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Ice House

posted 2 Dec 2013, 03:39 by Andre Hefer   [ updated 2 Dec 2013, 03:48 ]
Ice House, Swinfen Broun brass rubbing trail

What does this brass rubbing represent? Is it a joint of meat or a ham that could be hung from the roof of the ice house?


Ice houses were introduced to Britian in the 17th century, probably not for the first time. By the 19th century allmost every large country house had one. So an ice house could have been included when Beacon Place was originally built or during a later extention.

The Lichfield Lore local history blog, written by Kate Gomez, places the icehouse in Beacon Park between the Shaw lane car park and the scout hut. There is still a bump in the ground, which could be part of the structure. Putting an ice house here would make sense because it was reasonably close to the house and was alongside the carriage way that ran along the line of trees, crossing Leomansley brook and continuing towards Christchurch. So ice could be transported along the carriageway from the fish ponds to the ice house. The higher ground would also have allowed melt water to escape under gravity from the drain at the base of the ice well. See "Ice houses and how they work" below.

The Lichfield Lore blog includes an interesting map, dated 1921, showing the fishponds alongside Leomansley brook, rather than damming the stream. Two weirs are indicated on the map. The freezing of the fish ponds would have been encouraged by this arrangement as the warmer spring water in Leomansely brook could bypass the cooler water in the ponds. It is also reported that other ice houses deliberately flooded fields nearby to increase the supply of ice.

This store of ice could provide refrigeration for up to two years depending on the size and design of the ice house.


Ice House being filled. Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland

Ice houses and how they work

Before modern fridges were invented, an ice houses were an effective way of preserving food. Like a vacuum flask, ice houses work because they have good thermal insulation to keep the cold in and the heat out. For this reason they were either fully or mainly underground, and are typically covered with a thick layer of soil and sited under trees. A domed roof helped control the circulation of air.

In winter ice would be harvested and placed in the well of the ice house, packed between layers of straw. A drain at the base of the well allowed melt water to escape. Water conducts heat twenty times more efficiently than air. So if the ice well filled with water it would quickly loose its cooling capacity to the surrounding earth. The drain removed the melt water while the straw encouraged the circulation of cold air within the ice house.

Ice houses varied considerably in size. At Petworth House the ice well was 8m (26ft) in diameter and 5m (16ft) deep. This space could store over 216 cubic meters (tonnes) of ice which would be able to provide the same amount of cooling as eight or nine large (300l) domestic chest freezers.

Image to the right courtesy of Wikipedia. Stocking the ice house, Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland.


Find out more:

  1. Lichfield Lore : Beacon Place Part Two

  2. www.icehouses.co.uk : Petworth House

  3. London footprints: Ice Houses and ice wells

  4. Wikipedia: Vacuum flasks