THE WATERPERRY ICE HOUSE
Deep in the Oxfordshire country, a few miles east of Oxford, is a delightful old country house and garden centre called Waterperry, next to the village of the same name.
On the Waterperry grounds is a large mound of earth, used to support a tall water tower which was once used to irrigate the gardens.
What is not obvious at first glance is what lurks beneath that mound - the Waterperry Ice House.
Waterperry House is a large country house, set in 83 acres of its own grounds, surrounded by farmland, a few miles east of Oxford. It is used extensively by the School of Economic Science as a residential centre for retreats, study days, study weekends and weeks.
A substantial and very well known horticultural centre, Waterperry Gardens, forms part of the property, with an adjacent garden centre and cafe open to the public seven days a week. The beautiful and very well-kept gardens, also open to the public, cover some eight acres, and there is a newly completed open air theatre for use in the summer months. There is also a museum of agricultural tools and a much visited arts and crafts gallery.
The house itself is mediaeval in origin, with Jacobean and Georgian additions.
Ice houses are buildings used to store ice throughout the year, commonly used prior to the invention of the refrigerator. Some were underground chambers, usually man-made, close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes, but many were buildings with various types of insulation.
The ice house was introduced to Britain around 1660. Various types and designs of ice house exist. However, British ice houses were commonly brick lined, domed structures, with most of their volume underground. Ice houses varied in design depending on the date and builder, but were mainly conical or rounded at the bottom to hold melted ice. They usually had a drain to take away any water. It is recorded that the idea for ice houses was brought to Britain by travelers who had seen similar arrangements in Italy, where peasants collected ice from the mountains and used it to keep food fresh inside caves.
THE WATERPERRY ICE HOUSE
Waterperry, like most large country estates, had (and has) an ice house, the entrance of which is visible on the north side of the mound.
The actual ice house is in excellent condition, but unfortunately the entrance tunnel is damaged, and will need to be repaired / rebuilt before it would be safe to allow public access.
This website is designed to make you aware of this little gem at Waterperry, and keep you informed of our progress in attempting to restore it.
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.
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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