ICEHOUSES have caught the imagination. These egg-shaped, brick-lined subterranean chambers were sunk between 1750 and 1850 in the parkland of many of the biggest mansions in the region.

They were usually near ponds, so that in the depths of winter, ice could be chiselled off and stored for much of the year.

The listed buildings schedule reckons there are the remains of at least 20 icehouses scattered throughout County Durham. This is probably just the tip of the, ahem, iceberg. For instance, we believe that there were at least five unrecorded icehouses in Darlington: at Pierremont, Blackwell Grange, Polam Hall and two at the lost mansion of Blackwell Hill which, it is said, still survive in the gardens of the new houses built on the mansion’s grounds high above the River Tees.

In north North Yorkshire, we are hot on the heels of a score or more icehouses.

Gibside, the magnificent estate of the Bowes family, in north Durham had an icehouse, which can still be seen just off the magnificent tree-lined terrace in the parkland. Its door is now locked, but there is a slit in it so people can see in and its resident bats can get out.

In the Gibside archive, at the Durham County Record Office, Michael Rudd of Darlington found a 1748 paper entitled “Directions for constructing an Ice House at an Expense of £4 or £5”.

That’s about £10,000 in today’s values.

It recommends digging a pit 12ft deep, 16ft long and 14ft wide and insulating its sides with brushwood, fire tree branches and hay. The top of the icehouse should be heaped over with soil and planted with hops or French beans to provide shade.

It says: “When filling the Ice House, great care ought to be taken to beat the Ice well down, and at the conclusion of each day’s filling the surface of the ice ought to be like a saucer by which means what melts will run into the middle and freeze.

“When the House is full to the top, the Ice may be covered with an Old Carpet or Sail split in the middle and covered with 18 inches of straw which can be put under the Carpet.”

Such an icehouse could hold 70 square yards of ice, which seems quite a lot.

OUR quest for information began with the icehouse beside Yafforth church, to the west of Northallerton. Linton Gaunt emailed to point to one a few miles away. He said: “Bedale Hall has an icehouse in Bedale park. I visited it 30 years ago but I can't remember where the ice came from.”

This icehouse is directly behind the hall, just beyond the field where the famous car boot sales were held pre-coronavirus.

It appears to have an artificial mound over it. Entry is understandably prevented by a stout metal, locked door, but the listed building schedule says it has a 17ft long entrance passage leading to its ice chamber.

Bedale Hall was the home of Henry Peirse (1695-1759), who became MP for Northallerton when he was 18. Then he went off on a Grand Tour of Europe and came home with ideas about transforming his old manor house into a Palladian mansion.

His son Henry (1754-1824) inherited the seat in the Commons and Bedale Hall, and after his Grand Tour, he turned to the parkland in which he created a racehorse stud and a gallops.

And an icehouse. There’s a 1778 entry in the hall archives: “Jan. 7 Thos. Thompson, Mason, his bill for work at Mansion House & Ice House, £30 19s 5d”.

On the gallops, Henry’s most successful horse was Reveller, which won the St Leger in 1818. It became a North Yorkshire hero, and just down the road from Bedale in the village of Yafforth, a pub was named in the horse’s honour. The Revellers Inn traded until 1992 and now a little development called Revellers Mews stands on its site.

In Bedale today, a golf club is next to the hall on the parkland. The 363 yard, par four 15th hole is named The Reveller as the horse is reputedly buried beneath its tee.

So town and village are connected by a racehorse and an icehouse.

TONY SMITH draws our attention to a sealed up icehouse in Auckland Park. “It is on a knoll just east of the carriage drive, now a public footpath, and immediately north of Bishop Trevor's 18th Century bridge over the River Gaunless.”

There were several fishponds in the park from which the ice would have been taken.

Then Tony takes us to Burn Hall at Sunderland Bridge, which is the splendid, tree-fringed mansion that is visible from the A167. It was built by the noted Durham architect Ignatius Bonomi for the Salvin family in the early 1820s. Its parkland featured a Cascade Walk which took promenaders along the edge of the rippling River Browney round to the icehouse.

