Cave in the Grounds of Woodlands House?

AS asks:

Having studied old maps of the area, I see that there was a cave in the grounds of the old nunnery in Mycenae Road, which is now Woodlands House. I wonder if this cave is well known, whether it is man made or a natural phenomenum. I expect it is blocked up now. I would be very grateful if anyone knows anything about this, and any history behind it.

The Phantom replies:

I don’t know of any caves there – though Greenwich being Greenwich, the whole area is riddled with holes and passageways, and there could be one.

What I suspect it’s more likely to be though, is the remains of an old ice house.

Ice houses were popular in the days before refrigeration and were usually situated in the darkest, dankest area of a house’s grounds, to try to keep them cool. They were generally giant brick-lined pits often several metres deep, with a roof that was then often covered with a mound of soil, and shaded by trees, though some were disguised as little summerhouses or quaint cottages.

What happened was that during the winter ice was harvested from local ponds and shipped back by horse and cart to the ice house, where it was packed really solidly until, ideally, it was full. The contents were then used throughout the summer for keeping food chilled and making drinks and desserts. It wasn’t always of the purest possible quality…

Nearly all major estates had an ice house, and Iunderstand that Woodlands was no exception. If it was covered with a mound of earth, it may well look like a cave, especially if the trees have grown up around it. Presumably it would have been abandoned at some point and small children (and Phantoms) happening upon it in the undergrowth could well have fantasised it was a secret chamber – which of course, in some respects by that time it would have been.

I have no idea if it still exists or even whether it was in the bit that is still green at Woodlands(the Angerstein estate stretched down as far as the river) but it would make sense for an ice house not to be situated too far away from the kitchen. I am sure that if it is still there it will be well blocked up as by their very nature ice houses have very deep shafts and are very dark indeed – a potentially lethal combination…

Maybe someone has some more information? Am I barking up anywhere near the right tree?


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