The Bear's hut and ice house

Boy looking through the window of the Bear Hut at Killerton, Devon

The Bear's hut and ice house are unique features of the garden at Killerton awaiting discovery.

The Bear's hut

As you wander through the garden you'll notice a curious structure at the top of the lawn nestled beneath the trees.

The Bear's hut was built in 1808 by John Veitch on behalf of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland. Veitch was very fond of Sir Thomas' wife Lydia, and the two of them planned the hut as a surprise. As Thomas and Lydia married in 1808, it is thought that the hut is probably modelled on a similar garden shelter at her family home.

This hut was known at the time as the 'Ladycott', which would act as a summerhouse for the family. The hut has a thatched roof and is constructed of timber from the estate. The beautiful stained glass window in the hut was collected by the Acland family on their travels. Each room is lined with different materials, from varying woods and deer skin, to matting and pine cones, with bark adorning some of the walls. The floor in the inner room is 'cobbled' with deer knuckle-bones.

The hut was renamed because in the 1860s it was used to house a black bear called Tom, which had been brought to Killerton by the 12th Baronet's brother, Gilbert, on his return from Canada. 

The roof inside the bear's hut at Killerton.
The bear's hut interior at Killerton, Devon
The roof inside the bear's hut at Killerton.

The ice house 

Cold winters were more common in the early 19th century, and fashionable houses relied on their ice houses. John Veitch designed the ice house on the Killerton estate in 1808. The structure was built into the back of the quarry, lined with brick, and the exterior was clad in earth and stone to create a natural-looking feature. 

During the winter of 1809, 30 men worked for five days to fill it with 40 tons of ice from nearby ponds and the River Culm. The ice was crushed and compacted, and when required, chunks would be broken off with a pickaxe and taken to the kitchen in zinc-lined cases, where it was used to chill bottles and make yummy treats like ice-cream and bombes for the Acland family. 

The ice house is no longer in use, and has become more well known as a winter roost for Lesser horseshoe and Greater horseshoe bats.

The entrance to the ice house at Killerton
Killerton ice house surrounded by ferns
The entrance to the ice house at Killerton