ICE HOUSES IN SUSSEX
This article concerns the domestic ice houses in East and West Sussex, as distinct from the commercial ones which were described in the article by the author in
Sussex Industrial History, Issue 14.
Ice has been used for many centuries in parts of the world where there was a convenient juxtaposition of a warm climate and access to sources of ice, such as India, the Middle East and Italy, the first recorded used being in Mesopotamia nearly 4,000 years ago.1 The practice of building ice houses came to England in the 17th century via France following the Restoration, one of the first ones being located in Upper St. James' Park, now known as Green Park, in 1660.2 By the eighteenth century it became increasingly common for major houses to have their own ice house. It probably became a case of "keeping up with the Joneses". A spell of several hard winters towards the end of the century also encouraged their use. It should be emphasised that the use of ice in a domestic situation was not normally for the storage of food. One only has to consider the quantity of food consumed by a large household to realise the impracticality of this as ice houses were normally not big enough for this purpose. Also in no ice house that I have seen have there been any means of storing food. The ice was used in cooling drinks and for making cold confections in the kitchens. In the kitchen of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton there is a menu on display for a dinner dated 1817 and of the 22 sweets no less than 7 were made using ice.
There are three basic types of ice houses to be found.
Type 1 comprises a pit, normally circular, sunk into the ground below the level of an entrance passage which is provided with two or more doors. An example of this type is Framfield Place (Fig. 1). Type 2 comprises a chamber normally rectangular and situated at the same level as or very slightly below the level of the entrance with often only a single door. An example of this type is Holmbush
[Colgate] (Fig. 2).
Type 3 comprised a shaft sunk into the ground, usually circular with access only through the top. This type is sometimes referred to as an ice well, but for convenience I have used the more normal term of ice house throughout. An example at Stanmer House, Brighton is shown as Fig. 3.
The way ice houses were used is interesting. Clearly with Types 1 and 3 the ice would have been collected from the nearest convenient lake or pond and dropped into the pit of the ice house, possibly layered with straw to make removal easier. It would have been
possible to use very thin ice collected as a crop. With Type 2 it would have been less practical to use small ice and the ice would have been better used in thick slabs supported on some form of racking. It is possible that many of this type of ice house were not used primarily for storing ice, although several have been clearly accepted as such by owners and map compilers. It was considered that the ice should be capable of being stored for more than a year, and an experiment was carried out at Levens Hall in Cumbria in 1980 when ice was kept in the ice house for 13 months under conditions similar to those prevailing in earlier times. As dating is virtually impossible in most cases, some ice houses might have been built in the late nineteenth century using imported ice and transported in bulk or even manufactured. The Kent & Sussex Pure Ice Company advertised delivery of ice daily in 1879. Where there is further doubt about the authenticity of a structure as an ice house
I have noted this in the gazetteer section.
The location of ice houses in relation to the house served seems quite arbitrary. In most cases they seem to be neither close to the source of the ice nor to the kitchens. A distance of several hundred metres is not uncommon. At Coombe Place in Offham it is 1500 m, but ice is known to have been transported several miles, an example reported at Mostyn was as far as 21 miles. 3 There are also cases of specially prepared areas being flooded to provide ice. Thus it would be equally convenient to locate it by the back door of the kitchen e.g. as at Firle Place. Some are adjacent to the water e.g. at Knepp Castle. However as one of the prerequisites of an ice house is for it to be kept dry this was not a good idea as this one is below the water table and the pit is now flooded.
Where the ground is level the entrance to the pit is often arranged to be some distance below ground approached by a flight of steps to avoid the structure being too high above ground level. Quite often the structure is built into a bank so that the entrance passage can be horizontal. The entrance passage is normally provided with two or three doors in order to keep in the cold. In use these were frequently stacked with straw to provide additional insulation. The one at Framfield Place appears to have been provided with five doors which does seem a bit excessive.
In Type 1 and 3 ice houses the pit is normally circular as this form is structurally strongest. However there are several that are square or rectangular, e.g. Arundel Castle and Firle Place, and the one to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton was oval. Type 2 ice houses are normally rectangular.
Sometimes the walls are vertical or battered but it isnot unusual to find the bottom is sub-domed as at Newick Place. It is quite common to find the size of the pit diminished with depth, the theory being that the increased pressure on the ice causes temporary melting and refreezing, thus consolidating it and eliminating voids. However in the ice house at Drovers in Singleton the pit gets larger with increased depth. The sides of the pit are most commonly of brick and are normally only one brick (225 mm) thick although local stone is sometimes found, as at West Dean and Uppark. However occasionally the sides have cavity walls e.g. at Lancing Manor, at the Royal Pavilion ice house in Dyke Road, Brighton. The probable reason for this is to try to keep the ice house dry. In the Brighton example the cavity was filled with broken flint.
The bottom of the pits and chambers are sometimes bare ground and sometimes paved with brick or stone. In order to keep an ice house dry it is necessary for there to be a melt water drain. Without this, as the ice melted, the pit would steadily be filled with water. These drains were often just a simple sump but occasionally there were elaborate double bottoms as at Uppark and Lancing Manor. Occasionally there was an arrangement of sleeper walls with timber staging to keep the ice off the bottom as at Petworth and at Findon Place but in most cases if this did exist it would have rotted away.
The roofs of the ice houses and of the entrance passages were normally vaulted in brick, domed over the circular pits, and barrel vaulted over the rectangular areas. The standard of workmanship displayed in these buildings is quite surprising when one considers that no one apart from domestic servants would see them, and they would probably have been built by the estate bricklayer. Occasionally ice houses were covered with a thatched roof, as at Buxted Park, and in some cases there was a secondary roof to protect the vault over the pit, as at Firle Place and Folkington Place. Some ice houses are provided with ventilators, a practice which was used during the latter part of the nineteenth century.
