Sunday, January 12, 2014
The iceman cometh and goeth
For a hundred years or more, Grimsby was synonymous with the fishing industry. From the 1850s, when its fish docks were built, to the 1950s, when the industry was at its peak, hundreds of trawlers landed their catch at Grimsby. By 1900, Grimsby fishermen were responsible for one tenth of all Britain's fish. Even after the decline of the industry during and after the Cod Wars that plagued the business between 1958 and the 1970s, Grimsby fish was sold all over the country.
To keep their catch fresh, the deep-sea fishers needed ice and in 1901 the Great Grimsby Ice Factory was built to supply this need. Great steam-powered ammonia compressors produced the chilly conditions needed to make the ice, which was produced in vast quantities and loaded straight on to the ships in the fish dock. The large machinery was housed in these vast brick buildings, classically detailed as so many turn-of-the-century industrial buildings were, as an indication of their importance and prestige – until more compact refrigeration plants came in during the interwar period, this was a state-of-the-art facility.
So the ice factory has a classical pediment, rows of windows in round-headed niches, and telling details like iron components with the company's initials cast into them – prestige stuff. But the building is also highly businesslike: those towering brick walls and blind niches instead of windows tell us that this is, in fact, essentially an enormous shed for holding machinery – a shed, moreover, functionally shaped to fit the job and the site. Presumably that's why its walls come together at such an acute angle, making it look as if the whole thing is a facade without side walls.
The factory is no less noble for these unusual details and its historical importance and purposeful presence earn it the admiration of many. It's sad to see the building empty, but there are ambitious plans to conserve and find new uses for the ice factory. You can read about the plans, and more about the building's history, here.
Photo © David Rogers and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.