The Ice House, York
Before the invention of the refrigerator, icehouses were used to provide cool storage for most of the year. Nestled at the foot of the city wall, near to Monk Bar, is a fine example of an early 19th century brick ice house. Virtually hidden, easily missed, the ice house is a deep brick-lined pit covered by a domed roof, where ice would be stored in the winter months for use during the summer.
The first references to icehouses in England can be found in the 16th and 17th centuries. Icehouses were built generally to store foodstuffs. Yet, before the 19th century food preservation in Europe involved primarily the traditional techniques of salting, spicing, pickling, smoking and dehydration. During the winter, ice and snow would be transported into the ice house and packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust. The ice would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months. The chief application of the ice was the storage of unpreserved foods, but it could also be used solely to cool drinks, or allow ice-cream and sorbet desserts to be prepared.
By the late 19th century, the export of natural ice from Norway to Britain was a major trade, fuelled by the growing British consumption of ice. Although new technology eventually allowed the production of artificial ice, natural ice retained a strong market position until World War I. From the 1850′s most ice used in York came from Norway. The ice formed in mountain lakes. Some artificial lakes were created to meet demand. It was cut by horse plough and by hand. The export of Ice to Britain from Scandinavia continued up until the 1950s.