When in use ice houses would often have been covered with a layer of earth some 450 mm thick. It is probable that in addition trees were sometimes planted to provide additional shade. It often happens that when one sees ice houses today they have become denuded so that the outside of the roof is now exposed.
The entrance passages are normally some 3m in length, usually straight, occasionally dog-legged as at West Dean and sometimes curved around the pit as at Uppark and
Petworth. Some ice houses have separate means of filling and emptying. This normally consists of a hatch in the top of the roof over the pit down
which ice can be tipped. Sometimes there is a side entrance to the pit or one partly along the entrance passage. At Firle Place there is a most sophisticated chute system built over the roof of the pit so that ice could be transported by cart and tipped in from an upper level.
The size of ice house varies enormously ranging from a total volume of 5 to 218 cubic metres (at Petworth House with three pits). The actual quantity of ice that could be stored would obviously be considerably less. The efficiency of ice houses probably depended on various factors. Size is probably desirable provided that the pit can be fully charged with ice. It is interesting to note that at Coombe Place where the small source is 1500 m distant, the pit has been altered at some time to make it considerably smaller, and at the same time the entrance passage was lengthened to incorporate an additional door. The quality of ice and the care and frequency with which the store was used were also relevant factors. It is possible that some of the very small ice houses relied on imported ice which could be replenished every few weeks from commercial sources.
The use of ice houses declined towards the end of the nineteenth century. Imported and manufactured ice was available in Sussex from the 1870s and mechanical refrigerators were coming into use from 1900 onwards.
I was told by Lord Brentford that he could remember the ice house at Newick Park being used in the 1920s but that is probably a late example. Many of them are now abandoned and unfortunately, as the doors are usually missing, and they are a danger to children and animals, many of them have been filled in or used as rubbish tips.
In the following gazetteer I have distinguished between the three types. They have been listed under the current civil parish and the house to which they were attached has been named where possible. Unless described as demolished or filled, all are extant at the time of writing to a greater or lesser extent, and all these have been visited by the author unless noted to the contrary. The size and shape of the pit has been noted and the total volume of the structure. The sketches beside each entry have been reproduced to a common scale. The section is normally shown along the length of the entrance passage, but where the transverse section differs this has been shown with a line of dots. Information which is assumed has been shown with a broken line.
Please note that, with the exception of Hotham House, all are on private ground and are not normally available for inspection. Please respect this. If you wish to view an ice house there is Hotharn House in Bognor
Regis, Battle Abbey, and Scotney Castle just over the border in Kent, the latter being a Type 1 ice house with
a thatched roof.
REFERENCES (including following gazetteer)
1. Beamon, S. & Roaf, S. ice Houses in Britain (1990)
2. Beamon, S. & Roaf, Ibid., 18
3. Beamon, S. & Roaf, Ibid., 119
4. Nairn, Ian and Pevsner, Nikolaus, 404
5. 6" OS Map Sheet XLIII, 1928 Edition
6. in Brighton Reference Library, Rate Book, 1814
7. SAS DEEDS BRI 115
8. PRO RA 33499, 33523, 33829, 34044 and 34091
9. Nash, John, Plan of Royal Pavilion and Grounds, (1822)
10. Musgrave, C., The Royal Pavilion (1959), 19
11. Williams, Owen, personal recollections to writer in 1984
12. Fayle, Andrew, personal recollections, January 1981
13. 6"OS Map Sheet XL, 1898 and 1914 Editions
15. 6" OS Map Sheet LVIII, 1930 Edition
16. ESRO Ashburnham Manuscript
17. ESRO Scale estate map
18. Howe, William, personal comment to writer in December 1993
19. Woodhams, J.W., personal comment to writer in October 1993
20. ESRO Shiffner MS 1348
21. 6" OS Map Sheet XXX, 1910 Edition
22. Mr. Kirby of Nutley, personal comment (his father was gamekeeper on the estate)
23. 1:2500 OS Map 1874 Edition
24. Nairn and Pevsner, op.cit., 617
25. 6" OS Map 1874 Sheet VI 1929 Edition
26. Peckham, Rev. H.J., unpublished reminiscences made available by Mrs. S.J. Flower
27. 1:2500 OS Map Sheet XV, 1874 Edition
28. Nairn, Ian and Pevsner, Nikolaus, op.cit., 123
29. Ibid., 109
30. Ibid., 242
31. T OS Map Sheet XXXV NE, 1914 Edition
32. Nairn and Pevsner, op.cit., 223
34. 6" OS Map Sheet X, 1914 Edition
35. 6" OS Map Sheet XII, 1914 Edition
36. Information from Mr. P.D. Waters
37. 6" OS Map Sheet 11, 1899 Edition
38. Martin, R.G., Sussex Industrial History Issue 13,1982 "Petworth Ice House"
39. Nairn and Pevsner, op.cit., 321
40. Sussex Notes and Queries, No.13, 13
41. 6" OS Map Sheet 11, 1899 Edition
42. Sir Walter Burrell personal comment to writer, in March 1985
43. 1:2500 OS Map Sheet
44. 6" OS Map Sheet XXI, 1912 Edition
45 6" OS Map Sheet XLVII, 1914 Edition
46. Nairn and Pevsner, op.cit., 364
47. Ibid., 369
48. 6" OS Map Sheet XLVIII, 1914 Edition
49. West Sussex Gazette, 24.03.1984
Figures to follow