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HER Number:MDV12875
Name:Iceworks at Sourton Tor


Remains of late 19th century iceworks on the north-east side of Sourton Tor.


Grid Reference:SX 546 900
Map Sheet:SX59SW
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishOkehampton Hamlets
Civil ParishSourton
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishOKEHAMPTON
Ecclesiastical ParishSOURTON

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX59SW/29
  • Old SAM Ref: 24088

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ICE WORKS (XIX - 1876 AD to 1886 AD (Between))

Full description

Griffith, F. M., 01/03/1991, DAP/UD, 10-15 (Aerial Photograph). SDV350751.

Griffith, F. M., 14/06/1979, DAP/KN, 2-6 (Aerial Photograph). SDV350750.

Ordnance Survey, 1880-1899, First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map (Cartographic). SDV336179.

Ice Ponds marked on 1880s-1890s 25 inch Ordnance Survey map, on the north-east side of Sourton Tors.

Royal Air Force, 19/05/1947, RAF/CPE/UK/2082 (Aerial Photograph). SDV350392.

Site visible on Royal Air Force aerial photographs.

Minchinton, W. E., 1973, Industrial Archaeology in Devon (Monograph). SDV7016.

Iceworks (north-east of Sourton Tors). During the early 1800's these iceworks were set up on the moor above the village of Sourton. Spring water was fed into tanks and allowed to freeze. The blocks of ice were then stored in peat-insulated tanks. The works, however had only a short life. All that remains are a few pits and some granite posts, in the dip between Sourton Tor and Corn Ridge.

Beer, P., 1977, 21st Report of the Geology Section, 215 (Article in Serial). SDV350752.

Remains of iceworks in use from 1875 to 1880 to serve th Plymouth district. The abundance of clear spring water at a height of 1,400 feet influenced the choice of site on a north-facing slope and it is said that the stored ice lasted until early July.

Harris, H., 1988, The Sourton Tors Iceworks, North-West Dartmoor, 1874-1876 (Article in Serial). SDV350749.

The iceworks were established in 1876, but the first good ice crop was not until 1879. Ice was exported to Plymouth and London from Bridestowe station. The business failed through a combination of mild winters (no ice) and hard winters (access to transport impossible) and the works were given up in 1886. Harris describes the field remains as at 1987, with survey drawings. Channels led from the spring which supplied the water down to a series of five terraces, on which 3 foot deep 'ponds' were sited. Below these lies a rectangular basin 40.2 metresby 6.7 metres, and below this the footings of the building in which the ice was stored. The site was affected by military activity in the Second World War. Detailed documentary references to the early history of the iceworks are given.

Beamon, S. P. + Roaf, S., 1990, The Ice-Houses of Britain, 243 (Monograph). SDV21550.

'A report from Cornwall' of 1876 describes an ice works set up at Sourton Tor, Dartmoor. This included excavated pits fed by springs and buildings to store the ice. The purpose was to see the ice for the preservation of fish in transit by rail from Plymouth, Exeter and Barnstaple.

Oxford Archaeological Unit, 1995, Dovecotes (Monograph). SDV28107.

Ice Farm set on the northern flank of Sourton Tor at an altitude of 427 metres. The source of ice consisted of a series of long, narrow through like pits, now mostly dry. The winds swept across these spring-fed ponds, and the rapid evaporation cooled the water, so aiding the formation of ice. The ice was used to preserve fish in transit from Plymouth, Exeter and Barnstaple. One of only a few ice farms in the country.

Monuments Protection Programme, 1995, Icehouses (Un-published). SDV350763.

Ice farm consisting of a series of long narrow pits. The prevailing wind swept across this spring-fed ponds and the rapid evaporation cooled the water, so aiding the formation of ice.

Gerrard, S., 1999, 152425 (Un-published). SDV276680.

Site visit: 18th June 1998. See Harris' article for a detailed description and history of this iceworks. The site would benefit from a more detailed survey. The only major observation not previously reported upon concerns a ditch surrounding the south, east and part of the west sides of the ice ponds. This measures 0.6 metres wide by 0.15 metres deep and has a slight bank on the inner side. This ditch probably functioned as a boundary to the sett and as a means of preventing dirty surface water reaching the ponds.

GeoInformation Group Ltd, 2010, 1:625 2010 Colour (12.5cm resolution) (Aerial Photograph). SDV346026.

Remains of iceworks visible as earthworks on aerial photograph.

Ordnance Survey, 2012, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV348725.

English Heritage, 2012, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV348729.

