Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ice Houses and Wells

Prior to the advent of mechanical refrigeration, preservation of food was difficult, especially during the summer. The practice of building ice houses/wells is said to have come to England from France. One of the first was build in 1619 in Greenwich for James I.

By the 18th Century, ice houses/wells were common on estates. The larger the estate, the more ice houses. An ice house stood on the southwest corner of the grounds of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire had five. Sizes varied. The ice house at Petworth has three pits.

Ice wells/houses were built close to a lake or pond that was often created specifically to supply the ice. The structures were made of brick with a domed roof for air circulation, and lined with straw. The floor sloped to a runoff drain. Ice houses often had more than one entrance, or possessed dogleg passages to further insulate them. (Click on image for larger view of how an ice house was constructed.)

In the winter, once the lake or pond froze over, blocks of ice were cut and stacked inside with sawdust and straw in between. In 1980, an experiment was conduction at Levens Hall (Cumbria) where ice was maintained this way for thirteen months.

By 1820, iceberg ice was being imported from Greenland and Scandinavia.

The advent of mechanical refrigeration spelled the demise of the ice house, although many remained in use well into the 20th Century. William Cullen demonstrated the first known artificial refrigeration at the University of Glasgow in 1748. The first practical refrigeration machine was built in 1834 by American Inventory, Jacob Perkins.

Over 2500 ice wells/houses still exist in Britain.

Brighton: Ice Houses and the Commercial Ice Trade in Brighton
History Magazine: The Impact of Refrigeration
Wikipedia: Ice Houses (building)
Ice Wells and Ice Houses
Country : The Ice House Uncovered