ICE HOUSE / KEEPER'S HUT ~
The ice house on EAST HEATH, Hampstead Heath (located between the toilets and Vale of Health Pond) is an old keeper's hut.
That and the wall by its side, (known as Ha-Ha to prevent intruding grazing animals), are purported to have been built by Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson, Lord of The Manor Of Hampstead, in the 1840s to mark the boundary of the East Park estate, which would have been part of his development of the area.
On the KENWOOD ESTATE the dairy had a proper ice well beneath its central room. This building near the West Lodge can be viewed from the paths. There are some interior photographs in the Mansion Cottage information centre. Another ice well is situated in the Duellings Grounds but there is no general public access to this.
In the days before refrigeration, many estates would have an ice well.
Generally this would be a brick-lined pit in the ground with a domed roof to control the circulation of air. It was often sited under trees and some way from the house.
There would be some form of drainage at the bottom and the ice packed between layers of straw. This would be cut from nearby ponds/lakes or could be bought.
Ice for commercial purposes was imported from Norway (1820's - 1921) and America (1840's).
The ice well worked in the same way as a vacuum flask by insulating in the cold and excluding the warmth.
Ice would then be available throughout the year or maybe last for two years.
Because they were tucked away and vegetation was encouraged to grow over them their presence isn't always obvious.
At least 2500 ice houses still exist in Britain.