Yorkshire at risk: Time to bring ‘first fridge’ in from the cold

THEIR INVENTION revolutionised the preservation of food and drink for households across the globe, but there is one fridge-freezer asking the people of Yorkshire to return the favour.

Keppel's Column, Rotherham, with Lisa Broadest , manager of heritage services.  Picture by Bruce Rollinson
Keppel's Column, Rotherham, with Lisa Broadest , manager of heritage services. Picture by Bruce Rollinson

The subject of this remarkable paradox is slightly different to the sleek, shiny appliances which occupy a space in every modern kitchen, however.

Behold Doncaster’s ‘ice house’, one of the county’s earliest examples of a structure designed to keep edibles and refreshments cool, a testament to the innovation displayed by our ancestors in the age before electricity.

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The significance of the scheduled ancient monument and ponds, built in the grounds of the 18th-century High Melton Hall, is sadly now largely lost on residents, along with the vandals who have targeted it recent years.

Ice House, High Melton

Last year, the risk posed to it was so great that it was placed on English Heritage’s at-risk register. The Yorkshire Post’s Give Our Past A Future series attempts to encourage others to appreciate this hidden gem, buried in the woods near what is now a college campus.

“To have one as well-preserved as this is rare,” said Craig McHugh, a principal adviser for English Heritage.

The first ice houses were built in the 1600s, a statement of wealth for those who had money and land to build them in the grounds of their grand houses, along with an ample supply of food and drink to be stored in them.

While archaeologists have been unable to trace the exact date the subterranean dome structure was built, it is thought it dates back to the origins of the hall, built in the 18th century by the Fountayne and Montague family.

There are around 1,500 surviving ice house sites today, but few have ponds still intact and as much architectural merit as Doncaster’s hidden gem.

Its increasingly dilapidated state means it is vulnerable to break-ins and has been hit by vandalism recent years. The plan is to repair structural damage and install lighting to accommodate visits from the public.

“It wasn’t just a functional building, as many were; this was built with the design in mind,” added Mr McHugh.

“Unfortunately when things look neglected, people tend to neglect them.”

Another monument facing an uncertain future in nearby Rotherham is Keppel’s Column, a one of the longest-standing fixtures on the at-risk register.

In 1778, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, wanted to celebrate the acquittal of his friend and political ally Admiral Augustus Keppel, accused of neglecting his military duty during the American War of Independence.

But what was supposed to be a towering testament to friendship in the grounds of his home on the Wentworth Woodhouse estate became notably shorter and stouter during the eight years it took to build.

One rumour is that the Marquess ran out of money, and this move has cost the column greatly in recent years.

The spiral staircase which leads to a spectacular view of the South Yorkshire skyline is no longer safe to climb.

It came into the council’s possession in 1981 and there have been numerous attempts to repair and restore the tower over the years, but several funding bids have been rejected.

Time is of the essence to preserve it for future generations, and the local authority is soon to hold crunch talks with English Heritage.

Lisa Broadest, heritage manager for Rotherham Council, said: “It is not just its physical form but the legacy it carries. He wanted it to make a statement.”