Martin Sach is the go to man if you want to know about the history of the icemen who lived and worked in Kings Cross. He’s been running the London Canal Museum on the New Wharf Road for the last 20 years. The museum is home to one of the only surviving ice wells in London that the public can go to and visit. The well, which used to store huge blocks of ice deep in the ground, is a large dark circular pit that was once forty-two feet deep.
It was built by the Swiss entrepreneur Carlos Gatti in the 1850’s and ‘60’s. Although not Italian himself, Gatti came from the Italian speaking, Ticino region of Switzerland. It is perhaps why large numbers of Italians migrated to the Kings Cross area and found work suppling Victorian London with ice long before the days of refrigeration.
The museum is a hidden gem tucked away down the back streets off York Road. Once inside you can access the Battle Bridge Canal an off-shoot of the Regents Canal where the boats and tugs laden with grain, fruit, cattle-feed and of course ice would be unloaded and distributed.
It is here on the canal where I find Martin and the story of the ice wells begin.
Story by Lainy Malkani