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Tweed Salmon Fisheries

Ice for Salmon

A major change in the salmon trade to London occurred at the end of the 18th century when the fresh fish began to be packed round with ice, which preserved it in an excellent state during the sea voyage of up to five days.

The idea of building ice-houses for the salmon trade was brought to Scotland in 1785, by a Perthshire gentleman who, while travelling in China, had seen ice used to keep fish fresh while being transported over great distances inland. Ice-houses were soon being constructed in Berwick and the first cargoes of Tweed salmon packed with crushed ice were shipped out of the port for London in 1788. Most of Berwick’s ice-houses belonged to the Berwick Salmon Fisheries Company.

Ice could be stored for up to two years in a large, well-drained ice-house. At least 7,500 cartloads, or 2,000 tons of ice were needed to fill Berwick's ice-houses. During the 19th century, the ice needed was usually sourced from the River Tweed and harvested from ponds created in the district specially for the purpose, such as those at Heatherytops in Scremerston, about three miles south of Berwick. If sufficient amounts of ice could not be found locally, the Berwick Salmon Fisheries Company imported supplies from Norway. As early as 1833, there are records showing that ice was imported from Norway following a mild winter. The last ice-ship came to Berwick from Norway in 1939.

Old ice-houses can be seen at several locations in Berwick including one in the basement of the old Custom House on Quay Walls. The doors leading into three more can be seen at the top of Ravensdowne. Their storage chambers lie under the allotments beside the Elizabethan ramparts.

The entrance to another is in Bankhill, close by the Royal Tweed Bridge on the north bank of the river. The ice was added through two access holes in the top of the storage chamber and removed through the tunnel in the bankside. The Bankhill ice-house is owned by Berwick Preservation Trust and an interpretive panel is displayed beside the entrance.

A description of ice-houses in 1799

Extracts from contemporary newspapers relating to ice for the London salmon trade in Victorian times