Historic Cleveland Pools shipshape again after restoration that involved delivering all materials by barge

September 23, 2022

The £9.3m restoration of Bath’s Cleveland Pools, the oldest surviving public lido in the UK, has been completed following a 15-month project that included bringing all machinery, building materials and equipment to the site by barge.

The meticulous work on the 207-year-old Georgian site was overseen by main contractor Swindon-headquartered Beard Construction, lead designers Bath-based architectural practice Donald Insall Associates and Bristol structural designers Hydrock, who had to overcome a number of significant logistical challenges. 

The toughest of these was the fact that almost everything had to be brought to the Grade II* listed site by boat on the adjacent River Avon after being loaded up at the nearby Avon Rugby Club, which was used as a base, before being carried up-river by barge.

The barge was limited to five tonnes of material per trip and made on average six trips a day -navigating around everything from pleasure craft to the canoeists and kayakers who share the river. 

The Cleveland Pools were built in 1815 and are now regarded as a nationally significant site.   

But at one time the site was used as a trout farm before being threatened with demolition before the Cleveland Pools Trust was formed in 2004 to rescue it from dilapidation.

The restoration project was supported by hundreds of people in Bath, many of them with happy memories of summers spent poolside or learning to swim in the pools.

The restoration means the pools will be accessible for all, both physically and financially, for the first time since 1984.

The work included creating a new crescent-shaped waterproof concrete main pool within the footprint of the original listed red-brick pool, which has been preserved beneath it.

Work began by draining the existing pool, followed by installing a system of drainage crates to allow natural spring water to continue to flow into the listed pool and around the shell of the new one.

The existing children’s pool walls were temporarily held in place while the team dug out the base to build a waterproof, below-ground plantroom for the new pool filtration equipment, along with hi-spec water source heat pumps that will be used to heat the pool water. 

A refreshment kiosk and seating area is now housed above the plantroom.

Curving around one length, the original Georgian changing rooms and a central cottage with archway were made structurally safe, restored, stripped of centuries of paint back to their original Bath stone and re-roofed in Welsh slate – some of which was reclaimed from the original roofs.

New terrace seating has also been added, as well as a new toilet and shower block. Outdoor chrome showers also flank both pools.

Water from the Avon will feed the water source heat pumps, providing the pools with sustainable heating to 28 degrees centigrade when the site fully re-opens to the public next spring.

The pool is now ready to welcome its first swimmers. Hundreds entered a competition to be the first to swim and the winning 100 will do so tomorrow – from when the pool will be open to the public for a preview, cold-water season.

The restoration was led by project director Anna Baker, a chartered architect who specialises in historic buildings.

She said: “I am proud to have played a part in a restoration that many didn’t believe was possible. It’s been complex and very challenging. But it’s also been unique, the project of a lifetime.

“We are a small project team and could not have done it without the help of our hundreds of volunteers. It’s been a real privilege to work on such a community-driven undertaking.

“I’ve especially enjoyed taking this from a community heritage scheme to a project which engages with wellbeing, culture, sustainable energy and the natural environment.”

Beard project manager Mark Tregelles added: “This has been a rare opportunity to restore a heritage building to its original use.

“Although logistically challenging, the overriding theme of this project has been collaboration. Working together with Anna, her team, volunteers and local residents has meant that no problem has been insurmountable.

“Having access only by river has really tested our initiative, not only getting materials in and out of the project but also in the method of construction, given the limited plant and equipment that we could get to the site. Overall, it has been an honour to breathe new life into an historic landmark which can now be enjoyed for generations to come.”

David Barnes, associate director at Donald Insall Associates, said the restored and updated facilities at Cleveland Pools presented “a new and exciting chapter for continued enjoyment of this much-loved site that is inescapably part of Bath’s rich bathing heritage”.

The overall cost of the project was £9.3m, with £6.47m coming from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project has also had significant support from the DCMS Capital Kickstart Fund, Historic England and Bath & North East Somerset Council. 

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