Parlington Hall :: The Estate :: Ice House Page One


The research on the old hall has uncovered a considerable amount of information, but amongst the unearthed remains the Ice House has been responsible for very many search queries on the likes of Google and Yahoo, that have brought people to this site. Clearly the subject of the storage of ice is of long standing interest with those curious about the past. The ability to deliver cold drinks in the heat of summer, before the days of refrigeration, stretches back to the ancients, and Ice Houses have been uncovered all around the globe.

Ice Houses in Britain

The ice house is believed to have been introduced to Britain in the seventeenth century, but perhaps not the first introduction, as it may be that the Roman occupation brought the first use of such structures to the country. By the late nineteenth century almost every large country house had such a construction. In 1980 a survey, The Ice House Hunt began with the intention of cataloging the remaining structures dotted around the UK, at that time little was known of them, they were a forgotten relic of our past.

Other Ice Houses

When I get the opportunity I shall add pictures of other Ice Houses, to get the ball rolling here are some I took at Holkham Hall, Norfolk in September 2009, The building has a conical thatched roof and the entrance is on the north side, via a brick built passageway.

The plaque on the door of the Holkham Ice reads as follows: Other than St. Swithburga's Church, this Ice House may be the oldest building within Holkham Park. Although experts have differing opinions, one authority suggests that the Ice House was in existence well before building operations began on the Family wing of Holkham Hall in 1734. Another makes comparison with Ice Houses in Wales, known to have been constructed around 1750-60. The earliest known reference to a building designed specifically for this purpose is to a 'snow conserve' built in Greenwich Park for James 1 in 1619-20. This observation ties in with my comment in the first paragraph about Ice Houses first being used in Britain in the seventeenth century, if James 1 had one it would have established a trend.

Cup & Dome Type of Ice House

The structure here at Parlington is a Cup and Dome Ice House, that is the lower section below the opening being the cup and the roof the dome. This was the most popular type of construction, but was also the most expensive. However the advantages of this type of construction were considerable, not the least being the strength of the structure, many still exist today as testimony to this statement. Ease of loading was an important consideration, and the doorway or hatch into the chamber was sited on the springing line of the dome, the threshold being below waist height to allow ice to be tipped into the chamber. [Parlington's opening is just above the springing line of the dome.]

When the filling operations were complete, and this could mean up to 50 tonnes of ice being deposited in the chamber the top was sealed with a layer of straw or reeds. The most significant advantage of the cup and dome design, it is stated, was the fact that the ice slid down the tapering side walls as it melted, allowing it to compact and consolidate under the weight of the ice above. Also reducing the surface area and facilitating its continued freezing. Once in place the ice would be intact for two to three years. [This seems a staggering time, but is quoted in a number of places so can be seen as an accurate statement.]

Ice House Dimensions (measured 26th April 2009)

Following the acquisition of a sonic laser guided measure, I can now tell you that the dimensions of the ice house are not far from my original estimate, approximately 16'-0" [4.88m] diameter at the maximum radius just beneath the opening. The volume is around 85 yds³ [65m³] from the level just below the opening, this means that it would easily accommodate 60+ tonnes of ice. But if the ice on the fish pond was 4" [100mm] thick it would require 769yds² of surface area ice to fill the structure (20yds x 38.5yds), which could be the surface area of the fish pond! If on the other hand the ice was 2" thick they would have needed to take ice from the Gamekeeper's lake also. However you look at it, the process of collecting, transporting and filling the Ice House was a lot of work!

Eighteenth Century Technology

The following paragraph contains a verbatim extract from the excellent book by Sylvia Beamon and Susan Roaf, to provide an insight into the technology of the time. The process of ice melting is worth considering in some detail. Everyone is aware that to convert ice into water, heat must be supplied. If a small container were filled with ice, and heat applied, the ice would begin to melt, but the temperature would remain at a constant 0°C until all the ice had melted. Only then would the teperature begin to rise: hence all the heat applied up to the point when the temperature began to rise was used to change the ice to water. It is interesting to reflect that the quantity of heat required to melt 1,000 gms of ice at 0°C will boil 625 gms. of water. Water transfers heat relatively quickly by convection and conduction, which makes it a poor insulator. In spite of the fact that a large amount of heat has to be supplied to melt the ice, wet ice will melt rapidly, due to the conduction and convection of heat from the surrounding walls and ground. Thus it is essential to keep the ice as dry as possible, and efiicient drainage is important. Ice House wells built in the form of a cup with inwardlly tapering sides are the most efficient in terms of maintaining minimal surface areas for contained ice masses, encouraging regelation, and effecting rapid drainage of the ice.

Section through the Ice House

The details from the old site, are slightly misleading, the section was drawn from casual observation as it was not possible to get into the structure, a more exacting look has enabled me to produce a clearer sketch which shows the overall shape more acurately. Although the dimensions are still approximate, it is around 16 feet in diameter at the maximum just below the small square opening and tapers to a reduced diameter at the base.

The likelyhood that the base has a series drainage outlets cannot be confirmed because of the debris which is covering the whole area. But from discussions with people who have worked on other ice houses around the country it is clear that some form of drainage must exist to allow melt water to escape. See the recently drawn image of the Ice House for a clearer description. Architectural Detail of the Ice House  

Trapped in the Ice House

A story related to me last year by two local residents from nearby Garforth, told how they and another friend in their youth (1950's), descended into the dark hole down a makeshift rope secured to a tree. But once inside and being influenced by the dungeon like nature of the dark hole they quickly elected to return to the daylight above them; but alas whilst the descent was aided by gravity, the ascent a much harder proposition with gravity working very much against them. They tried and tried but could not get back up and out by the rope alone, neither was it any use shouting for help, although they did until the lungs hurt, as the old ice house is hidden in the woods and in any event the sound seemed as trapped as they were in the ground!

Eventually exhausted they managed by climbing on each others shoulders to get within sufficient distance of the entrance and also using the rope one reached the outside, he was then able to use the rope to haul out the other two!

Ice House in Parlington

The subject is covered on the earlier site and is available on the link below.

Ice House Page on the old site

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Recent additions to this page have benefitted from information sourced from a book by Sylvia Beamon and Susan Roaf, titled The Ice-Houses of Britain first published in 1990 by Routledge. Copies can still be found in Antiquarian Bookshops, but if you find one be prepared for a hefty price, I discovered mine through Amazon at Eric T Moore Books in Hitchin, Herts.

The book is in two parts, The first: The History of Ice-Houses and second: A Gazetteer of Ice-Houses. The Gazetteer carries almost 3,000 references, but sadly the Parlington Ice Houses do not feature in the book, overlooked, but with my work not forgotton.

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The new site adds considerably to the content about Parlington, but until the whole site has been redesigned some sections may be unavailable on the new site, to overcome this problem, you can visit any of the old pages by clicking on the icon below to show the original site navigation.

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