A subterranean commercial ice-well (City of Westminster), Park Crescent West, W1


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1427239

Date first listed: 28-Oct-2015

Location Description: The ice-well is located to the rear of 16,18-25 and 26 Park Crescent West and 77-81 Portland Place in the City of Westminster at approximately NGR 528649 182004.


Ordnance survey map of A subterranean commercial ice-well (City of Westminster), Park Crescent West, W1
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Location Description: The ice-well is located to the rear of 16,18-25 and 26 Park Crescent West and 77-81 Portland Place in the City of Westminster at approximately NGR 528649 182004.

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Greater London Authority

District: City of Westminster (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ2865182003


The site of Park Crescent West Ice-well, a subterranean commercial ice-well, built in 1780 by Samuel Dash. Used by ice-merchant and early pioneer of ice importation William Leftwich from the 1820s.

Reasons for Designation

The site of the Park Crescent West ice-well, a subterranean ice-well of 1780 in commercial use from the early C19, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: a late C18 ice-well, and as an early example of its type which was adapted for extensive commercial use in the C19;

* Rarity: as a rare example of a large, well-preserved urban ice-well;

* Historic importance: the ice-well was used commercially by innovative ice-merchant and confectioner William Leftwich for storing and supplying Norwegian imported ice, prior to its widespread use for later refrigeration;

* Survival: the ice-well survives in good condition, with an intact brickwork interior and retains its circular plan and principal features including a ventilation hole or opening, a red brick lined chamber, an entrance-passage, an ante-chamber and evidence of internal chambers;

* Documentation: the ice-well is well documented, having been subject to a recent programme of archaeological assessment and investigation, and is included in historic documentary accounts, news articles and plans;

* Potential: partially exposed through archaeological investigation in 2015, there is a high potential for further buried structural remains to be present including more of the passage-way, its internal chambers, wooden door-frames, soak-aways and floors, indicative of ice-melt management. There is also potential for associated artefactual and ecofactual remains.


From about 1600 ice-houses (generally above-ground) and ice-wells (below-ground) were built in the grounds of country houses, usually brick-lined and typically with the profile of an inverted egg. Ice, harvested from a pool or lake, would be packed into the icehouse in the winter months. This would then be taken to the kitchen as needed over the course of the year (the ice would keep a full year) to help keep perishable goods cool. By the later C18 virtually every country house had one.

Ice-wells vary in shape but are mostly brick-lined structures wholly or mainly underground; the top, if above the ground surface, would be covered with earth for insulating purposes. The site would be screened by trees and the doorway often faced north. The more elaborate structures had a separate smaller well or chamber (the bottom of which would contain ice) used for hanging and storing meat and similar perishables. The bottom and sides of the ice-well would be lined with straw, with further straw between the layers of ice or snow. This allowed the moisture from the melting ice to drain away which helped to inhibit further melting. Many ice-wells had wooden floors above and soak-away sumps below for this purpose. Normally ice would be lowered into the well through a shaft at the top, and would be extracted and removed through an ascending passage-way, often curved and with two or more doors to create an air-lock for good insulation. Previous to the advent of the railways, most fresh food such as meat, fish and dairy products became unfit for human consumption after 48 hours. The use of ice extended its 'shelf life' and contributed to contemporary movements in diet and food hygiene.

The underground ice-well at Park Crescent West (NGR 528649 182004) was built by Samuel Dash of 17 Upper Harley Street in 1780, who requested to let a small piece of ground 'for leave to erect an Arch under ground'. It is assumed the ice-well was used during this period to store ice collected over the winter from the nearby Regent's Park Basin (Saunders, 1969, 65). The structure was later leased for use as a commercial ice-well from around the 1820s and expanded by William Leftwich (1770-1843), an ice merchant and confectioner, with wholesale outlets in Fleet Street, London and Kingston-upon-Thames. Leftwich sold ice to taverns, coffeehouses and clubs all over London and supplied the growing confectionary and ice cream trade, popular from the early C19.

