A FORTNIGHT ago, we told how exactly 150 years ago, the Darlington ecclesiastical architect, James Pigott Pritchett, was advertising for stonemasons to complete his rebuild of Yafforth church, to the west of Northallerton.

In a field directly beside the church there is, we said with our usual command of the English language, “a stone vaulty type thing” which had long intrigued us.

“I’ve often wondered about the same feature, and your article reminded to find out,” said Dave Middlemas. “The 1888 25 inch series Ordnance Survey map shows it as an ‘Ice House’ which, I guess, belonged to the Old Hall or another high status building in that vicinity.”

Chris Chambers directed us to the National Library of Scotland website which has a fabulous maps section which allows you to overlay a modern aerial view onto an old OS map.

And as Alison Clarke and Harry Mead also suspected, the icehouse marked on the 1888 maps lines up perfectly with our “stone vaulty type thing”.

As it is in the field between the church and the Old Hall, which dates from 1614, we presume it was connected to the hall.

“But where was the source of the ice?” asked Gordon Hatton. “Ice houses are still in existence in many country mansion parks, mostly dating from the 18th Century, and are usually within a short distance of a lake where winter ice could be collected. The only water source near this structure is the River Wiske, but would the winter flow here be slow enough to ensure a supply of ice? Maybe there was a pond nearby at some time in the past.”

The Wiske is a curious little river. It rises near Ingleby Arncliffe at the foot of the Cleveland Hills and defies expectations by heading north and then west, giving its name to Appleton Wiske. Then it changes direction completely and plunges due south, washing its way through Danby Wiske, Yafforth, Newby Wiske and Kirby Wiske before, 29 miles from its source, joining the Swale.

What an impudent little trickle to impose its name on so many settlements!

Indeed, the Wiske influences the name of Yafforth, the first syllable of which comes from the Old English “ea”, which meant water or river, with the ending being a ford.

Wiske itself is also from Old English, “wisca”, meaning water meadow, which looks to be a perfect description of the field that our icehouse is in. Perhaps in colder times, the water collected on the field long enough to freeze and be carried into the icehouse.

“The ice was then insulated partly by the construction of the ice house and sometimes by added insulation such as straw,” says another icehouse correspondent, Nick Gardener. “The ice was used over several months to preserve food and cool drinks.”

A well layered collection of ice in a subterranean house could last even a year.

The Northern Echo: Forcett Hall, viewed from across its 18th Century manmade 17 acre lake, with an icehouse beneath an artifical mountain lost among the trees on the leftForcett Hall, viewed from across its 18th Century manmade 17 acre lake, with an icehouse beneath an artifical mountain lost among the trees on the left

The best ice house we have ever visited is in the grounds of Forcett Hall, to the west of Darlington. It is beneath an artificial hill, with huge trees growing above it, and overlooking a man-made lake. You walk along a dark tunnel several cricket pitches long into the hill until you come to a vast brick-lined cavern.

A drain, protected by little sluice gates, flows from the bottom of the cavern back underneath the tunnel taking meltwater from the ice back to the lake – there must also have been a drain at Yafforth, returning meltwater to the river.

The Northern Echo: Icehouse at Dovercourt, HurworthIcehouse at Dovercourt, Hurworth

In Darlington, there were icehouses at the mansions of Pierremont and Polam, and there is still said to be one in the grounds of Blackwell Grange. There was one in the gardens of Hurworth House, which once rolled down to the Tees, and we believe there was one at Walworth Castle. There’s still an icehouse at Raby Castle, and there are the remains of one in Auckland Park, which was the grounds of Auckland Castle. If you’ve had the good fortune to explore any of these, please let us know.

“I don’t know Yafforth but I remember a similar thing at Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield,” said Sam Edgoose of Sedgefield. “It was an icehouse, with ice taken off the nearby Serpentine lake. I roamed the grounds with friends as a child over 60 years ago and played around in its vault.”

The Northern Echo: Hardwick Hall icehouse, Sedgefield. Picture: Michael RuddHardwick Hall icehouse, Sedgefield. Picture: Michael Rudd

The Hardwick icehouse is on land connected to the hotel and was restored nearly a decade ago, although there is now a grill to prevent wayward children from exploring.

“It is a beautiful, traditional egg-shaped affair in brick,” said Michael Rudd, a member of the Friends of Hardwick Park. “It’s built into a mound with trees on. It’s at least ten to 12ft deep, and at the base there would have been a wooden platform because drainage back to the lake was essential. There would have been two doors into the cavern, to act as a buffer to protect the ice, but unfortunately they didn’t find enough evidence to rebuild them.”

The Northern Echo: Hardwick Hall icehouse, Sedgefield. Picture: Michael RuddHardwick Hall icehouse, Sedgefield. Picture: Michael Rudd

Finally, back on the 1888 map of Yafforth, there’s a second icehouse marked at Yafforth Lodge on the other side of the village, suggesting that Yafforth was once an extremely well iced village.

Does it still exist? And where did its ice come from – if you had to cart it from the Wiske, it would have surely melted by the time you reached the lodge?

And are there any other icehouses locally that we should be mentioning? Many thanks for all your correspondence, and please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk if you’ve got anything to add.