Scott's Grotto


Useful Information

Location: Between 28 and 34 Scotts Road, Ware, Hertfordshire, SG12 9JQ.
Between number 28 and number 34 Scotts Road, Ware. Scott's Road is next to the college on the A119 to Hertford.
(51.806592, -0.033151)
Open: APR to SEP Sat, Bank Holiday Mondays 14-16:30.
[2022]
Fee: Adults GBP 2, Children free.
[2022]
Classification: SubterraneaGrotto
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=20 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: David Perman (1984): Scott's Grotto, A Ware Society Guide, 12pp, survey and illus.
Harriet Crawford (1979): Subterranean Britain, Aspects of Underground Archaeology. John Baker, London, 201 pp numerous illus. pp 182-183
Address: Scott's Grotto, Scott's Grotto CIO, 28-34 Scotts Road, Ware, Hertfordshire, SG12 9JQ.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1761 John Scott started to landscape the grounds of Amwell House to create a formal ‘rococo’ garden.
1768 John Scott inherited Amwell House and built the grotto.
1773 other underground rooms completed and visited by Dr. Samuel Johnson.
1783 John Scott's daughter, Maria Scott, inherited her father's estate.
1863 Maria Scott dies and the property was sold and Scotts Road was built.
1960 The grotto was then part of the garden for a large house on Scotts Road but this was demolished in the mid 1960s and the present modern houses were built.
1974 East Hertfordshire District Council acquired the land and carried out basic repairs on the grotto.
1983 The Ware Society, a local voluntary group opens the grotto to the public.
1991 The restored grotto was reopened April 1991 by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.

Description

Scott's Grotto is a series of interconnected chambers, extending some 20 m into the chalk hillside. The chambers and tunnels are lined with shells, flints and pieces of coloured glass, some donated by friends. On top of the hill above the tunnels there is a summer house which would have commanded a wonderful view over the town of Ware. The main chamber is called the Council Chamber and this is highly decorated and has seats inset into it's wall. One of these seats even has the word FROG written in shells, referring to his wife, Sarah Frogley


Text by Tony Oldham (2004). With kind permission.

Scott’s Grotto is set within the last remaining part of John Scott’s Garden, in the south-western corner near the Summerhouse. The Scott family were wealthy Quakers. Samuel Scott purchased Amwell House around 1722 and the family moved from Bermondsey to Ware in 1740. At that time the estate had some 27 acres. John Scott (*1730-✝1783) was Samuel’s youngest son and was a commentator on and influencer of political policy, a critic of the Poor Law, and an important figure in the Turnpike movement. Today he is mostly known for his poetry. He started to landscape the grounds of Amwell House in 1761 to create a formal ‘rococo’ garden. This included the construction of several summerhouses, rustic seats, and ‘piles of stones’.

The grotto was cut into the chalk hillside. There were legends that it cost GBP 10,000 and took 30 years to complete, but it was actually completed in 1764. At first there were only the porch and the underground chamber immediately behind it. Scott called it his Shell Temple. The other underground rooms were completed in 1773 and visited by Dr. Samuel Johnson, a friend of Scott. He called it A Fairy Hall.

The shell house and grotto was most likely inspired by the grotto of Alexander Pope at Twickenham. But actually it is unclear why he built a grotto, as a garden feature, as a way of attracting his friends from London, or to give his workers employment during the winter months. He was a Quaker, so this kind of social engagement is conceivable. Scott was a poet and wrote his best known poem Amwell in the octagonal summerhouse above the grotto. Originally the poem was known as A Prospect of Ware and the Country Adjacent. John Scott inherited the site in 1768. In 1783 John Scott's daughter, Maria Scott, inherited the estate. After her death the property was sold and Scotts Road was built, which actually destroyed the garden. In the mid 1960s the present modern houses were built and the entrance of the cave demolished.

Only ten years later the value of the site was finally recognized and the East Hertfordshire District Council acquired the land and carried out basic repairs on the grotto. The Ware Society, a local voluntary group, opened the grotto to the public in 1983. Around 1990 the grotto and the octagonal Summerhouse above were renovated, completed in 1991. The site is today operated by a non-profit organisation named Scott's Grotto CIO, the custodian which is still given on older webpages seems to be retired.