The cavernous ice house is a fascinating discovery.
You must admit, all the mod cons we take for granted become pretty spectacular when you look at their historical alternatives. Consider the humble freezer, for instance. Nowadays, it’s a chilly little box that stores your peas, and upends your life when it fails. But back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, you’d need a fuck-off massive brick cavern in which to store your icy treats – as proved by the recent unveiling of a huge ice house near Regent’s Park.
The seriously impressive space was discovered by archaeologists from the Museum of London Architecture in 2015, but the rubble has only recently been cleared, allowing the 10-metre deep pit to be revealed. Built in the 1780s, it eventually became the property of one William Leftwich, a wealthy confectioner who hit upon the idea of transporting ice from the frozen lakes of Norway. Because even back in the 1820s, London’s rivers and lakes were still pretty dirty.
Anyway, Leftwich’s convoy of barges brought the frozen blocks back to London, via Regent’s Canal, where they were then stored in the ice house. With the expense and effort involved, the ability to serve your guests ice was a symbol of one’s wealth and status, and it presumably made you rather popular on hot summer days. Leftwich supplemented his confectionery business by selling ice to taverns, fishmongers, and the ice cream trade. But with the onset of the twentieth century and the advance of refrigeration technology, ice houses quickly became irrelevant, and when the Blitz hit, this particular one was filled in with rubble and forgotten about.
Now, the ice house stands as one of the best-preserved examples of this kind of architecture. Having been rediscovered and excavated, Historic England have listed it as a ‘scheduled monument’, recognising it as a “nationally important archaeological site”. This means that, whilst there are currently no plans to open it to the public, the ice house may be opened up for special occasions in future. Until then, I guess, your plans for a visit will have to be put on ice…