Cleveland Pools, Bath: The Oldest Outdoor Swimming Pool in Britain

Bath is a wonderful example of Georgian period architecture. I visited for the first time for a long weekend in 2019. We were meant to be going back last year for a full week but with the pandemic, will be going in September instead. The city has had a long association with water an bathing. The Romans occupied the city and named it Aquae Sulis, meaning the Waters of Sulis, a British goddess who the Romans identified as a version of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and battle strategy.[1] The site is one of the most complete Roman bathing complexes in the world, so it’s no wonder that it’s now part of a World Heritage Site.

Roman Baths in Bath, 2019 (Author’s Own Image)

The city’s waters were still a huge draw for people in the Georgian era. During this time, doctors were advising their patients to take bath in mineral rich waters for medical reasons. The Pump Rooms were a place to receive medical treatment, but also a place for those in fashionable society to be seen. However, despite the city’s rich and long heritage with bathing, I had no idea until recently that that Cleveland Pools existed, despite it being the UK’s only surviving Georgian era open-air swimming pool.[2]

Building on the Bath’s reputation for its water, as well as the banning of nude bathing in the River Avon in 1801, it was decided to build a subscription pool for swimming in.[3] The design was meant to reflect the Georgian style most prominent in the area, which explains the crescent shape of the original changing rooms. It looks like a mini version of the famous Royal Crescent on the other side of the River Avon to the Pools.[4] It was built in 1815 and was originally marketed as a place for the ‘gentleman of Bath’.[5] It is believed that the pool, along with the caretaker’s cottage, were built by a local builder called Newton, following a design created by local architect, John Pinch.[6] Water originally pooled in from the River Avon which was located next to the pools.[7]

Royal Crescent, Bath, 2019 (Author’s Own Image)

The pool was remained quite popular and after much demand, a ladies pool was added following renovations in 1827, including a perpetual shower bath, although I’m not quite sure what one of those is.[8] The appeal to families continued well into the Victorian period, when the pool was once again expanded to include a children’s pool.[9] It was certainly a place to go during for the Victorians as in 1867, a man named Mr W. Evans was in charge and he sought to teach swimming at the pools, as well as having entertaining gala parties with his pet baboon.[10]

Sadly though, the popularity of Cleveland Pools was not to last. It went through many hands from the end of the nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century. This is probably why it still remained largely subscription run, other than for a brief period in 1901 when entry was free.[11] Finally in 1984, it closed as the competition with indoor pools became too great. Following closure, it was briefly turned into a trout farm.[12] When this ended, it was left in a state of disrepair.

Cleveland Pools, Bath, from river side of lower pool, Rwendland (2010), Wikimedia Commons

In 2003, it was put up for sale by the Local Council, who then owned it, at the same time it was placed on English Heritage’s At Risk Register.[13] In 2004, the Cleveland Pools Trust was established to try and save the building. In 2006, Cleveland Pools’ listed status was upgraded from Grade II status to Grade II*.[14] Grade II buildings are classed as those of national importance and of special interest, whereas Grade II* buildings are classed as ones of specific importance that are of greater importance than those in Grade II.[15]

Thankfully, that is not the end of Cleveland Pools. After 17 years of campaigning for recognition and money for restoration, the Trust was given money back in Spring. It received £4.7 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.[16] Building work also started in the Spring, and it’s hoped that people will be able to swim there from 2022. It is somewhat of a hidden gem and I hope that this lovely and important site finally gets the love it once had. I hope that I will be able to visit when the site is fully renovated and brought up to scratch again.

If you would like to know more about Cleveland Pools, do take a look at their website, where they post updates on how the building is going. Check it out here.


[1] Bath’s Historic Venues, Roman Bath’s History, https://www.bathvenues.co.uk/roman-baths-history

[2] Visit Bath, Cleveland Pools, https://visitbath.co.uk/listings/single/cleveland-pools/

[3] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[4] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[5] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[6] English Heritage, Cleveland Baths, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1396146

[7] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[8] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[9] Visit Bath, Cleveland Pools, https://visitbath.co.uk/listings/single/cleveland-pools/

[10] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[11] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[12] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[13] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[14] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[15] British Listed Buildings, What Are Listed Buildings, https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/site/about-listed-buildings/#.YOHja-hKhPY

[16] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

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