Icework at Sourton Tors. The icework at Sourton Tors is one of very few ice farms to have existed nationally, and represents an extremely rare survival of industrial ice production from the 19th century. Considerable quantities of documentation exist concerning the setting up, running and failure of this icework. This provides details concerning the precise processes involved in producing the ice for market, together with output figures and other information. Most of the ice was sold to fish buyers in Plymouth although some was sold for domestic use. A combination of unsuitable winters and finally the introduction of artificially produced ice heralded the demise of the icework in 1886. Despite late 19th century attempts to restore the area to its original form and later military use, the icework at Sourton Tors survives extremely well, with all the elements known from contemporary documentation remaining visible. The unusual nature of this industrial venture means that important and unique structures are known to survive.
The monument includes a 19th century icework, an associated pillow mound, together with part of an earlier area of ridge and furrow and later military training features, situated on the northern slope of Sourton Tors overlooking large tracts of North Devon. The icework includes a series of at least six terraces measuring between 45m and 150m long by between 9.4m and 17.6m wide. Within each of these terraces are small rectangular ponds denoted by transverse earthwork banks. A total of 32 ponds are known to have once existed and were filled with water carried from a nearby spring in a system of leats, many of which are still visible. During the winter months between 1875 and 1886 the ice which formed in these ponds was collected and taken to a substantial building with internal dimensions of 25m by 6.2m denoted by a mortared wall. To provide essential insulation, this storage building was cut deep into the ground and the displaced spoil now forms a 4m high linear dump situated immediately to its north. Access to the building was through a 2.5m deep gully cutting into the hillside. A small chamber, whose function is unknown, measures 2sq m, is built against the inner northern wall of the storage building and stands up to 1.2m high. Above the upper level of ice ponds is a narrow ditch measuring 0.6m wide by 0.15m deep with a slight associated bank on the downslope side. This ditch probably functioned as a boundary to the icework and as a means of preventing dirty surface water reaching the ponds. To the north of the iceworks are slight traces of ridge and furrow earthworks formed by historic ploughing. Overlying the ridge and furrow is a flat-topped sub-rectangular mound, surrounded by a ditch from which material was quarried during its construction. This is a pillow mound which was built to encourage rabbits to colonise this hillside and measures 11.9m long by 3m wide and 0.9m high. The associated quarry ditch is 1m wide and 0.1m deep. The pillow mound is slighted at a point where a bank leads up to it. This bank also overlies the ridge and furrow and maybe some form of animal run used to control and trap the rabbits. The Sourton Tors area has been extensively used for military training purposes and this has left a rich array of different features. Within the monument there are a number of slit trenches, two of which are connected to each other by a narrow communication trench. These features are included in the scheduling, representing the subsequent use of this area for militay training.
Date scheduled: 9th March 2001.

c. 1880, Prospectus of the English Natural Ice Company Ltd. (Record Office Collection). SDV276674.

Dro/49/1/137/prospectus of the english natural ice company ltd/nd,c 1880.

Le Messurier, B., c. 1979, Dartmoor Walks for the Motorist, Walk No. 30 (Monograph). SDV276675.

Iceworks are shown on the Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1883. arthworks consisting of a series of troughs are still visible.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV276680Un-published: Gerrard, S.. 1999. 152425. Monument Protection Programme. Archaeological Item Dataset.. Unknown.
SDV276675Monograph: Le Messurier, B.. c. 1979. Dartmoor Walks for the Motorist. Dartmoor Walks for the Motorist. Unknown. Walk No. 30.
SDV276674Record Office Collection: c. 1880. Prospectus of the English Natural Ice Company Ltd.. DRO/49/1/137. Unknown.
SDV348729National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2012. National Heritage List for England. Website.
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped features: #80671 ; #80672 ]
SDV7016Monograph: Minchinton, W. E.. 1973. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Paperback Volume.
SDV350392Aerial Photograph: Royal Air Force. 19/05/1947. RAF/CPE/UK/2082. Royal Air Force Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper).
SDV350749Article in Serial: Harris, H.. 1988. The Sourton Tors Iceworks, North-West Dartmoor, 1874-1876. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. A5 Paperback.
SDV350750Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 14/06/1979. DAP/KN. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 2-6.
SDV350751Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 01/03/1991. DAP/UD. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 10-15.
SDV350752Article in Serial: Beer, P.. 1977. 21st Report of the Geology Section. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 109. A5 Paperback. 215.
SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV346026Aerial Photograph: GeoInformation Group Ltd. 2010. 1:625 2010 Colour (12.5cm resolution). 2010 Aerial Photographs. Digital.
SDV21550Monograph: Beamon, S. P. + Roaf, S.. 1990. The Ice-Houses of Britain. The Ice-Houses of Britain. A4 Stapled + Digital. 243.
SDV350763Un-published: Monuments Protection Programme. 1995. Icehouses. Unknown.
SDV28107Monograph: Oxford Archaeological Unit. 1995. Dovecotes. Monument Protection Programme Step 3 Report, Site Evaluations. A4 Unbound.

Associated Monuments

MDV61969Related to: MILITARY TRAINING SITE in the Parish of Sourton (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Mar 14 2019 3:16PM