JUST when you thought the trail of more icehouses had gone cold then spotting of these 200-year-old subterranean structures starts hotting up once more.

Memories 480 thought it had located nearly all of these fascinating underground chambers in our area, but since then, plenty more have been unearthed.

The icehouse era was between 1760 and 1820. An icehouse was an egg-shaped, brick-lined chamber which was about four-fifths beneath the ground. It was usually accessed by a ground-level tunnel the length of a cricket pitch. Often an artificial hillock was created above the chamber for extra insulation.

During winter, ice would be carted from a nearby pond and stored in the icehouse. It would last for at least six months and often up to 18 months, and his lordship’s staff would use its coldness to chill drinks and desserts – ice that had been stored in straw-filled, rodent-infested underground chambers was not suitable for human consumption.

Although 200 years old, the mysterious nature of icehouses continues to fascinate. We’ve located dozens and dozens across North Yorkshire, the Tees Valley and County Durham, and here are some new ones, plus a ghost…

BOBBY SHAFTO may have been very bonny with his yellow hair and the silver buckles on his knee, but did he have an icehouse?

Claire Molloy points out that at his ancestral home of Whitworth Park, near Spennymoor, there is an icehouse – in fact, it could be the oldest of the structures that survive.

The Northern Echo:

Mark Shafto, of Newcastle, bought the Whitworth manor in 1652, and his great-great-grandson was the Bonny Bobby who used the famous song as an election ditty in 1760. It helped him defeat Sir Thomas Clavering, whose icehouse we shall come to in a moment, and become Durham MP.

Bonny Bobby was the owner of Whitworth from the death of his father in 1742 until his own death in the hall in 1797. The icehouse craze began around 1760, so there was plenty of time for Bobby, pictured below, to have one built in his grounds.

The Northern Echo:

If the icehouse is his, it is about the only part of the estate that he would recognise. In 1845, Robert Eden Duncombe Shafto replaced the manor house with a stately home that was itself destroyed by fire in 1877. It was rebuilt in 1891.

The only part to survive the 1845 blaze was the detached library wing and, of course, the semi-subterranean icehouse.

ETHERLEY feels like more than just another mining village. It has a grand literary institute, built in 1864, beside the cricket club, founded in 1850, and rather than rows of miners’ terraces, it had several mineowners’ houses.

It was the home of the Stobart family, who were directors of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and Wolsingham Steelworks, as well as owning the local mines, and it is said they ensured their neighbours were their mine officials rather than the miners themselves.

The Stobarts had two homes in the village: Red House, which was demolished after the Second World War and now has a street of homes – called Red Houses – and its site; and Etherley Lodge which, until 2015 was a 33-bedroom care home. However, it received an “inadequate” report from inspectors and has since been converted back into a private house.

Neighbours in the village note approvingly how the new owners have tidied the grounds and cleared out an icehouse which had become filled with decades of rubbish.

The icehouse, though, must pre-date the railway, which opened in 1825. Many people have pointed it out, but can anyone tell us anymore about it?

GREENCROFT, to the north of Lanchester, was described 200 years ago as “a spacious elegant mansion embosomed by luxurious plantations of lofty forest trees and commanding and commanding a fine rural prospect of the winding vale of Lanchester”.

The Northern Echo:

Now, sadly, the lofty forest trees no longer embosom a mansion, as Greencroft was demolished in 1954 – but its icehouse still exists.

“Both entrances now have steel gates on to keep people out,” says Dave Edgar – which is a hell of a boast, as every other icehouse in the county has only had two doors. Greencroft’s, though, has a north and a south door which are on different levels.

Greencroft was built in the 1670s after its estate was bought by the landowning Clavering family of Axwell Park, Blaydon.

Not only did Sir James Clavering, a Newcastle “merchant adventurer”, create a spacious and elegant mansion, but the grounds were laid out with formal gardens, ponds, summerhouses, a deerpark and even a shell house – shell houses were a late 17th Century landscape feature of a dinky house covered entirely in sea shells (some stately homes from this period have shell rooms).

The Northern Echo:

Perhaps the most famous of Greencroft’s features was its Gothic tower, with a cottage at its foot. The tower lasted until the late 1940s, and gives its name to the Greencroft Tower residential estate.

The icehouse probably dates from the ownership of Sir Thomas Clavering, who was captured by Napoleon’s troops in the early 1790s and held prisoner for four years in France.

His descendants owned Greencroft until it was acquired by the Army at the start of the Second World War. This began the mansion’s downward spiral until it was demolished in 1954 – but at least its icehouse, a Grade II listed building, survives.

  • If you have anything to add about these icehouses, or any others, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk