This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The provision of a quantity of ice is one of the duties that fall to the lot of the gardener, it being invariably his function to provide a stock sufficient to meet the demands of the family for the year. In the case of a large establishment this is a very important duty, when it is considered in how many ways ice is used during the summer. In my own case, not only have I to keep the hall well supplied, but as it is situated in a somewhat remote country district, the medical men fly here in cases of emergency to get a supply necessary to aid them in the healing arts. I am happy to know that in some instances lives have been saved owing to our ability to supply this valuable agent in cases of urgent danger and necessity.
I have thought it worth while to set down some of my experiences in regard to this work for the December number of the ' Gardener,' as it is during the end of that month or the beginning of January that we obtain our stock of ice; and indeed any opportunity for doing this should never be lost, as the chances are sometimes limited in number.
Early in December the place in which the ice is to be deposited is prepared ready for its reception when it appears. I like to store it when about 4 inches in thickness, though some persons prefer it thicker. And then we proceed to fill the house, which is 16 feet in depth and the same in width, with an arched roof like that of a brick oven; on this there is 3 feet of soil planted thickly with Evergreens, and the icehouse occupies a position on the north side of the premises, the door leading to it being on the west side of the house, with a passage built of brick arched over, with three doors at intervals, which lift from their hinges when required. This passage is 10 feet in length and paved with flagstones, and when the pit is reached it is some 10 feet below the ground-level. At the centre of the bottom of the house is a main drain, which receives the water from four smaller ones; and over these fagot-wood is placed for drainage also, as I find it very important to allow the water furnished by the melted ice to run away fully, as the bulk does not keep so well if the drainage be not perfect.
Over the layer of fagots is placed another of good wheat-straw, and as the ice is built up in the house, a good thickness of straw is placed between it and the wall.
The ice is obtained from a pond about 400 yards distant, and is brought to the house in carts, shot down at the door, and broken to pieces about the size of an ordinary brick before it is stowed away. I know that some recommend it should be broken smaller, but I can see no advantage in doing so. rather the reverse, as the act of breaking it small often makes it dirty, and the dirt so collected will show itself when the ice is used. The carts employed in bringing it to the house should be thoroughly cleansed before being so used.
The house here takes about sixty loads; and by using four carts, six horses, twelve men, and two boys, we manage to fill it in two days when ice is plentiful. In addition to their usual pay, plenty of beer and bread and cheese is allowed the men and lads employed. We also use about a load and a half of straw - the mass of ice is thoroughly encased in it; and when the ice settles down into a mass it is well trodden by the feet and beaten down with a large wooden mallet.
The whole cost of filling our house may be estimated at £7. A few years ago, when we had to bring a good deal of the ice from a large horse-pond a half-mile farther off, the cost of filling it was three or four pounds more, but the ice was never fit to place on the table.
William Plester. Elsenham Hall Gardens.