Ice and snow in winter can of course be troublesome, but they are even more so at other times of the year. In 1835 it was as late as June when Dr Henry Dixon wrote “this morning also was frosty and very cold, as it has been all the week, fires every day. The cucumbers in the open ground which are not protected are destroyed.” And in April 1837, “the continuation of this extreme cold has silenced the feathered race. I have only once for many weeks heard the singing of any birds & that was a solitary thrush. The rooks are disconsolate & gloomy and seem in deep mourning, fearing the expected destruction of their progeny”. “The street & pavement is a sheet of Ice. A woman fell down just now against my House & broke her leg badly. (11 p.m.)” At that time, Dr Dixon’s house and surgery were in the building now known as Fern House, at 129 Newland Street.
But ice did provide its pleasures too. In the 1920s, when Mrs Vera Howell was a girl, she went “skating in the winter when it was really hard and it was safe to skate, yes we
used to skate on Braxted Park, and on that one along Boreham Road there.” She and her friends were taken by boys on motor bikes. In the great freeze of 1963, Roy Gage took these photos of people sliding on the static water tank around their workplace. This was Cooper Tabor’s prize-winning seed warehouse in Station Road (since demolished, sadly). David Alderton is sliding, and Jenny Brown is being picked up (she was Canadian and had skates, unlike her colleagues). The two later married.
For food preservation, it was a serious problem when there wasn’t enough ice. Until food shops started to have fridges in the 1930s, they used ice stacked in a special cupboard with the food to keep it fresh. This ice was ‘harvested’ from lakes in winter. In February 1849 it had been very mild in England, and Dr Dixon wrote that “we shall have to import Ice as well as Gold from America”. Reminiscences about the 20th century show that it was the butchers who had most need of it. Harold Cook’s family had a shop in Newland Street, and he said that during the summer they had “blocks of a hundredweight each of ice” delivered by the Colchester Ice Company every day (a hundredweight was about 50 kg). And Maurice Greatrex’s grandfather, another butcher, bought ice from Frascati’s in London for his shop in Church Street, and then the men sawed it up to fit the cupboard.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in January 2011.