Leftwich, frustrated by his inability to preserve food - especially dairy products - during the summer months was among the first to realise that the widespread use of ice for preserving food would be both highly beneficial and immensely profitable. Consequently, in 1822 he 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. He advertised his wares to "nobility and gentry" as "the best and cleanest ice in England". Orders were received at 162 Fleet Street and at the "Ice-well, Park-crescent-mews, New Road" (Morning Post, 13 April 1826). He informs the nobility and gentry that he has "removed from the ice well, Park-crescent mews, to his large well, Little Albany street, Regent's-park" close to Cumberland Market in 1829, nearer to where he now lived (The Times, 2 July 1829). It is unclear whether the ice-well at Park Crescent Mews continued in use or was abandoned in favour of the larger version. The historic map and archaeological evidence indicates that the site of the ice-well, to the rear of the grand houses of Park Crescent, had been built over with a number of smaller mews buildings by the mid-late C19, which may suggest the Park-Crescent ice-well went out of use in 1829.

Leftwich's business was expanded by his sons after his death in 1843. However, the demand for Norwegian ice reduced in the 1890s due to the invention of artificial ice using moulds and compressed ammonia.

The structure was re-discovered in 1961 during re-building work at the 1812-1822 townhouses designed by John Nash at Park Crescent West. Saunders describes it as "an enormous ice house circular in plan with a diameter of 30ft capped by a conical roof, with an entrance passage, ante-chambers and an internal chamber extending to about 55ft in depth" (Saunders, 1969, 65). She states "within a few hours it was filled in with rubble and disappeared again".

A Historic Environment Assessment by MoLA (MoLA, March 2014) was commissioned in advance of the proposed re-development at 16,18-25 and 26 Park Crescent West and 77-81 Portland Place (14/03306/FULL& 14/03308/LBC). This confirmed the potential for significant archaeological remains to be found on the site. As a result, an archaeological evaluation was commissioned by Paul Davis and Partners at the request of the Historic England Archaeology Advisor and the Local Planning Authority at the City of Westminster (MoLA, March 2015). This comprised a single trench, located along the southern boundary within the existing car-park, in which the ice-well was partially exposed and documented as being in near-perfect condition. It was also markedly larger than reported in 1961 (above).

The partially exposed area of the structure was re-covered in its clay lining before being backfilled with compacted gravel under the ground surface for protection. A Planning Statement by DP9 in March 2015 advises that the ice-well is to be retained in-situ and that the proposed (2015) new mews houses will be designed with this in mind (DP9, March 2015, 9). This intention is confirmed in a structural engineering design note update for planning (Burohappold Engineering, 9 March 2015). Historic England's advice on the amended application is to include planning conditions to secure its preservation in situ along with any necessary further archaeological investigation and recording to inform its future management. An Interim Watching Brief report has recently been prepared (MoLA, September 2015) with further archaeological work pending.


A subterranean commercial ice-well, built in 1780 by Samuel Dash. Used by ice-merchant and early pioneer of ice importation William Leftwich from the 1820s.

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The monument includes the buried remains of a largely intact ice-well, located at the site of 16,18-25 and 26 Park Crescent and 77-81 Portland Place in the City of Westminster. The centre of the ice-well is located beneath the south of the site at approximately NGR 528649 182004. The geology underlying the site comprises Thames River Terrace Gravels of the Lynch Hill Terrace, overlying London Clay. Ground level is recorded at 28.0m OD along Park Crescent and 26.97m OD along the southern edge of the site. The maximum height of the ice well was exposed at 26.62m OD and it was partially-excavated to a depth in the evaluation of 24.14m OD. Internally, it is believed to have a full depth of 2.8m. Externally, the structure measures approximately 13m east-west and 12m north-south with a construction cut of at least 2.5m wide around the structure and a larger entrance passage-way to its east with a connected additional vault.

