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THE ICE TRADE IN BRITAIN

When ice houses first began to be introduced in Britain, we had very cold winters.  In fact, from about 1400 through to around 1900 the northern hemisphere had what is referred to as the 'Little Ice Age'.  There are various accounts of the Thames freezing solid enough for a 'Frost Fair' to be held on it.

Getting ice from the local pond or even river in the middle of winter was therefore not a problem.  However, from about 1850 onwards the temperatures began to rise, and finding enough ice was proving problematical.

Fortunately for us, an amazing character called Fredrick Tudor, a native of Boston in the USA, dreamed up the idea of harvesting the ice from the local New England lakes, and shipping it to hot countries where he hoped to sell it.  After some early failures and a bankruptcy or two, he got a system working and soon had a healthy trade.  Other traders who had originally thought he was mad also began to trade in ice.  Fredrick not only sold his ice across the USA, but traded as far as the UK and even India, where Calcutta was a major source of income.  Soon Fredrick was a millionaire.

The Norwegians quickly saw the market and were soon supplying their massive stocks of ice across Europe.  By 1900 the Norwegians were exporting a million tons a year, half of which came to Britain.  By the end of the 19th century the ice trade was massive.

The ice would be stored in massive pits at major ports.  Two of the earliest are still existent in Kings Cross, London, and are now home to the London Canal Museum.  It would then be distributed by cart to supply various traders, such as fishmongers, as well as being delivered to rich customers in town and country homes nearby.

 
 
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Last modified: 09/05/2017