The ice well and attached underground chambers were built in or around 1773 to store ice for the nearby Manor House, the former home of merchant banker Sir Francis Baring. There was a large chamber for ice and a passage leading to a suite of three cambers. The one nearest the ice well has been interpreted as a cold store, while the furthest seems to have coal and ashes stored in it. Chambers adjacent to ice wells were often used to allow produce with different cold temperature demands to be placed nearer to or farther from the ice. It is believed that other, now inaccessible, chambers were also once connected.
In 1898 the owners sold the Manor House and grounds to the London County Council, and the ice house was used for a time in some unknown manner for stabling a local builder’s ponies.
In the Second World War it came to the attention of the local ARP Committee. A surprising number of ice wells were used as air raid shelters in the Second World War. Two of the stores were connected to each other by an hatch to allow occupants to escape via the adjacent compartment if either entrance was blocked. A third chamber must have been also used at first, as at a June 1941 meeting of the Lewisham Council Civil Defence Emergency Committee, one of the three air raid shelters in the Gardens is described as sub-standard and dangerous and was closed.
The ice house fell into disrepair in the latter half of the 20th century, but just before the millennium it was restored with new openings and steel framing, and is now occasionally open in summer months and on request.
Thanks to Charles Batchelor and the Lee Manor Society for the visit
For opening times refer to Lee Manor Society.