Ice House

In the 18th century, ice houses were built in the grounds of most large households.

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Ice House

Ice House

Did you know?

  • 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 declared of it: “…it is now looking better than any rockery I have seen this season.”

History and use

Ice and snow collected during winter months were stored inside the 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.

6 comments on 'Ice House'

john gilmore says

06/01/2011 8:15:09 PM | Report abuse

Hi feed back team,many thanks for your comments re design of John Buonarotti,s ice house,will investigate it further. Best Regards, John Gilmore.

Feedback Team says

05/01/2011 1:08:22 PM | Report abuse

Hi John, we've got a Kew Ice House update for you. Unfortunately, we have no records for the early period of Kew's architecture, apart from William Chambers. We also don't hold any early plans. We have found a diagram of John Buonarotti's ice house on the web though - We don't think that John Buonarotti designed the Ice House at Kew, as there are no references to his having done so. Ray Desmond's book mentions that the entrances to these stores were 'usually at an acute angle to exclude light' (p 418 'The History of RBG, Kew'). This fits with Buonarotti's diagram where entrance (b) is a step above the opening passage to the interior of the ice house (a). If you're after more detailed information, we recommend that you contact an architectural historian. We've also found a reference to a book by John Buonarotti about rural residencies. It's published by Papworth.This may be available through a specialist Library.

Feedback Team says

05/01/2011 10:55:16 AM | Report abuse

Hi John. We've checked the histories of Kew that we have in the visitor information office and neither names the architect of the Ice House I'm afraid. We've passed your query on to Kew's archive to find out if they can shed any light on this subject. We'll post any update in this thread.

john gilmore says

29/12/2010 4:32:39 PM | Report abuse

Ref.john buonarotti papworth,s ice house. ------------------------------------ Thank you for your reply, since my last message I have had a look at the ice house on the Pratt estate here in Kingscourt co. cavan is the same design as John Buonarotti Papworth,s except that in Ireland the steps in the entrance passage slope outwards,whereas the one shown on the web site slope inwards which could cause water to seep into the ice house and ruin the ice.Would be most grateful for your comment. Best Regards John Gilmore

Digital Media Team says

22/12/2010 11:37:46 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for your comment John. We've passed your question on to Kew's Feedback Team and will post the update in this thread.

john gilmore says

21/12/2010 8:50:06 PM | Report abuse

John Buonarotti Papworth,s 1818 Design for an Ice House,what was the function of the two small entrance compartments a & b why is a smaller than b,Regards, John Gilmore

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