly it was the informal appearance of the house caused by the various appendages, which appealed to Constable, but is difficult to see what architectural appeal, if any, it had for Scott. Although less than a mile away, The Grove was a world away from Avenue Road. Hampstead was, and largely still is, an attractive jumble of streets and houses, set on the side of the hill which leads up to the Heath. In Scott’s time it was considerably more haphazard and isolated than it is today. As a countryman by birth, Scott may have had an urge to live close to the rural delights of Hampstead Heath but, because of her ambitious nature, Caroline was probably the real instigator of the move. Her health was the obvious factor, but there could well have been social reasons. A report, made in the late 1890’s, found that there was evidence of deterioration to a lower social level in St John’s Wood, and that ‘The best families go to Hampstead’ and in 1856, the Scotts were going up in the world.
In spite of the short distance of the move, transport to and from Spring Gardens was much more difficult and would have necessitated keeping a carriage. A Hansom cab could have been hired to take Scott to a main-line station, but it would have cost him, or rather his client, as travelling expenses were extra to his fees, the large sum of five shillings to get to Paddington. The Scott household was also undergoing change. In 1856, John Oldrid was at boarding school at Bradfield, but George Gilbert left Eton at the age of seventeen to become a pupil in his father’s office where he stayed for seven years, before going to Cambridge to study moral sciences.
By 1861 the Scotts had five living-in female servants at The Grove. Dukinfield still had a nurse, and there was also a cook, a housemaid, as well as a waiting maid and a parlour-maid. But it was perhaps in their religious practices that the move to Hampstead brought the biggest change to the Scotts. The difficulties of travelling meant that it was now impossible for the family to get to St. Martin’s in the Fields, twice every Sunday. So, after eighteen years of regular attendance, the Scotts left their friend Sir Henry Dukinfield, and the grand classical church where all five boys had been baptised. Rather than going down the hill to the Parish Church of St. John, which according to Jackson was ‘mildly high in an old fashioned way’, they changed to nearby Christ Church, where the vicar was Edward Henry Bickerstaff, another member of that formidable low-church family. Christ Church had only just been completed when the Scotts started to attend. It is a dull Gothic-style building, designed by Samuel Whitfield Dawkes (1811-80), but Scott became its consultant architect and, in 1860, contrary to his usual practice, added, rather than removed a gallery.
Although The Grove has splendid views in every direction, it is very exposed and Scott felt that it was ‘too cold for our younger boys’. Alwyne and Dukinfield were only seven and two years old, when they first moved there so consequently Scott rented a house at St. Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex, for Caroline and the two younger boys each winter, ‘which led to the painful break up of our party every year’. When they first started to go to St. Leonards, ‘we had bitter experience of fevers during two succeeding years’. But Caroline seems to have found the sort of social life in St. Leonards, which in artistic Hampstead it was difficult for her to gain acceptance, while Scott and the eldest boys, with their servants in attendance, remained at home to endure the rigours of winters at The Grove. It must have been quite a revelation for him to discover that the house that he thought was so special was, in fact, most unsuitable for his family.