History and use
Ice and snow collected during winter months were stored inside ice houses and used during summer as a source of ice and to keep perishable foods cool. Kew’s Ice House was used to store foods for consumption by King George III and his family when they came to stay at Kew, during the second half of the 18th century. Records say it was in use as far back as 1763.
Maintaining and replenishing an estate’s ice house generally came under the remit of the gardener. At Kew, a gang of labourers, equipped with four horses and carts, cut blocks of ice from the lake as soon as the water froze over in winter. They lined the Ice House’s deep, brick-lined shaft with bales of straw, then packed in the crushed ice. This unpopular task took three days. The workmen were bribed with beer to encourage them in their labours.
Conservation and restoration
The Ice House was renovated and lighting installed in 1982. It has been open to the public ever since. In keeping with the ice theme, the Winter Garden now surrounds it.
In 1867, alpines were planted in a rockery of Reigate sandstone on the northern side of the Ice House. William Robinson, author of Alpine Flowers for English Gardens said of the planting: '…it is now looking better than any rockery I have seen this season'.