Situated in The Park just south of the main pathway, beyond the tennis pavilion, there is The Ice House. It is a listed building (English Heritage grade 2), probably built at the end of the 18th century. It is mainly underground but can be identified by the mound of earth on top and surrounding protective fence.
The entrance to the ice house is through a narrow passage which opens into the ice chamber. Its purpose was to provide cold storage and ice for the Taylor family, the owners of Moseley Hall. Before invention of the refrigerator the only way to obtain ice was to use that which formed naturally in the winter, and also snow. The ice was collected from the nearby lake and poured by the barrow load into the deep chamber. The surface of the ice was then covered by sacking, straw or other insulating materials to help keep it cold.
It is estimated that up to 20 tons of ice could be accommodated and the space above would provide the cold storage where food could be stacked on the surface of the ice or hung from hooks in the roof. Before the invention of the domestic refrigerator in the early 20th century most people were limited to seasonal foods or to those preserved by drying, salting, pickling, etc. However from the 17th century, the rich and privileged increasingly built ice houses in the grounds of their large houses in the country and sometimes actually within town houses to preserve food and to provide ice for the table and especially to cool wine. It is estimated that some 3,000 were built in Britain, the majority during the period 1750 – 1875. Most fell into disuse with the development of the refrigerator and the decline of large country estates, yet in some isolated places ice houses continued in use even into the 1940s.
There were innumerable designs for ice houses, many partially or completely underground, whilst others were free standing above ground or incorporated into the construction of a house. Their size varied greatly from eight to thirty three feet in height and from six to twelve feet in diameter. At the base of the chamber there was usually a drain to allow the melt water to run off so keeping the ice dry and frozen being colder than the melt water.
In the 19th century commercial ice houses were constructed to provide ice for general use, to stock private ice houses when supplies from the local pool were scarce and later to produce ‘frozen’ food. In the Midlands these commercial ice houses were often built near canals to allow easy transport of the ice. In cold winters the supply of ice would usually be adequate but in a mild winter when local ice was in short supply, it was sometimes brought from a distance – usually from East Anglia or the Lake District. In later years of the 19th century ice was regularly imported from Scandinavia or North America; in some years hundreds of thousands of tons were brought across the Atlantic.
Over the years most ice houses have collapsed or been demolished. Others have been filled in or used for storage purposes but of those that survive many have been conserved and opened for public viewing. Local examples are at; Warwick Castle, Warwickshire; Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire; Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire; Keddleston Hall, Derbyshire; Shugborough, Staffordshire; and the relocated and reconstructed house from Tong, Shropshire which is now at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings at Bromsgrove.
The Moseley Ice House was repaired and conserved in 1998 under the auspices of The Moseley Society, which arranged a successful public appeal for funds. This ice house is now considered to be the best preserved in the West Midlands.The Society now arranges open days for public viewing, usually at the same time as Park Open Days or in association with festivals in the Park.
Moseley Park and Pool is run by a charitable trust, which cares for the landscape, makes sure it is open for everybody on Wellness Wednesdays and Open Days, and supports our Key Holders to enjoy the site 365 days a year.
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Moseley Exchange, 149-153 Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8JP.