Discovery of an 18th century ice-well in London
Archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA) recently uncovered a huge ice-well in central London, near Regent's Park. It was built in the 1780's by Samuel Dash. In 2015, the ice-well had already been partially uncovered, thanks to a "Historic Environment Assessment" commissioned by MoLA in order to assess the potential for significant archaeological remains on the site, where a residential project was planned.
The ice-well is now fully uncovered and it has been designated as a scheduled monument by Historic England. It is quite well preserved despite bombings that affected the neighbourhood during the Second World War. According to David Sorapure of the MoLA, most ice wells in the city were much smaller than this one.
The ice-well measures 7.5 m wide and 9.5 m deep. It has a brick-lined structure. In the 1820's, the ice-well 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.
Commercial use of the ice-well
"In 1822, William Leftwich chartered a vessel from Great Yarmouth to Norway (then part of Sweden) to retrieve a cargo of 300 tons of ice. When the ship returned, and the ice was sold at auction, there was widespread interest in his unusual cargo and sufficient demand from fishmongers and pastry cooks for Leftwich to realise a considerable profit. His importation of Norwegian ice was both novel and ahead of its time, with Norwegian ice later becoming widely used for refrigeration. The ships were unloaded at Regent's Canal Dock, also known as the Limehouse Basin (connecting the Regent's Canal with the River Thames), where the ice was professionally weighed, loaded onto a cart or barge along the Cumberland Arm of the Regent's Canal and carried to the ice well for storage. It was then delivered to customers by horse and cart."1
1 Historic England website.