Published by Kent Underground Research Group Newsletter No.63)

Lovell’s Wharf is ‘protected’ as an industrial site but changes are likely soon. Because I had written about the Greenwich riverside I was asked by a local group to research the site further – there are two large cranes on site, which some locals wanted preserved. The point of writing this article is that during the course of this research I discovered that there is, or was, an ice well on site.

The wharf is sited at the end of Pelton Road on the Greenwich riverside. It was developed in the 1840s by Coles Child working with the site owners, Morden College, as a coal wharf. On Child’s retirement the business continued, but with a greater emphasis on cement, worked by Whiteway and Rowton who had been Child’s managers. From the late 1880s the site was divided and the area nearest Pelton Road was let to a series of other users – mostly wharfage interests. Shaw Lovell took over the lease in the 1920s and remained there until reasonably recently. I have now written this up for Bygone Kent and the articles should appear in due course.

I had been told about the ice well in the course of an interview with one of the managers from the site who had been there in the 1970s when Lovell’s metal handling business was in full swing. I knew nothing about it and only half believed him. Then I began to find some details in the Morden College archive in Blackheath. Morden College on the whole kept a fairly tight rein on the lessees of their sites and there is usually a great deal of detail in the archive. However, this did not extend to Coles Child and the usual details of changes on site do not seem to applied while he and his successors held the lease. The only details relate to the short interval before Shaw Lovell took up their lease with Morden College and Child had left it. What I found therefore only related to inventories drawn up for the purpose of renewing the lease.

The icehouse itself is detailed in an estimate for repairs of 1918. It is not in an inventory of the site for 1915, nor on a later schedule. It is however listed on a 1936 document. The lessees in 1916 were Yarmouth Carriers and I had rather assumed that they built the ice well – perhaps, I thought, they were a fish handling business. However, I then discovered that for a short time in the 1880s an ice merchant, John Ashby, rented part of the site – and, obviously, I think it is much more likely that he built the well. I know nothing about Ashby – and would be grateful for any information. I am aware that further down river in Greenwich a William Ashby had a cement works in the 1880s. William Ashby was one of the Staines Ashby banking family and the current head of the family in the 1880s was a John Ashby – so I wondered if it was possible that the ice business was run by one of them. I am still trying to contact someone who has written about the family and their activities in the Staines area.

All I know about the ice well is contained in a schedule of repairs from 1918. This says that the interior is leaking and that action must be taken. It also says that the trap door is missing, and/or defective. That it is made of corrugated iron, that the gates are missing, the woodwork is perished and the cement chipped. I also gathered from this that the well is under one of the buildings alongside the Pelton Road frontage.

Applications to the owners to get on site and investigate various aspects of the site have been ignored. A site history and report has been done for the developer by a private consultancy – I have not been allowed to see this and I do not know if the ice well is mentioned. Since starting this I have been amazed at the depth of ignorance on the subject. When I have raised it with the planning authorities I have been rebuffed with ‘What ‘s an Ice well – why should we be interested?’ The local conservation groups have however noted that the well might survive and suggested that it be investigated.

I know of no other such example on the Greenwich riverside although North Pole Ice Co. had a site further down towards where the Dome is now being built. More information would be useful – and perhaps a letter to the Planning Authorities urging that any investigation is done by specialists and not by the usual private consultancy archaeologists.

Mary Mills

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