Cool Britannia! The story of the Ice House

Cool discovery! New ice house in London leaves archaeologists frozen in their tracks!

Our intrepid History Club investigators have uncovered an Intriguing story that throws light on the way our Georgian ancestors kept chilled in the hot months! Buried deep in the history of Regency London, archaeologists have uncovered an enormous and cavernous icehouse measuring 9.5 m deep and 7.5 m wide!

What is an ice house I hear you ask?  Ever wondered how the Georgians kept their meat and fish fresh, cooled their drinks or kept their deserts cold? The answer is the ice house!Studies suggest that ice houses were used even in ancient times! The first purpose built ice houses in Britain date from the early 17th century. Then that clever King Charles II encouraged the building of more ice houses to show off to his friends and visitors! These houses were egg shaped, constructed of brick, and built partly underground.

In earlier times people were employed to hack ice from frozen rivers and lakes and to deliver it to merchants, tradesmen and wealthy houses. This was a perilous trade as one careless slip could land you under the frozen waters! Aristocratic and gentry households frequently had their own purpose built icehouse. The ice was prevented from melting by being packed around with straw or sawdust. In the case of the London icehouse it is suggested that the ice came from as far away as Norway! It’s snow joke! That’s an ice joke!

Hey but London doesn’t have it all you know! There’s one at Sutton Park and nearby York has its own ice house, dating from around 1800, tucked neatly below the city walls, not far from Monk Bar, in the shadow of the Minster! We have discovered that there are simply loads of ice houses all around the country, often these are partly buried or have been used for other things over the years! So you know what you have to do, don’t you? Get on your bike and start looking!

Mrs Victoria Harrington

Teacher of History