The Ice House
Other than St Withburga’s Church, this Ice House may be the oldest building within Holkham Park. Although experts have differing opinions, one authority suggests that the Ice House was in existence well before building operations began on the family wing of Holkham Hall in 1734. Another makes comparison with Ice Houses in Wales, known to have been constructed around 1750-60. The earliest known reference to a building designed specifically for this purpose is to a ‘snow conserve’ built in Greenwich Park for James 1 in 1619-20.
The difficulty of accurate dating is compounded by the fact that much restoration has been undertaken on the building. It is obvious that the rectangular northern section was added to the original bell type structure, but it is not possible to accurately date this addition.
Standing here at the southern end of the lake, the Ice House was close to the original walled ice pound. In the early 18th century it became commonplace to import ice from America and Scandinavia and it seems reasonable to assume that the ice pound fell out of use about this time.
In 1776 T W Coke inherited the estate and as the tempo of social life in the house increased, so did the demand for ice. Indeed ice carters were amongst those recorded to have dined in the servants’ hall during winter months in the early 19th century.
How an ice house works
The timber floor or grid, which covered the drainage sump of the ice well, was first covered with a bed of clean straw or reed. Ice or hard-tampered snow was then laid on the straw to a depth of about a foot. Successive layers of straw or reed and ice or snow followed, up to the level of the entrance door or passage. As the contents were used up, it must have been an unpopular task to go down by ladder into the bitterly cold well to hack out ice and bring it to the surface. A ring in the dome of this house suggests that some form of hoisting tackle was used in filling and emptying the well.