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Ipswich: Victorian ‘igloo’ discovered in Holywells Park

15:00 23 January 2013

An ice house dating back to Victorian times has been found in Holywells park. An ice house is an underground freezer. The victorians used to take the ice from the top of ponds in the park and put it in the ice house to keep food and drink fresh.

An ice house dating back to Victorian times has been found in Holywells park. An ice house is an underground freezer. The victorians used to take the ice from the top of ponds in the park and put it in the ice house to keep food and drink fresh.


THE frosty conditions of late provided the perfect setting for the discovery of a hidden gem at an historic Ipswich park.


Archaeologists spent a day on site in Holywells Park after a lost underground igloo – which would last have been used as a freezer for food in Victorian times – was unearthed.

The large brick building was found underground near to the Stable Block, despite not featuring on maps of the park or of Ipswich.

Rumours of an ice house on the grounds have been circulating for years, prompting the borough council to locate it as part of its bid for Heritage Lottery Funding worth £2.8million.

And if the park gets the grant, which would pay for a massive transformation on the grounds, the ice house could be developed and opened for public viewing.

It is thought ice would have been taken from the nearby ponds at the park and put into the ice house, where food could be kept at a constant temperature.

Rhod Gardener, head of the archaeology contracts for Suffolk County Council, told The Ipswich Star that ice houses were only ever found on the grounds of large manors and houses.

“It would date back to around the 17th and 18th centuries,” he said. “We were called in to investigate the area with the borough council wanting to discover it as part of the bid for funding.

“There are now hopes to continue the excavation further and then possibly open it up to the public.

“It is an interesting find because of the fact that this one wasn’t on any maps and that it was considered lost.”

Although similar structures have also been discovered in St Joseph’s College and in Christchurch Park, the ice house is considered a rare find as such buildings were mainly used for large manor houses.

It is thought the one in Holywells Park would have been built by the Cobbold family, who lived on the site.

Richard Sharp, the borough council’s community engagement and volunteer officer for parks and open spaces, said: “We knew it existed, we just didn’t know where.

“So pushed on by the bid for funding we started asking local residents if they knew where it was. Some came back and said they had discovered it back in the 70s after a tree fell on its entrance and exposed the bricks.

“Some said they used to play in it as children but then the borough council deemed it unsafe and filled it in. They helped us to find it and then the Friends of Holywells Park got involved to help clear the vegetation which had grown on the site over the past 30 or so years.

“It is very exciting to think this is on the grounds and it would be great to use some of the funding, if granted to us, to excavate further and then consider opening it for public view.

“It’s great to have this history here.”

Information about the discovery will now be put up inside the park.



  • A large underground brick built room with a domed top. It made a good den when I used to play there in the early seventies

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    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

  • I too remember the domed shaped brick room, i also recall a larger brick building with slits for windows in a different area of the park. There is also a small freshwater stream that me and my friends used to drink from when we were looking for treasure (amber).

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    a friend

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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