In 1926, the hall became a training school for Roman Catholic priests and since 1995, it has been private apartments. The icehouse is in ruins.

KEN GREENFIELD says that there was an icehouse “near the former Hermitage hospital at Chester-le-Street”.

The Hermitage was built in the early 1820s on the brink of Southburn Dene to the south of Chester-le-Street. It had extensive parkland, including a boating lake, with its icehouse built into the steep bank of the dene.

Perhaps The Hermitage’s most famous resident was Sir Lindsay Wood, and his wife Emma who came from Heighington Hall near Darlington. Mineowner Sir Lindsay was the son of Nicholas Wood, who worked with George Stephenson on the birth of the early locomotives.

In 1944, the mansion became the Durham Miners’ Rehabilitation Centre, and it is now private apartments, although its icehouse seems to have disappeared.

DOROTHY LINCOLN takes us to the Stanwick St John area to the south west of Darlington, which must be one of the most icehoused parts of the country.

The Stanwick landscape is full of the 1st Century earthworks of the Brigantes people, who had a large fort here which may have been the seat of Queen Cartimandua.

From the 17th Century, Stanwick Park was one of the homes of the Smithson family who were headed by the Duke of Northumberland. There may be the remains of three icehouses in their parkland, with two built into the side of the Brigantes’ earthworks.

Then, on a ridgetop in the rolling parkland with the ancient church behind, there is a late 18th Century deerhouse which is marked on older maps as an “icehouse”. The listed buildings schedule says this is “incorrect” but plenty of local people say that there is an icehouse down below.

Less than a mile to the west of Stanwick is Forcett Hall, and last week we mentioned its fabulous icehouse which is beneath an artificial hillock. Several correspondents thought that once the hillock had an ornate folly on top of it.

Less than a mile to the east of Stanwick was Carlton Hall, where the late Pat Anderson discovered an icehouse beside the Aldbrough Beck about 15 years ago. In the 18th Century, Carlton Hall was the home of the Pulleine family in the 18th Century, but was it rebuilt by Richmond MP Samuel Barrett Moulton Barrett after he arrived in June 1814. He was the uncle of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and he owned 1,100 slaves in Jamaica – but he was a more enlightened slaveowner, abolishing the whip and building houses, schools and churches for them.

He died on Cinnamon Hill in Jamaica in 1837, near Montego Bay, where he had a home. Much of his home in Carlton was demolished in 1919, but the icehouse survived.

Just about.

Pat reported in 2005 that “it has a handsome little portico and passageway but it is slowly being strangled by ivy and an enormous sycamore”. Let’s hope it survives.

ANY info, thoughts or photographs concerning any icehouses is very welcome. Please email

How was the ice in the icehouse used?

The ice itself was not consumed, unsurprisingly given its likely contamination in the underground chamber, but its coldness was, as this recipe for raspberry ice cream shows. It comes from a book published in Newcastle in 1772 entitled The Complete House-Keeper and Professed Cook Calculated for the Greater Ease and Assistance of Ladies, House-Keepers, Cooks &c, &c. It was written by Mary Smith, the housekeeper to Sir William Blackett at Wallington Hall, near Morpeth.

She urges cooks not to allow the ice to get into the ice cream, but she quite happily advises them to let the ice cream set in lead moulds. Please do not try this at home.

  • Mix half a pound of rasp jam in a pint of thick cream, add to it half a teaspoonful of prepared cochineal to give it a fine colour
  • Strain it through a sieve to take out the seeds, and put it into a tin or lead mould that has a close cover and will hold two quarts, which is generally called an icewell
  • Then put it into a pail of broken ice, with a good deal of salt in it. Work the mould round for half an hour, and keep the ice close to the sides of it
  • Take off the cover, and take great care that you do not let any of the salt or ice get into it, or it will spoil the cream. Stir it from the edges of the mould, and do so till all the cream is frozen up
  • Then put it into a fluted lead mould that will hold a pint, put a piece of paper over it, put the cover close on, set it in the middle of a pail, with ice and salt under and over it, and let it stand among the ice for two or three hours, to grow stiff. When you want it, dip the moulds in cold water, turn it out on a plate, and serve it up with desert after dinner.