I’m not sure how many know of the Faithlegg Ice House. Like Limekilns, the purpose of them appear to have been forgotten. As a teen I remember walking in what we called locally the Oak Wood (although at the time all that remained were stumps under a pine wood forest). The entrance to the wood was via Park Rangers playing fields, and you emerged at Faithlegg Pill and crossed a bridge into Ballycanavan and Woodlands. Alas both the wood and bridge are no more.
It was while walking this shortcut that I first came across the Ice house. It was lost amongst the trees and it created an eerie feeling. The chilly damp of it was forbidding, and the dark chamber at the end of the passage-way allowed teenage imaginations run riot. We often challenged each other to enter, but none dared, at least not once we had dropped a lighting piece of paper in and realised just how deep the chamber was.
|Faithlegg Ice House looking east this morning
Ice houses were a fashion of their time and the Ice House in Faithlegg was most probably built when Cornelius Bolton had Faithlegg House constructed, 1783. It may have been later, perhaps when the Powers remodelled and extended in 1875, but I would doubt it.
The purpose of the Ice House was to store perishable food and to have ice available in the presentation of food and chilling wines. In effect if the larder was the fridge of the time, the ice house was the freezer. Items such as fish, poultry and game could be suspended from the ceiling. These would not freeze as such, but be chilled to prolong their freshness.
|sketch of a typical ice house design
Records show that the first Ice house constructed in Britain or Ireland was 1619, and the design and concept was imported from Italy or France. Their construction reached their height between 1750-1875, after which new technologies replaced them. It’s thought that somewhere in the region of 3000 were built in all between Ireland and Britain. I’ve personally seen three in Ireland, Birr Castle, Scout Irelands headquarters at Larch Hill and Faithlegg and have heard of several more including Lismore and Stradbally in Waterford.
The basic design was a free standing masonry structure with a vaulted roof covered by soil or thatch. It had four essential pieces; entrance door, passage way, chamber with associated drain and a vault. The design was to ensure that ice placed inside was preserved and was based on the reality that ice tightly packed together self-insulates. There is obviously some degree of melt and consequently the drain in the chamber was essential to allow for runoff.
|entrance way (now gated and locked!)
|the passage way and the chamber door at the rear
In siting the Icehouse the essential criteria was based on the ability of the meltwater to drain away from the chamber rather than proximity to the house. Easy enough when you had a legion of servants to go grab you a snack!
Ice was initially gathered from the freshwater streams during winter. In some cases artificial ponds were made. These were filled by diverting freshwater springs into them (spring water being colder than rainwater and thus quicker to freeze), and allowing a freezing night to do its work. I don’t know if such existed at Faithlegg, but I have heard of one at Kinsalebeg in west Waterford and another called the Ice Field was situated around Dromina House again in the west of the county . The ice was broken up in the morning and transported to the Ice house. The filling would take several days and it was the duty of the Head Gardner to oversee it.
Today the Ice House is a feature on Faithlegg Golf Course. At least this should ensure its preservation. Mind you, I would dearly love to see it’s social history acknowledged in some way.
Much of statistics included in this post were gleamed from Buxham. T. Icehouses. 2008. Shire Publications. Buckinghamshire.