The area of London we now know as King’s Cross was until the early nineteenth century called Battlebridge, commemorating the tradition that it was the site of Queen Boudicea’s defeat in AD60-61. (A more recent and tenuous tradition asserts that the queen is buried beneath platforms 9 and 10 of King’s Cross Station.)
The original “king’s cross” was a bombastic memorial to King George IV, sited at the junction of Grays Inn Road, York Way, Euston Road and Pentonville Road. It was built in 1836 and though it lasted only nine years because it obstructed the traffic the name King’s Cross has stuck ever since.
The name Battlebridge survives at a canal basin on the Regent’s Canal, now a desirable mooring and the home of the London Canal Museum [http://www.canalmuseum.org.uk/index.html], which occupies a former ice warehouse on New Wharf Road.
The museum has two equally important themes – waterways and ice. It’s the only dedicated waterways museum in London, and it’s probably the only place to learn about the once-important ice industry that vanished in the face of mechanised ice manufacture after the Second World War.
It was an ingenious trade, meshed with the Norwegian timber trade. During the winter ice was cut by the loggers who chopped timber in the warmer months, and carried to London in March in the freighters than brought the timber later in the year.
The ice was brought from Limehouse on the Regent’s Canal, loaded and unloaded by metal devices called ice dogs, and stored in cavernous ice wells, much like the icehouses on country estates but rather bigger, built in 1857 and 1862.
The filled wells were insulated by sawdust, an otherwise useless by-product of the timber trade.
The enterprise on New Wharf Road was run by Carlo Gatti (1817-1878), an Italian-speaking Swiss who is credited with introducing ice cream as a popular luxury.
His carts delivered raw ice to restaurants, butchers, fishmongers, hospitals and domestic users.
He also developed a chain of ice-cream parlours and diversified into music halls before returning to Switzerland for a wealthy retirement in the early 1870s.
His warehouse continued in use until at least 1902.
The London Canal Museum, opened in 1992, is small but rich in interest. The ground floor shows one of the two original wells, and the space above, originally stables which the horses accessed up a steep ramp, has comprehensive displays and film clips that explain and bring to life London’s waterways.
It’s a little-known gem, within five minutes’ walk of King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, and a visit will take at least an hour.