Frozen in time – ice house at country hotel restored

The Ice House, at Matfen Hall Hotel.
The Ice House, at Matfen Hall Hotel.
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A rare, 250-year-old building in the grounds of a Northumberland country-house hotel has come in from the cold, following a major restoration.

The Ice House, at Matfen Hall Hotel, was built in 1774 by owner Sir Edward Blackett to enable his guests to enjoy fashionable ice creams in summer.

Built into a north facing slope, its thick stone walls ensured that slabs of ice, taken from the surface of the nearby lake in winter or imported from the Baltic, remained frozen for many months at a time.

But following the invention of domestic fridges in the early 1900s, it fell into disuse. Now, with help from a grant from the Country Houses Foundation, the Ice House has been fully restored and can be visited by guests looking to explore the grounds of the hotel.

“Ice houses were increasingly fashionable on country estates in the 1700s, as a great deal of preserving ice was needed to keep ice creams cool enough until dinner time,” said Matfen Hall Hotel’s owner and Sir Edward’s descendant, Sir Hugh Blackett.

“It was largely in the summer months that gentry households resided in the country, which made it all the more impressive if guests could be entertained with cold ices on the hottest days.

“Sadly, after a century of disuse, the Ice House was in a sorry state of repair and the dome was in danger of collapse, so we are delighted to have been able to restore it to its former condition.”