Icehouse unearthed as builders renovate Royston hotel

The Royston icehouse was discovered underneath Banyers.

The Royston icehouse was discovered underneath Banyers. - Credit: Archant

An icehouse which could date back to the 17th century has been discovered beneath a Royston landmark.

The icehouse was discovered when builders began digging the foundations for the orangery.

The icehouse was discovered when builders began digging the foundations for the orangery. - Credit: Archant

The underground chamber came to light as workers dug the foundations for the orangery which is part of renovation and improvement work at The Banyers Hotel in Melbourn Street.

A spokeswoman for Beechdale Homes said: “Our archaeologist reported that the structure at the Banyers is comparable to documented descriptions of icehouses.

“The structure has the subterranean location, thick walls and roof, which enhance the propensity for storage of ice and food preservation.

“The structure also contained a drain hole in the floor for the slow melting ice to drain, typical of icehouses. We hope that this area can become a unique meeting place.”

King James I is reputed to have commissioned the construction of the first icehouse in Greenwich Park in 1619. In the days before domestic refrigeration, grand houses would rely on an icehouse – which could be either circular or rectangular in shape, with vaulted roofs to keep the underground temperature as low as possible – to store fresh food.

Large blocks of ice were imported from as far away as Scandinavia, and packed into the chamber. The rate of melting would be slowed considerably by the environment and food could be kept fresh for months.

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The spokeswoman added: “Royston was a town preferred by both James I and Charles II for its hunting grounds, and the remains of King James court and palace lie along Kneesworth Street from Melbourn Street to Dog Kennel Lane, not far from The Banyers.

“There is a possibility that the Banyers subterranean structure dates from at least the 17th century. The icehouse trend increased during the 18th century to be found mainly in the grounds of manor houses and their estates.”

Royston Cave manager James Robinson said: “This is very interesting because it does fit together with what the archaeologist says about James 1 and Royston.

“Anything like this is good for the town as we are looking to promote Royston more over the next few years.

“Interestingly, it has been speculated that the upper storey of the cave may have been used to store food at one time.

“I think there is a lot more beneath Royston’s streets than we know about and I would hope this kind of discovery would encourage people to report anything unusual.”