Bisham Woods Ice House

This Ice House was built around 1760 – 1790 for storing ice for use at the nearby Bisham Abbey, which is about a 5 minute walk away. The ice house is in a perfect location, sheltered by the woods and facing into a north wind which would have helped keep the ice as cold as possible.

Great to see it was restored in 1984, and the gargoyle above the door is still in very good condition.

Bisham Woods Ice House entrance
Bisham Woods Ice House entrance

The details on the Woodland Trust picture below are as follows:

Following the dissolution of the monasteries, the abbey’s grounds and woods became the private estate of the Earl of Salisbury in 1308, then the Hoby family 200 years later. Towards the end of their occupancy, in around 1790, the ice house was built.

The ice house was restored in 1984 by Mr Christopher Wallis who also donated the doorway’s keystone figure 1 from Effingham Manor’s ice house. The old man’s face represents an ‘effigy of good living’.

Ice houses were used for storing winter gathered ice for summer use. Food wasn’t kept in the ice house, as constant opening would have compromised its efficiency. Instead blocks of ice were transferred to the abbey’s kitchens and cellars or a nearer food store as required. The impure ice was not used directly, but aided in preparing desserts, chilling wine and preserving meat and dairy produce.

An ice house’s location is very important. Bisham’s ice house is ideally placed, buried in cool, dry, easily draining soils, away from the house and shaded by the forest, is entrance passage figure 4 facing the north wind.

The storage chamber figure 3 is designed to maintain the constant temperature and dry atmosphere, essential for preserving ice. Egg-shaped and lined with bricks, it forms a perfect dome over a sharply tapering shaft.

At the bottom a well-like sump disappears to unknown depths, allowing meltwater, which would have speeded up the thawing process, to escape. The end of a barrel supported by solid timber beams probably sat over the well’s entrance with the chamber’s shape helping to support the enormous weight about.

Blocks of ice collected from the river or abbey moat were pounded into fragments, thrown into the ice well and beaten back into one solid lump. Saltwater poured over the mass made it firm as rock and kept it up to three times longer , salted ice having less capacity for heat. Some ice houses could store ice for three years, so reducing dependency on successive cold winters. Barley straw stuffed in the entrance passage lining the chamber and layering the ice, further improved insulation from summer heat.

Ice House at Bisham Woods is located at the entrance to Bisham Woods / Fulness Woods, very close to the Bisham roundabout on the A404 / A308 junction.

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