THE ICE HOUSE AT WATERPERRY
Above is the tunnel entrance at various stages: a) Before work started b) With earth moved c) After restoration
It is not currently known just when the Waterperry ice house was built. The assumption is that it would have been built at the same time as the major extension work was done on Waterperry House, in 1713. However, it may have been built later in the 18th century. There is a nearby artificial lake (the 'cut') which fills from the river Thame during flood situations, and we suspect this was built primarily to supply ice to the ice house, and that the spoil from creating this lake was used to form the clearly artificial mound over the ice house.
The ice house itself comprises a twin-walled brick chamber, roughly the shape of an ice cream cone (with one scoop!). It has a diameter of around 9' (2.7m) at its widest part, tapering down to about 7' (2.1m) at the bottom. It is around 15' (4.5m) deep from top of the cone to the bottom. The ice house is a fine piece of engineering, with the dome made with 'rubbed' bricks to get the necessary shape (bricks would have been rubbed together to wear away enough to give an angled join), and effectively has one 'cone' built inside another. It is in excellent condition.
Assuming ice would have been packed in with bales of straw 6" diameter (150mm) against the wall, right up to the bottom edge of the access archway, the ice house could hold nearly 9 cubic metres of ice, something like 8 tonnes. The house could then be supplied with over 20kg of ice each day (approximately 2 full buckets) for year with one filling of the ice house.
Access to the chamber is via a tunnel, some 6' 6" (2m) high and 4' (1.2m) wide. This is currently around 23' (7m) long although may once have been longer. Unlike the ice house, this tunnel was not in good condition - in fact we are not quite sure why it had not collapsed!
The ice house is a Grade II listed building with an English Heritage Building ID of 246726
Work involved to make it safe
In order to make access to the ice house safe, we had to rebuild / repair the tunnel, an considerable task given around 70 tonnes of earth above. See 'As it Was' for an overview, and 'Progress' for the blow by blow account of how we restored it.
Currently (October 2017) we have completed the work on the tunnel, and restored the earth above it. We are awaiting a gate to be delivered, which will need to be fitted before we can remove the barriers from the site - whilst the tunnel is safe, there is a 7' drop down into the ice house well, and an ice house is an interesting place for young people to explore....
However, we are now in a position to give guided tours to groups of people - just ask Gordon in the museum and he will tell you how we can arrange this.
The ice house well: a) Before clearing b) What we found c) After clearing
The new tunnel: a) Front b) Rear
Currently the whole area is still treated as a building site, and is fenced and signed accordingly. This is simply because of the 7' (2.1m) drop into the ice house well - we have to ensure youngsters do not try to climb in! A wrought iron gate is on order, and once this is fitted, we can open up the site as access will not be possible without a guide.
There are a number of areas of work that will need to be undertaken before we can open the ice house up to unguided tours. To stop the possibility of people falling down the well, we need to fit a protective grill at the ice house entrance, and to avoid visitors needing torches and to show the real beauty of the ice house we need some lighting.
There are also some further refinements we would like to undertake to make the whole area attractive and interesting. These include improving the floor of the ice house tunnel, making an interesting display at in the ice house well, repairing and improving the stone walls at the tunnel entrance, landscaping the earth above the tunnel, and introducing a display area with information on the fascinating back stories to the use of ice before the age of mechanical refrigerators.
For more information on these next steps, see 'Future Plans'.
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