1 Palace Park – 5 The Ice Well and Summer House

summery porch
The Ice House (and boat house)

This building is both an Ice House and an Arts and Crafts Summer House. The original ice well was built in the mid 1700s, when the well-to-do would store ice, stored in layers of straw – as refrigeration was not available. Iced desserts were very popular from Georgian times to Edwardian. High Elms and the Bishops Palace had one Ice House each, while Sundridge Park had two.

Diagram of the ice well
Figurative diagram of the ice well, dug into the slope by the Moat.

Ships plying the “Ice Trade”, would supplement the limited supply of ice from lakes and marches in the UK winters with ice from overseas. Initially the ice was brought in from the United States, but after about 1850 most of the ice came from lakes in Norway – large Ice Houses were built in London to store the ice before reselling it. 

Ice deserts became popular with the very wealthy from 1670s. They reached quite an art form in the mid 1800s, being moulded and decorated. Flavours included cucumber, bread and pistachio, tea, and coffee, in addition to flavours common today like orange and lemon.

C19 working men standing on frozen lake with knee-high cubes of ice
Ice cut in Norway to be shipped to London
pinapple, dove, cake resembling moulded ice cream
1800s moulded ice cream from a popular book by Agnes B Marshall.

This ice well was then remodelled in the 1860s, by R Norman Shaw, who also designed some estate cottages and a bailiff’s cottage for the Lord of the Manor, Mr Coles Childs. He added a nice porch with a seat in (currently removed for alleged antisocial behaviour), with a view over the Ha-Ha along the valley where the Blackbrook runs into the Ravensbourne by St Marks church.

black-and-white photo of room with arched roof
The former icehouse with the pit filled in and fitted to store boats, before the roof was allowed to collapse in 2020.

The building was inspected in 1975 by Geoffrey G Cooke, who described it and provided measured drawings for English Heritage, where it is on their ‘At Risk’ register. In 2020 the roof collapsed.

When the palace was part of Stockwell College, the ice house was used to store canoes – they cut a square hole in the wall that faces the lake, to push the boats in.

To continue the Heritage Trail, continue along the path and you will come to a lawn.

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