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Work begins to save New Forest ice houses

Beaulieu-ice-houseUK: The New Forest National Park Authority is to embark on a project to preserve the many historic ice houses within its boundaries.

At least 10 ice houses are known to exist on country estates within Hampshire’s New Forest. Archaeologists at the New Forest National Park Authority have already begun work by commissioning heritage technology firm Archaeovision to produce a laser scan animation of the ice house on the Beaulieu Estate.

In a time before mechanical refrigeration, ice houses were built in the grounds of many of the country’s grand manor houses to store ice to chill and preserve food for the wealthy occupants. Their use continued throughout the 19th century prior to the adoption of domestic refrigerators. Around 2,500 ice houses are thought to still exist in the UK alone but many have been lost, buried or fallen into disrepair.

Above and top: the ice house on the Beaulieu Estate

Frank Green, New Forest National Park Authority archaeologist, said: “We take for granted being able to keep food fresh in a fridge or freezer, but before ice houses this was an alien concept on a domestic scale. As such, these structures tell us a lot about how the upper classes chilled and preserved their food, and form an important part of our cultural heritage.’

A Grade ll listed structure, the Beaulieu ice house is thought to date back to the early/mid 19th century. Of yellow brick construction, it comprises a 2m long, 2m high vaulted passage with remains of an outer door and indications of at least two inner doors, leading into the 3.5m diameter, 3m deep storage chamber with its domed roof.

“This laser scan animation is an important first step in our work to catalogue and conserve the New Forest’s ice houses,” commented Frank Green. These structures are often well hidden under a mound of soil and filled with rubbish, so animations like the one of Beaulieu ice house help bring the buildings to life and form a lasting record to guide our conservation work.”

The laser animation of Beaulieu ice house is part of the development phase of a wider project to record existing ice houses in the New Forest and identify previously unknown structures, before undertaking repairs. The project will form part of the £4.5m Our Past, Our Future Landscape Partnership Scheme, which will run from 2016 once funding is confirmed.

Our Past, Our Future is a Landscape Partnership Scheme for the New Forest which, with support from Heritage Lottery Funding, will undertake a range of projects to restore lost habitats, develop Forest skills and inspire a new generation to champion and care for the New Forest. The partnership focuses on the enclosed lands which surround the Open Forest.

The seven year scheme is being led by the New Forest National Park Authority working alongside several delivery and funding partners including the Beaulieu Estate, Commoners Defence Association, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Natural England, New Forest Centre, and the New Forest Land Advice Service.

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