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Huge 1700s ice house uncovered in London

Archaeologists from MOLA in the interior of the Regents Crescent ice house ©MOLA

UK: A huge underground ice house dating from the 1780s, recently uncovered in central London, has been designated as a scheduled monument by Historic England.

Archaeologist from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) rediscovered the ice house during the development of Regent’s Crescent, a landmark residential project near Regent’s Park in London.

The subterranean ice house would have been one of the largest of its kind when first built – measuring an impressive 7.5m wide and 9.5m deep. Remarkably, the red brick, egg-shaped chamber survived the Blitz despite the destruction of the mews houses above, and is said to be in excellent condition, along with its entrance passage, and vaulted ante-chamber.

In the 1820s the ice house was used by pioneering ice-merchant and confectioner William Leftwich to store and supply high quality ice to London’s Georgian elites, long before it was possible to manufacture ice artificially. Demand was high from catering traders, medical institutions and food retailers. Ice was collected from local canals and lakes in winter and stored, but it was often unclean, and supply was inconsistent.

According to MOLA, Leftwich was one of first people to recognise the potential for profit in imported ice. In 1822, following a very mild winter, he chartered a vessel to make the 2000km round trip from Great Yarmouth to Norway to collect 300 tonnes of ice harvested from frozen lakes.

Once restored, the ice house will be incorporated into the gardens of Regent’s Crescent, which have been designed by world renowned landscape architect Kim Wilkie, the visionary behind the gardens at the V&A and the Natural History Museum. Great Marlborough Estates are now in the process of rebuilding the historical integrity of the Crescent in conjunction with the restoration of the ice house. It is hoped that public access, via a new viewing corridor, will be made available at certain times of year during archaeological and architectural festivals.

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