Have you seen an ice cream van recently? Didn't think so...

Their distinctive chimes used to be a familiar sound. But more regulation has pushed the industry close to meltdown

For decades, their chugging and chiming has signalled the start of summer and feeding time for generations of children armed with small change and sweet tooths. Now, Britain's ice cream vans are stalling their way into a winter of discontent and towards an uncertain future in which they face becoming as endangered as milk floats.

Meltdown for the country's estimated 5,000 ice cream vans started with the rise of the domestic freezer in the Fifties but has been compounded more recently by new EU rules introducing lower emission limits. These mean that many older ice cream vans face costly conversions or face being taken off the road.

In London, meanwhile, tighter emissions standards will come into force from January next year. Some ice cream vans will be able to fit a filter, but the charge for those that don't will be £100 a day.

The amendments add to an already long list of expenses for ice cream sellers, including insurance and a trade licence costing around £800 annually.

"We thought this summer would be the great summer that the industry needed," said Stuart Whitby, managing director of Whitby Morrison, the UK's largest manufacturer of ice cream vans.

"Trade got off to a cracking start. April and May were as good as any we've had for as long as we can remember. But June and July was a washout and August was typically mixed."

As recently as five years ago there were an estimated 20,000 vans plying the streets with Mr Whippy and assorted Feasts, as well as burgers, hot dogs, and overpriced cans of fizzy drink. The fleet has been reduced to a quarter of that size, with councils piling on more pressure by banning vans from some housing estates, parks and schools because of concerns about noise pollution and childhood obesity.

Other authorities have created ice cream selling exclusion zones in town centres, hiked the cost of a van operator's licence and limited how long vans can sound their chimes. Soaring food and petrol prices have also helped drive a flake into the heart of an industry already on its knees.

That the distinctive chimes of the ice cream van are disappearing from our streets may cause a pang of nostalgia, but not enough people, it seems, are sending out their children to vote with their feet.

"The industry bottomed out about five years ago," said Mr Whitby. "Street vending has dramatically changed. Supermarkets are selling ice cream far more cheaply than ice cream vans can, every corner shop and garage forecourt has an ice cream freezer. There are less and less vans doing the rounds.

"Your average ice cream vendor is struggling with his trade, but so are lots of people. Families might not have thought twice about buying their kids an ice cream in the boom times, but now they are thinking harder before sending them running round the block."

Earlier this year, National Ice Cream Week highlighted the demise of the ice cream van by sending an amphibious ice cream vessel – the HMS 99 – up and down the Thames, but the summer of 2011 was no more successful as a result.

Horse-drawn vans selling flavoured "ices" were first seen on cobbled streets in the 19th century. "Should I after tea and cakes and ices, have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?" pondered TS Eliot's J Alfred Prufrock not long after. Motorised vans followed in the 1950s, selling hard, scooped or soft ice cream.

The technique now employed of making a custard-based ice cream using egg yolks started in France around the middle of the 18th century. The Americans had to wait until 1800 to get their first taste.

By the 1980s, the street vending of ice cream had become so lucrative that gangs fought turf wars over who controlled what patches.

A notorious incident took place in 1984, when a row between Glasgow-based gangs led to the murder of six members of the Doyle family, who had run the Marchetti ice cream company.

The subsequent court case lasted 20 years, during which it was alleged that the vans were being used as a cover to sell drugs.

The violent conflicts generated widespread public outrage, and Strathclyde Police's struggle to deal with them earned the force the nickname the "serious chimes squad".

Vendors regularly raided one another's vans and fired shotguns into one another's windscreens.

Sound of the summer

* While no official chart of melodies used by ice cream vans exists, the traditional English folk song "Greensleeves" is widely held to be the most commonly used, maintaining a tradition that is almost as old as the van itself.

* The Disney classic "Whistle While You Work", written for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is reportedly popular in Crewe and Nantwich, while the strains of the popular song "You Are My Sunshine", first recorded in 1939, can be heard in parts of Cheshire.

* In 2009, an ensemble of six ice cream vans made its debut as part of Whitstable Biennale, later taking its 10-minute, six-part composition written especially for the van's horns to the Whitechapel Gallery Street Project.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn