Christchurch’s third Ice Cream Charlie dies, aged 94

Ken Barnes in his Vanilla Ices cart.

The customer is king.

That was one of the lessons Ken Barnes taught his children when they helped him man his iconic ice cream stall, Vanilla Ices.

Mr Barnes was the city’s third Ice Cream Charlie, running the Christchurch institution for years when it was based on Lichfield St, behind Farmers, and later in its current location at Victoria Square.

He passed away on Sunday at Anthony Wilding Hospital. He was 94.

Daughter Pam Richardson said her father was a special man who loved his job.

“He loved serving customers chatting away to them listening to their stories of where they came from.”

Mrs Richardson said he worked long days.

“As youngsters we spent many hours standing on a box beside the cart washing and drying glasses or inside standing beside father collecting the money and giving the change. We learnt to look after the customer – the customer was king,” she said.

“Look after the customer and he will return time and time again. And they did for their weekly treat – a dish of ice cream with raspberry topping all made at home in the factory in Clarkson Ave.”

The first Ice Cream Charlie was Sali Mahomet, who set up a cart in Cathedral Square in 1903.

When Mr Mahomet died in 1943, Vic Wilkinson, who ran Vanilla Ices, was given the name.

Mr Wilkinson owned a dairy farm and used the milk to make his ice cream.

Then his daughter Joan married Mr Barnes and they started running the cart, with the help of Mr Wilkinson. Their son Max later took over later.

Mr Barnes’ funeral will be held on Monday at St Augustine’s Anglican Church in Cashmere.

Mrs Richardson said people travelled from all over town to get an ice cream from the cart at the end of the week.

“Victoria Square, the latest of his [Mr Barnes] sites, was an amazing setting for an ice cream cart.”

Mr Barnes was also heavily involved in the Lions Club of Christchurch South for more than 20 years.

Club secretary and friend Barry Scott said he was an honest and clever gentleman.

He was the convener of the annual magic show and part of the Santa’s Workshop team that built toys to donate at Christmas.

“Any working bee through the Lions, Ken would be there, and he would be there with his basket and his coffee. He always had enough for himself and anyone else there.”

Mr Scott said Mr Barnes and his late wife Joan attended most Lions events.

“When we asked him what was in his ice cream, he would say ‘I’m not telling you that’. That was his life there for quite a few years,” Mr Scott said.

“He was certainly a magician when it came to dishing out the ice cream.”

Vanilla Ices has been owned by George and Raewyn Taylor since 1999.

Mrs Taylor said she had heard Mr Barnes passed away, but did not know him personally.

Mr Barnes is survived by his children Pam, Max and Lynne, along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


  1. I remember him so well. An icon for so many families and happy Sumer time memories. Hope the legend will live on.