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Ice houses or icehouses 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.
During the winter, ice and snow would be cut from lakes or rivers and taken into the ice house and packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust. It would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months. The main application of the ice was the storage of foods, but it could also be used simply to cool drinks, or allow ice-cream and sorbet desserts to be prepared. During its heyday a typical commercial ice house would store 2,700 tonnes (3,000 short tons) in a 30-by-100-foot (9 by 30 m) and 14-metre-high (45 ft) building.
A cuneiform tablet from c. 1780 BC records the construction of an icehouse in the northern Mesopotamian town of Terqa by Zimri-Lim, the King of Mari, "which never before had any king built." In China, archaeologists have found remains of ice pits from the seventh century BC, and references suggest they were in use before 1100 BC. Alexander the Great around 300 BC stored snow in pits dug for that purpose. In Rome in the third century AD, snow was imported from the mountains, stored in straw-covered pits, and sold from snow shops. The ice formed in the bottom of the pits sold at a higher price than the snow on top.
Ice was often imported into the UK from Scandinavia up until the 1950s. Usually only large mansions had purpose-built buildings to store ice. Many examples of ice houses exist in the UK, some of which have fallen into disrepair. Good examples of 19th-century ice houses can be found at Ashton Court, Bristol, Albrighton, Bridgnorth, Grendon, Warwickshire, and at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, Suffolk, Petworth House, Sussex, Danny House, Sussex, Ayscoughfee Hall, Spalding, Rufford Abbey, Eglinton Country Park in Scotland, Parlington Hall in Yorkshire and Croxteth Hall Liverpool, Burghley House, Stamford. An unusual example of an ice house that was converted from a redundant brick springhead can be found in the former grounds of Norton House, Midsomer Norton, Somerset.
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