Home Page Fieldwork and Trips: Trentham Gardens dig

Ice House Excavation August 2016

Following the survey we did of the site in April, we now want to find out in more detail just what remains of the icehouse. To start with, we will carry out a shallow excavation of the icehouse and the immediately surrounding area. The magnetometry showed that something remains of the two walls of the entrance. It also showed the location of the drain, which we will also attempt to expose. We will check the state of the remaining brickwork to see whether we could later carry out a deeper excavation of the icehouse chamber itself.

It seems that a substantial part of the curved wall of the chamber lies under the adjacent pathway. At one time a narrow gauge railway ran along the route of this path, and the estate have asked us to remove this section of the pathway and record what remains of the railway line beneath, as we attempt to locate the icehouse wall section below that.

We started the excavation on Saturday 13th August 2016, and we plan to continue on every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday following, until the end of August.

Follow our progress in our pictorial diary below, commencing with:

Day 1: 13th August


Clearing the ground 1 Clearing the ground 2
Winston has marked out the trench, and we're starting to clear the surface layer
Looking N
Now we've cleared the vegetation away, you can see the tops of some walls starting to appear
Walls emerging Closeup walls emerging
The bark chippings that were used to back-fill the hole before we did the survey are on the left of this view (looking slightly E of North) Looking closer at the N end of the trench you can see what we assume is the wall of the entrance (because it is straight)

End of Day1
End of Day 1, looking south along the line of the "entrance wall"

Day 2: 14th August

The road has to go C&A
The wall of the chamber curves round at the S end, and goes under the track. The track will have to be removed Chris & Anita working on the sides of the chamber wall - you can see a lot of roof tiles emerging on the outside of it
Dave takes a picture Dave's picture
Dave takes a photo of the chamber wall and tiles .. .. and here it is. (The small yellow arrow on the info board is pointing North)

Day 4: 18th August

Buttress base? E to W view
Looking roughly SW, you can see we have exposed a lot of bricks just outside what previously we thought was the wall of the entrance. However, the bricks are of a later date than those of the chamber and it looks as if there was a problem with it's stability - it is tending to fall outwards and the bricks outside it seem to be the base of a buttress Looking across towards the west from the area of the buttress base shown in the previous picture. We have moved a lot of material already as shown by the spoil heap in the background!

Day 6: 21st August (Day 5 the site was closed due to heavy winds)

Looking N Looking SW
Looking N, you can see the curved chamber wall in the foreground, while in the background we are removing the red clay backfill from the inside (W side) of the straight wall, which we now think was a later addition to perhaps provide a cool storage room Looking roughly SW from the buttress base alongside the straight wall, you can see across the main ice chamber

Day 7: 23rd August

Entrance floor View from W
One of today's objectives was to find the floor of the entrance passage. You can see the start of it in the centre of this picture, looking westwards Looking the other way, i.e. towards the east, the entrance floor is where the two diggers on the left are working. Right foreground, you can see that we have yet to find the W side of the chamber wall, which had been under the track where once the narrow gauge railway ran
More floor Even more floor
More of the floor is now visible. You can also see, either side of the floor, the beginnings of the side walls of the entrance. By close of play, more can be seen of the floor and side walls. In the foreground, you can see where the door step appears to have been removed where the floor meets the chamber

Day 8: 25th August

3 areas of work N wall
Today we started work on 3 areas: removing the old rail track bed to reveal the W wall of the chamber (Glen,  L); cleaning up a layer of fallen bricks above the entrance passageway (Dick, Centre); and removing clay from the outside of the N end of the chamber wall (me, R) ...But then the rain started. This is as far as I got: you can see the chamber wall as it bends around the NE corner, with to the right, part of the entrance passage wall and floor. Getting too wet to work - the clay is very sticky.
In this view, N is behind us.

Rain stops play
Here we are looking NW as we finish our lunch under the tree and decide that the rain is not going to stop. An early bath beckons!

