Managing an icehouse

When I was seven or eight years old, I discovered the word "icehouse". My grandparent's house was near a country estate which possessed an icehouse. According to my grandmother, there were very few icehouses in Britain. Somehow, the idea came to me that when I was grown up, I would write about the "very few icehouses". But when I grew up, I discovered that there are hundreds of icehouses in Britain, and many in other countries. I don't think that grandmother knew how many there really were.

Recently I came across a reference to icehouses which made me think of Operational Research. I have been reading the unusual book "A272: An ode to a road" by Pieter Boogaart. This is a book about places along the A272, things to see, information about the history, all written in a delightful style. And Pieter has a page about icehouses, and his frustration that he was not allowed to go into the icehouse at Petworth House.

The principle of managing an icehouse is simple, but there are conflicting objectives. The icehouse is filled with ice during the winter and the icehouse keeps the ice frozen all year long. During the year, food may be kept in the icehouse for preservation, or ice may be taken to chill food in the kitchen of the house. To work, the icehouse must not be opened too many times, else the ice will melt as warm air is allowed in. So the conflict; the cook would like to use the icehouse frequently; but by doing so, the aim of the icehouse will be overturned. So, I assume, most houses which used icehouses had rules (heuristics?) which suggested how often and when the icehouse might be used. Many of the owners of grand houses which possessed icehouses had second homes, or spent some of the time away, so access to the ice was only needed at certain times. It would be interesting to know if any such rules exist today.

Pieter Boogaart recounts the following story:
In Holland the efficacy of an icehouse was put to the test a few years ago. It was quite an exciting project, and a goodish number of people participated, each of whom was issued with a key. They were naturally proud of what they were doing and showed the icehouse outside and inside to friends and relatives. And they all came regularly to check on things. Which was exactly why it didn't work.
It would be interesting to find details of this project.


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