Postcard from Bathtub: Britain’s oldest lido prepares to reopen



Bathtub is filled with secrets and techniques, well-kept by its residents. A long time in the past, I borrowed a basement flat in one in every of its Georgian terraces, the cellar of which led to a seemingly infinite system of subterranean passages that ran beneath the pavements. At night time, I’d lie awake close to the centre of this Unesco World Heritage metropolis, listening to the native youngsters screeching and cackling from its flagstoned depths. 

map of Bath

After I learnt that Britain’s oldest open-air lido had stood principally derelict and overgrown on Bathtub’s fringes for practically 40 years, I used to be eager to see this secret, too. The Grade II-listed Cleveland Swimming pools first opened in 1817 and later within the Nineteenth century was run by the eccentric Captain Evans, who had a pet baboon, held spectacular gala events and apparently would impress onlookers by diving into the pool from an ideal peak, sporting a tall hat to guard his head. After latterly getting used as a trout farm, restoration efforts started in 2003 and on September 24 the swimming pools are lastly resulting from reopen to the general public as soon as extra.

I head east of the historic coronary heart of town, previous the Lovelywash Launderette. Past, down an alleyway off a residential road and subsequent to the River Avon, lie the swimming pools. 

At first sight and on the tail-end of a protracted heatwave, their waters look irresistible. Frustratingly, after I go to they aren’t fairly prepared for swimmers, however David Barnes, an architect with Donald Insall Associates who led the restoration, exhibits me round. 

An aerial view of Cleveland Pools
Cleveland Swimming pools, set amongst bushes alongside the banks of the River Avon © Alamy

“What’s pleasant in regards to the swimming pools is that they’re so easy, clear and low-key,” says Barnes. A modest Georgian ticketing workplace, caretaker’s lodge and a fairly curved terrace of adjusting rooms have been restored, all in that honeyed Bathtub stone. Scorching showers and a kiosk have been added. “They’re very hidden away on this remoted spot. That was additionally their undoing, after all, the rationale they had been uncared for.” 

I’m curious. How did this metropolis come to construct a cold-water lido? In any case, Bathtub is bursting with pure sizzling springs, and was based by the Romans within the 1st century AD as a thermal spa. Later, rich Georgian society spent months of the yr lolling about in Bathtub’s heat waters. That explains the neoclassical terraces — they had been constructed typically as short-term lets to accommodate this early Nineteenth-century growth in prolonged luxurious wellness retreats. However who would swim right here?

“The Avon at Bathwick was all the time fashionable for bathing for Bathtub’s peculiar working folks,” says Barnes. “However folks swimming within the river didn’t swimsuit well mannered Georgian society.” 

Nude bathing was particularly egregious. The 1801 Bathwick Water Act prohibited it, however by 1815 cold-water swimming had turn into a nationwide craze, really helpful by physicians, significantly for continual circumstances. Extra folks swam within the Avon and one thing needed to be accomplished. A public subscription was established; 85 personal donors signed up.

John Pinch the Elder, an architect and opportunistic property developer, was engaged (Babington Home in Somerset can also be his work; so are elements of Bathtub, together with the dreamlike Sion Hill Place and sedate Cavendish Crescent). Pinch took the job on a professional bono foundation, hoping the brand new swimming pools would serve the residents of a deliberate growth to town, from which he hoped to revenue. He was out of luck: the size and expense of the Napoleonic wars ended Bathtub’s Georgian constructing growth.

Nonetheless, Cleveland “Pleasure Baths” had been reduce from the financial institution of the Avon and full of river water. Pinch constructed a crescent of adjusting rooms beside the primary pool, in addition to a secluded women’ bathing pool and the lodge. Later, the cholera pandemic of the 1830s led to extra demand and the digging of a tepid pool. 

Earlier than: Cleveland Swimming pools in 2009. Although a belief was set as much as restore the swimming pools in 2003 the venture has taken 19 years © Alamy
The changing booths are seen with the pool in the foreground
And after: a member of employees prepares for the reopening on September 24 © Alamy

In Barnes’ renovation, proof of the previous is in every single place, from the pit-scars of ivy within the lodge’s tender Bathtub stone to the unique cast-iron ranges within the fireplaces, which have in some way survived. “It’s a really gentle contact,” says Barnes. “Somewhat than disguise every thing, we’ve tried to specific issues which have gone on earlier than.” 

A pandemic, a craze for cold-water swimming — all of it sounds very acquainted. In actual fact, Bathtub’s residents swam right here till 1978, when town’s leisure centre opened and it was deserted. When the council marketed the positioning on the market, a belief run by volunteers secured a 150-year lease and raised greater than £9mn from the Nationwide Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England, amongst others.

Immediately, Cleveland Swimming pools have been redug, tiled and modernised. Subsequent yr, its operators hope to put in a water supply warmth pump, however for now, it’s chilly bathing solely. The total Georgian expertise.

Barnes likes to consider the positioning as Bathtub in microcosm: a crescent, water and social historical past. “And we needed to maintain that reference to the river,” he says. So his staff cleared vegetation to revive the view. 

Out on the river, a pleasure cruise stuffed with vacationers sails previous. There’s an audible “Oooh”. Bathtub will be unable to maintain this secret. 


Cleveland Swimming pools ( are resulting from open to the general public from September 24. Entry prices £6 for adults, £4 for youngsters

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