A Sunday Stroll to Primrose Hill


The Wilson family is ready to move. Having risen early to enjoy the fine, warm weather and to take advantage of a new day of sightseeing, they are full of anticipation of the prospects ahead. The coach on Friday had brought them to town from Nottingham and they had settled into comfortable lodgings in St. James for a few days, close to the areas in the West End that were being transformed in that summer of 1830. Mr Wilson, an avid collector of topographic prints and drawings, was keen to share the magnificence of Georgian London with his family. Yesterday had been a full day.


Visitors to London

St James’ Square to Primrose Hill, drawn on Greenwood map, 1827 (Harvard Map Collection)

From St. James they had walked around St. James’ Park, inspected John Nash’s partly renovated Buckingham Palace, visited Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, walked along Whitehall through the centres of government and arrived at Charing Cross, where the plans of John Nash and others for the new square were being slowly realised after much demolition.

Today the Wilsons planned to show their young family the full extent of the capital city with a gentle excursion to the north of the metropolis, taking in Regent Street, The Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill where they could stop for refreshments after a three mile walk. This was a further chance to appreciate and experience some of London’s most recent and emerging glories, many of which John Nash had again been closely associated. The route they took is shown on the extract from the Greenwood map of 1827.


Stop for Refreshment

They set off, taking Lower Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus. From theare they walked along Regent Street, admiring the fine Georgian terraces, over Oxford Circus to Upper Regent Street and the Chapel of All Souls in Langham Place and continued into Portland Place. This led to Park Crescent where they stopped at William Leftwich’s ice cream parlour for refreshment. Ice had traditionally been collected from frozen lakes or canals and stored over the course of the year. The source was not always clean. Ice for preserving perishables was initially only affordable by the wealthy. 

Setting up his own business around 1810, William Leftwich appears to have traded as a high-class caterer, one that could meet the demand for iced drinks and ice cream. Following a hot summer in 1821, he imported ice from Norway as ‘the best and cleanest in England’. The ice was transferred onto barges at Regent’s Canal Dock and taken along the canal where it was lifted into one of his ice wells. From 1826, imported ice was stored in his new ice well at Cumberland Market, close to the Regent’s Canal’s Cumberland Basin, a market that had been established specifically to serve the new residents of The Regent’s Park. He lived at 34 Cumberland Market from where he would deliver ice to residences, confectioners and fishmongers. 

Park Crescent Mews ice well, 2018 (The Guardian)

With an excavated depth of 82 feet and holding 1,500 tons of ice, his Cumberland Market ice well continued to a depth of 300 feet as a water well into the chalk, which would have made it self-draining for the disposal of melt water as well as providing a potable water supply. He continued to extract ice from the Regent’s Canal to store in an ice well at his wharf on Upper James Street that served less wealthy customers.

The earliest known large-scale commercial ice well was constructed in 1780, long before John Nash’s Park Crescent was erected nearby, leading to it being designated a scheduled monument by Historic England. The ice well survives today at what was then Park Crescent Mews. William Leftwich had been using this ice well to serve the high-class local clientele, including medical practices. Another confectioner in the West End had already marketed a product similar to modern ice cream and it can be readily imagined that Leftwich had opened premises to cater for the masses that would be seeking both fresh air and refreshment as they strolled up Portland Place towards Regent’s Park. 

Park Crescent with the New Road, looking south, Hughes, 1831 (Yale Centre for British Art)

The Wilsons took the opportunity to enjoy this very novel form of refreshment before moving on. They crossed the New Road from Park Crescent stepping over the ordure’s that accumulated from the traffic on this busy highway. The road had retained the generous dimensions of its origins as a drover’s road to Smithfield. The first horse omnibus service (‘for all’ in Latin) had been established here by George Shillibeer the previous year operating between Paddington and the Bank. It was an immediate success and had swiftly been followed by others.

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