There is an Icehouse at Prior Park Landscape Gardens in Bath. Luckily, the National Trust interpretation board tells me quite clearly that it is an Icehouse, otherwise I would never have guessed! I might have thought up my own explanation. It looks like some steps down into a tunnel or chamber, and I wonder where it leads. It’s barricaded off, of course, for Health and Safety reasons, so no one can go in.
What is the Icehouse for? Well, how did they manage before fridges were invented? The servants used to get ice from the lake and store it in this underground chamber, and cart it up the steep hill to the house, and it was used to keep food cool.
You don’t need ice to keep food cool, people had larders, cupboards in North facing walls of the house, convenient for the kitchen. Didn’t the ice melt carting it up to the main house, or did they have an early version of a refrigerated van in those days too?
Many stately homes have icehouses. The icehouses often have geometric layouts, domes and tunnels, and it seems the one in Bath has a tunnel. Old maps show “subterranean passage” marked near the Icehouse.
“Bruce Walker, an expert on Scottish vernacular buildings, has suggested that the relatively numerous and usually long ruined ice houses on country estates have led to Scotland’s many legends of secret tunnels.”
So what is the Icehouse story covering up? Underground chambers, geometric layouts, secret underground passageways, and cleverly concealed entrances. And always found at the homes of the elite, particularly in Scotland. It doesn’t sound like something to do with storing food. It sounds a lot more like Satanic ritual.
We are led to interprete history a certain way through various interpretation devices. Any managed historical site will have leaflets and interpretation boards telling you exactly how to think. TV programmes, newspapers and the education system give a constant stream of it. The Roman Baths like you to go round with a phone like device which speaks to you constantly as you are guided step by step round the place, making sure that you pick up nothing from your own senses.
We could learn so much from our heritage sites, but only if we interpret them freely ourselves.
I have recently looked in my local Church Graveyard (with no apparent graves) and seen what looks and feels remarkably like a long barrow. Yet the official story is that it is a spoil heap from the mines. Noone questions the official story despite there being no other spoil heaps around. And the Church is surely rich enough to remove a spoil heap if they wanted to. Interestingly, some Stately home icehouses are tunnel shaped and resemble long barrows.
A site on the Lower Bristol Road in Bath starts to remind me of the ruins of Abbey when I stop focussing on the official story of industrial heritage, and just allow my mind to be free.
The Bath Standing Stones are officially referred to as part of an old racecourse, even though they look and feel exactly like standing stones. A memorial woodland has been planted and now grown up around them so they are barely visible from the footpath. The land is owned by the National Trust, who must have given their permission for this concealment.
It’s not just history that is interpreted for us. Everything is. Our present and our future as well as our past. The interpretation is a layer that blocks us from the truth. But you don’t have to go along with it. It’s a choice. You can trust the official versions or you can trust yourself.
(See also earlier posts: The Golden Circus, Round Tables, The Bath Standing Stones, Don’t Believe What You Read, I Am The Truth, Possibility Theory)