Laser scanning brings ice house to life


Published Thursday 29 January 2015

Eating an ice cream in the idyllic New Forest is a pleasure that many of us take for granted.

But it wasn’t always so straightforward, and now National Park archaeologists are using high tech methods to explore what life was like before fridges and freezers were invented.

Before refrigeration, many country estate owners used structures known as ice houses to chill liquid, keep food fresh and even produce ice cream. These buildings were partly underground and kept cool by ice imported from abroad or cut from local lakes in the winter, which allowed their owners to preserve produce for longer.

There are at least 10 ice houses in the New Forest, each of which helps to tell the story of how the upper classes preserved their food. These structures are found in several country estates across the National Park, and are evidence of the first steps towards domestic refrigeration, which fundamentally changed the way people store and consume food. 

Archaeologists at the New Forest National Park Authority have begun their work to conserve the area’s ice houses by commissioning heritage technology firm Archaeovision to produce a laser scan animation of the ice house on Beaulieu Estate, available to watch above or at

This cutting edge animation will help them repair the ice house and act as an educational tool for local schoolchildren.

Brick underground ice houses of the type found at Beaulieu can be seen in the grounds of many large estates across the world, with the first in England constructed in the early 17th century for King James I. They remained popular with wealthy landowners on their estates until the middle of the 19th century. 

Ice houses, including the one at Beaulieu, had a ventilator at the top of the internal dome and drainage at the base of the shaft in which the ice was stored, allowing waste water to run off as the ice slowly melted. In many cases ice could remain in the building for anything between 12 and 18 months.

As well as preserving food, ice could also be used to create a freezing compound in the ice house by combining it with salt. Placing a container within the freezing compound allows any liquid to be frozen and was the traditional method for producing ice cream.

(BBC South Today 5 March 2015)

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.

‘This laser scan animation is an important first step in our work to catalogue and conserve the New Forest’s ice houses. 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.’

If you would like to find out more information about this project please email

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 £4.5 million Our Past, Our Future Landscape Partnership Scheme, which will run from 2016 once funding is confirmed.

The Landscape Partnership Scheme is 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, National Trust, Natural England, New Forest Centre, and the New Forest Land Advice Service. 



Brief history of ice houses:

  • The history of storing ice is ancient and in medieval times it would have involved storage in insulated pits where temperatures below ground would have been constant. This would have allowed ice to be stored for extended periods. 
  • James I is credited with having had the first brick underground ice house constructed in 1619 at Greenwich Palace
  • The period 1600 to 1800 marks was known as the Little Ice Age, when average temperatures were about one degree colder and ice could be easily harvested from fresh water lakes and ponds.
  • Ice houses were superseded by commercial refrigeration, which allowed ice to be manufactured from around the 1870s before domestic refrigerators were introduced in the 1920s.

Notes to photo editor:

A photo of the ice house on Beaulieu Estate in the New Forest. The 3D animation is available to view and embed at

Notes to editor:

About Our Past, Our Future 

Our Past, Our Future is a Landscape Partnership Scheme for the New Forest which, 
supported by 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. 

These organisations will take collective responsibility for the delivery of the Programmes if we are successful with the Stage 2 application. The Landscape Partnership has been awarded a development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to employ a project team that will work with the partners to develop and refine the initial Stage 1 bid for the Stage 2 submission in 2015. If this is successful, then the Delivery Phase of the Scheme will run from 2016 – 2020. 

For more information on Our Past, Our Future visit

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect
  • Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:

  • Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit to find out more

Media Contact:

Matt Stroud, Communications Assistant, New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646650

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