Ice-houses are fascinating and slightly spooky places… Her is a very interesting article about them from Somerset Genealogy

Our Ancestors and Ice

I was intrigued recently to see a program on how Victorians made ice-cream which led me to wonder where they got the ice from, after all these were the days before freezers and such machines.
I have, in the past, read articles referring to ice being imported from Norway and Scandinavia but thought this would make ice too expensive for most Georgian or Victorians and therefore be a commodity for the rich only. Yet we hear of ice-carts selling ice to normal folk within our towns and villages during these times.
So where did this ice come from? In winter, if cold enough, ice would be available to anyone who wanted to go and collect it, but what about in summer? We know the Victorians were keen on a glass of ice-cream (they didn’t have cones as we know them today) and this would be an expensive treat during a visit to a seaside town.
The answer, I was surprised to find out, was ice-houses. Yep, houses made to store ice. These constructions were usually built below ground level to make the most of natural insulation.
Ice was collected during the winter months from ponds and rivers and wrapped with straw for extra insulation and then packed into these natural freezers to see them through the warm summer months. The following winter stores would be replenished. These ice-houses usually had a run-off for water, as any dampness would cause the ice to melt faster. An example of how ice-houses worked can be found on a schematic taken from Attingham Park in Shropshire. (Courtesy of For Romance Readers).
A bit more digging and I found a reference to several within Somerset. One reference in ‘Manorial Records’ (1817-1825) for the family Poulett of Hinton St. George made reference to ‘work done to the ice-house‘.
Ice House, Eglinton, Ayrshire – Image courtesy of Wikipedia
According to Wikipedia, “ice-houses were first introduced to Britain around 1660. Various types and designs of ice house exist. However, British ice-houses were commonly brick lined, domed structures, with most of their volume underground. Ice houses varied in design depending on the date and builder, but were mainly conical or rounded at the bottom to hold melted ice. They usually had a drain to take away any water. It is recorded that the idea for ice houses was brought to Britain by travellers who had seen similar arrangements in Italy, where peasants collected ice from the mountains and used it to keep food fresh inside caves. Ice Houses may also be known as Ice Wells, Ice Pits or Ice Mounds”.
There are still examples in Somerset today of ice-houses. A nice example is of Nynehead Court, near Nynehead, Somerset.
 Image courtesy of geograph.co.uk
It would seem these private ice-houses were more for the use of the manor rather than a commercial enterprise but I’m sure some entrepreneurs would have made use of this lucrative market.
So, maybe the ice sold by street vendors did indeed come from Norway or Scandinavia. If you know, please enlighten us.
This interesting exploration of the way we used to keep cool, and much more to explore can be found here:
and to the web-site:
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