Lee Ice House

Useful Information

Location: Manor Lane, London SE13 5QW.
(51.456402, 0.003863)
Open: APR to SEP 1st+3rd Sun 15-17.
Fee: donations welcome.
Classification: SubterraneaIce Cellars
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Lee Manor Society, London SE13 5QW, Tel: 020-8852-2758. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1773 built to store ice for the nearby Manor House.
1898 sold to the London County Council, used as a stable for the ponies of a local builder.
Second World War used as air raid shelter.
2000 opened to the public.


Lee Ice House is the ice cellar of the former home of merchant banker Sir Francis Baring. It has a huge chamber in which ice was stored over summer for the use of the wealthy owners of the Manor House. The ice was used to preserve food and for table decorations. But it was not only an ice cellar, a passage leads to a suite of three cambers. The first was used as cold store, a sort of refrigerator, as it was colder than a normal cellar. The other rooms were used as normal cellars, to store coal and ashes.

The ice was cut from the lake in the gardens and packed into the egg-shaped ice well. Straw packing around the ice kept the ice solid for at least a year. The openings of the ice cellar, including the passage to the adjacent rooms, were closed by several wooden doors to reduce air movement.

Ice cellars were a common feature of many large estates. They fell into disuse after the First World War due to the invention of refrigerators, electrification to power them, and the invention of other options for preserving food like canning. They were forgotten for some time, but during the Second World War a surprising number of ice wells were used as air raid shelters. The local ARP Committee connected two of the stores to each other by a hatch to allow occupants to escape via the adjacent compartment if either entrance was blocked. At this time the third chamber still existed, and was also used at first, but it was described as substandard and dangerous and was closed. It is now inaccessible.

After the war it was abandoned and finally fell in disrepair. It was restored by the Lee Manor Society in the late 1990s, financed by donations of local residents, The Pilgrim Trust, the Heritage of London Trust, the Lewisham Borough, and by a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Board. It was opened to the public in 2000. Due to the spread of Victorian London the garden was partly used to build the houses on Manor Lane. As a result the original entrance was at some point only accessible through the back garden of one of those houses. They had to create a staircase leading down to a newly created opening in the Ice House wall. The floor was rough soil, it was smoothed and covered in brick. They were actually not aware how popular it would prove over the long term. It was visited by 30,000 visitors over two decades, which is a decent number concerning that it is open only two days per month.