Day 9: 27th August

Exposing W wall View to S
Here we are mostly cleaning up the fallen bricks at the N end of the entrance passage, and exposing the W wall of the chamber. Looking SE. Looking S. The bricks look like a fallen entrance wall. To the right you can see the W wall of the chamber starting to show

Day 11: 30th August (no photos taken on Day 10)

W wall Passage n end
Looking N, we can now see the curving West wall of the chamber. You can also see, top right of the picture, that we are starting to remove the fallen bricks above the N end of the entrance passage, ready to remove the clay over the floor. See the next picture for what lies beneath. Looking W across the end of the entrance passage floor. Along the top (W) half of the end lies a layer of old mortar. We have removed this from the lower (E) edge, where it does not appear to have left any mark on the bricks of the floor. Was this just packing under a door to prevent draughts of warm external air?

Overview showing W wall
In this general view looking SE, you can see that we have now exposed not only the curved W wall of the chamber, but also another straight wall of a later date, similar to that on the E side. The outer wall of a second storage room?

Day 12: 1st September

View from N
In this view looking southwards, you can see that we have exposed much of the inside of the curved chamber wall (as deep as we are going to go at this stage). The entrance passage floor in the foreground comes further towards us than we anticipated and as you can see in the later photos, we have yet to find its end!

Floor continues Floor from side
Looking N at the end of the passage trench. It looks like we'll have to extend it further This is a view across the passage trench, looking west. Just to the left of the infomation board there is a gap running towards us across the floor - was there perhaps a door here?
E straight wall Fallen not buttress?
Looking now at the straight E wall. Its northern end is toward us. We now think that the bricks lying outside it may be where the wall has fallen, rather than the base of a buttress. Here's another view of what we now think is the fallen part of the E wall. Again, its N end is toward us
Fallen E wall close-up W side overview
This is a close-up of the fallen E wall, looking towards the west Compare the previous picture of the fallen E wall with this view of the corresponding fallen W wall, looking E
Fallen W wall Passage end yet?
Here is a close-up of the fallen W wall. Somehow some tiles, presumably from the roof, have landed on top of it At the close of play, no end to the entrance passage yet, but a step up to a continuation of the floor! Looking N.

Last day: Sunday 4th September

Working at N end Overview looking SE
We are still trying to find the northern limits of the building. Here looking E Here is an overview of the site at lunchtime on our final day, looking SE
You can see that we have found part of the N wall (just to the right of the barrow in this view)
Public view finds Finds
Many passers-by showed interest in the site. Here is a typical group looking at the objects we have found during the excavation. Maureen is telling them about the icehouse Here are some of the metal objects we have found. Some are related to the railway which used to run across the W side of the site, but some may come from the icehouse itself
Bottles S end of passage
Some of the bottles we have found, including old school milk bottles! The S end of the entrance passage floor - the chamber is to the left in this view looking from the E. We think the channel running from top to bottom on the right-hand side may be a slot for a door to slide down into to seal the passage.
Outside path Overview from S
Here is the other, northern end of the entrance passage floor (L). We think the slot running from top (W) to bottom (E) was where the outer door slotted in, and that the cobbled floor to the right (N) is the outer pathway, here turning westwards. This is a view looking N at the end of the final day, with the entrance passage floor in the centre of the picture running towards the tree. We understand the tree, an oak, to be contemporary with the icehouse and that it was planted with other nearby oaks to ensure that the icehouse was shaded from the sun

Final overview from N
Looking S along the entrance passage towards the ice chamber. We have not yet fully exposed the N walls of the (presumably) cool rooms either side of the passage. These rooms seem to have been added at a later date than the construction of the main chamber (ca 1729), and they are of a much lesser standard of workmanship than the original structure. We may be able to return next year to complete the excavation. We have a meeting with local management staff of the owning company at which we hope to agree what will happen next with the remains. The site has certainly attracted a lot of public interest while we have been here.

Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, 7th September 2016