Ice Houses
The Ice Trade


Preserving food in a warm environment has always been a challenge, and keeping food cold has long been known as a highly effective way to slow down the deterioration.  Before the advent of domestic refrigerators, one way of doing this was by using ice.  

In the UK, until recently, ice has been readily available during the winter months, but the problem was how to store it until the summer when it was really needed.

The answer (for the rich at least) was to build an Ice House.  By the end of the 19th centaury most country estates would boast at least one, and rich homes in London would be likely to have a small one in the back garden.  A well-maintained ice house would keep ice for the entire year, ready for a fresh re-fill in the next winter.

Given you have the ice, the next question is what to do with it.  In some instances, the space around the ice house was sufficiently cold to be used for storing large meat items, for example hanging game.  However, the most common method was to have some form of ice box or 'refrigerator' in the kitchen, comprising an insulated box with two or more compartments.  Blocks of ice would be put in one compartment and the food in the other(s).  Provided the ice was topped up each day, this worked much as a common domestic fridge.

The UK had very cold winters up to the mid-1800's, so getting ice each winter was never a problem, even in the south.  However, as temperatures started to rise, this became less reliable.  Fortunately some entrepreneurs discovered ice was a viable export, and so the ice trade started.  In the UK we importing Ice from as far afield as the USA and Norway, so the ice house could still be filled each winter.





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Last modified: 05/05/2017