DESCRIPTION The crown of the ice-well has a stone-lined opening measuring 0.65m x 0.65m and 0.29m deep. This served as a ventilation hole and/or means to lower items inside. The ice-well chamber comprises a red brick lining laid in English Bond extending downwards and outwards from the crown, forming a circular body, oval in cross-section. The upper 1m of brickwork is sealed with a fine concrete or cement-type render, identifying the part of the structure which may have been visible above ground in its original setting. Where the chamber was exposed, it was sealed and capped by an additional layer of re-deposited London Clay, added for protection after it was uncovered, during development in the 1960s. This clay was partially excavated during the archaeological work and the structure re-covered (modern overlying deposits are not included in the scheduling). The original construction cut around the ice-well is backfilled with clean re-deposited London Clay (a sample of the cut and backfill is included in the scheduling).

The upper part of the entranceway is 1.3m wide. As with the external chamber superstructure, the side of the entranceway is defined by a brick wall, part rendered to the same depth. The south side of the entranceway, its east limit, and part of the roof, are obscured by later walls associated with C19 buildings. The roof is also obscured by the remains of a concrete slab and pillar base associated with the 1960s site development. The original roof is built with Yorkstone slabs (where visible). Two holes have been cut through the roof allowing a limited view of the interior. The west hole has been re-sealed with a stone paving slab. Remains of a timber door frame are present, located beneath the western hole. At the east limit of the entrance passage-way, a substantial void extends northward, possibly a side-room. This was confirmed as an additional vault, off the passage-way - possibly another chamber for storing perishable goods such as meat - during a later phase of archaeological work.

The ice-well has been backfilled with rubble, with a considerable void remaining at the top of the chamber and to a lesser degree in the entranceway. Internal access was not possible, however photographs taken by the archaeologists indicate that the brickwork is intact (English Bond), lining the southern edge of the chamber. The brickwork indicates a construction date of the late C18. A brick wall is present surmounting the ice-well roof which extends towards the southern boundary of the site. Recent archaeological investigation has confirmed this is adjoined to the top of the structure at 26.52m OD and as it has been rendered, similar to the dome of the ice well, is thought to be contemporary with its later use (MoLA, September 2015, Figure 3 - context no 16).

EXTENT OF MONUMENT The site of the monument comprises an elliptical area measuring approximately 14m east-west by 12m north-south. This is defined to protect the subterranean structure as a whole including its associated features to the south and the passage-way and chamber to the east. The backfilled clay construction cut to the south and east is included (as a sample of the cut) within the buffer of 2m considered to be essential for the support and preservation of the monument.

EXCLUSIONS All overlying modern made ground deposits, concrete, tarmac and services, including a large sewer to the north, are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them, associated with the ice-well and any earlier features, is included. The Jubilee Line Tunnel, and its exclusion zone, which appears to be located underneath the eastern area of the ice-well, at depth, is also excluded. Any proposed new fencing, signage and street furniture associated with the proposed (2015) mews houses, as agreed by the local planning authority, will also be excluded.

Later C19 brick walls have been built on top of the structure, some utilising it as a foundation. These later walls and the modern deposits above are excluded from the scheduling.


16-26 Park Crescent & 77-81 Portland Place, Regent's Park, London: Historic Buildings Record (Archaeology South East, August 2014)
16-26 Park Crescent and 77-81 Portland Place: Historic Buildings Report (Donald Insall Associates, March 2014)
16-26 Park Crescent West, 77-81 Portland Place, London W1: Historic Environment Assessment (MoLA, March 2014)
English Heritage Designation Listing Selection Guide, Garden and Park Structures, April 2011, EH.
English Heritage Designation Scheduling Selection Guide, Industrial Sites, March 2013, EH.
Park Crescent West, London, W1, City of Westminster: Pre-determination evaluation report (MoLA, March 2015)
Park Crescent West, London, W1, City of Westminster: Watching Brief interim report (MoLA, September 2015)
Park Crescent West. Planning Statement (DP9, March 2015)
Saunders, A, Regent's Park, A Study of the Development of the Area from 1086 to the Present Day, (1969) David &Charles:Newton Abbot

End of official listing