More than 91 years of Clevedon Marine Lake

Clevedon Marine Lake was officially opened in 1929, following over a century’s tradition of sea bathing in Clevedon.

The original idea for enclosing part of Salthouse Bay was first documented in meeting records in 1896, but unanimously rejected as somewhat ‘pie in the sky’.

But thanks to Councillor Frederick Robert Nutting, who believed that a sea lake would be a great asset to Clevedon, on March 30th, 1929, the Lord Mayor of Bristol, Councillor W H Eyles officially opened Clevedon Marine Lake and the recreation ground on Salthouse Fields. Councillor Nutting was the architect, figuratively speaking.

In October 1926, Councillor Nutting persuaded the Council to revisit the idea of enclosed swimming baths in Salthouse Bay. Mr Gower Pimm was appointed the consultant engineer, suggesting the lake would need a wall 10ft high, costing £5,440. The greenlight for the project was given by the Ministry of Health in July 1927, and approval for the scheme gained by Mr Gower Pimm from the Mercantile Board of Trade. Councillor Nutting purchased land on the foreshore, with his own money, some of which he gifted to the town. The Crown sold the rights to the foreshore to the town for £150. Councillor Nutting sold Salthouse woods to the Council at cost, to enable access to Poet’s Walk, and Sir Ambrose Elton generously ceded his right to the paths.

In September 1927, tenders were put out for the scheme. The building contract specified that 90% of the labour was to be undertaken by local, unemployed people, to aid community revitalisation post-WWI. Seventeen tenders were considered, but the contract was awarded to Messrs J Moore & Co. of Nailsea for £5,195 and 6d. Work began after March 1928, on a slightly reduced plan, enclosing an area of three and a half acres and incorporating an 875ft promenade.

The lake was in use for boating and bathing in August 1928 and run by the Council for the first year.

Before WWI, Clevedon Aquatic Sports was responsible for running regattas off The Beach. With bathing’s popularity rising alongside the development of Clevedon’s seafront, sea swimming races were a regular attraction in the summer months.

Clevedon Amateur Swimming Club (CASC) was formed in January 1929, to “promote swimming, organise galas and run the Long Swim”, which was first held in 1927. The opening of Clevedon Marine Lake meant that the Club could become affiliated to the Amateur Swimming Association, bringing many of the West of England Championships to the town. CASC’s first gala, held on July 20th, 1929 attracted a massive crowd. A water polo team was formed, which lasted until the mid-50s; they played local teams as well as Welsh opponents brought across the estuary on the Campbell Steamer. After WWII, the Club offered Royal Life Saving Society badges and the Amateur Diving Association Diploma. In the 1980s, the Club moved all but its diving activities to Strode Road’s indoor pool.

As well as the socio-economic and recreational benefits, the construction of the new marine lake also brought an end to ‘stinking corner’, where seaweed and sea rot accumulated, only to fill the air with unpleasant odours!

The Ministry of Health approved a further loan of £1,500 for a bandstand, shelter and bathing stations, which were sanctioned in March 1929. Over the next 15 years, Clevedon Marine Lake was lavishly equipped with a timber clubhouse and changing-room, high diving and springboards, a bathing raft, deckchairs, a row of bathing huts and a bandstand – and remained a much loved, Victorian seaside attraction.  After WWII, its popularity boomed, with busy promenades surrounded by water sports, donkey rides, boats for hire and a miniature railway.

For 30 years from 1957, during the summer holidays, the lake was managed by Joyce Gregory and her daughter Rita.  Rita, a member of Clevedon Swimming Club, was a very accomplished competitive swimmer and diver, who made good use of the facilities; she won the Ladies Cup 19 times in Clevedon Long Swim!  Because the lake’s diving stage was not quite the 5 metres high required by County Championships, Rita practised off a board on the upper railings held down by a group of burly swimmers from the Club!

With an increase in foreign travel throughout the 1980s the use of the lake began to decline, as did the necessary finances to maintain it.  As a result of lack of maintenance and vandalism, Joyce and Rita called time on their tenure; swimming was banned at the lake and the access steps were removed.  However, Clevedon Sailing Club remained a stalwart supporter throughout this time, launching a fleet of Minnow dinghies in 1985 sponsored by local businesses, serving to buoy interest in sailing on the lake and in the estuary, to Woodspring Bay and Flatholm.

At midnight on 31st December 1999, Rita and Joyce fittingly welcomed in the new millennium by swimming in the lake.  Wrapped only in their towels, they walked up to the top of Dial Hill to watch the burning beacons along the estuary, just before the start of another chapter in the lake’s history.

MARLENS (Marine Lake Enthusiasts) was set up in 2004 by Councillor Arthur Knott, Clevedon Sailing Club’s Cadet Officer, to lobby for the lake’s renaissance.  He recognised the importance and value of Clevedon Marine Lake to the local community.

As a result, and after much neglect, 2004 saw the lake’s fortunes change thanks to a community partnership that resulted in the lake being used for sailing, canoeing, open water swimming and model boat sailing.  The lake was subsequently promoted annually through Marlens’ community festival from 2005 to 2017, offering have-a-go sessions to the public, awakening North Somerset and Clevedon Town Councils’ interest in the amenity’s potential.

In 2014 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded an £800,000 grant to Marlens to help make Clevedon Marine Lake ‘as good as new’, in partnership with North Somerset Council, Clevedon Town Council and Clevedon Civic Society.  The £1m renovation project was undertaken from April to September 2015, rolling back 80 years of pounding by the sea and giving the lake a new lease of life.  Take a look at the lake’s restoration album here.

In recognition of the amazing work undertaken by volunteers from 2004 to 2015, Marlens is proud and delighted to have been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service for 2016 following the lake’s renovation.  It’s the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.

MARLENS, the charity behind the lake, continues to fund raise toward the management and further development of Clevedon Marine Lake for all to enjoy.  Find out how you can Help us Help the Lake – H2L – and help Clevedon Marine Lake become a double nonagenarian!

Clevedon’s sea bathing heritage

Clevedon Marine Lake is a piece of aquatics history, born out of a sea swimming heritage pre-dating the first, annual Clevedon Long Swim in 1927. Today, both Clevedon Marine Lake and Clevedon’s seawaters are a regular training ground for long distance swimmers who have swum the world over, and the lake provides a calmer environment for all water lovers – recreational, competitive and endurance.

The first reference to sea bathing in Clevedon dates to 1823 when four bathing machines made their summer debut on Clevedon Beach adjacent to the Pier.  Although 75 years behind Scarborough, the advent of sea bathing in Clevedon coincided with the town’s growing popularity as a resort, and the trend toward bathing for enjoyment as opposed to therapy.

In 1828, Samuel Taylor of Hutton purchased a plot of land just north of the Pier, where he constructed a house and created a sea pool for swimmers to shelter from the 47 ft tidal range of the estuary.  This entrepreneurial venture enabled Taylor to capitalise on the growing number of people wishing to bathe in sea water.  However, the site became derelict as the decades rolled by, and eventually the outer wall of the pool collapsed into the sea in 1905.

Yet, before the end of the 19th century, options for more suitable bathing facilities in Clevedon were under discussion amongst Clevedon Local Board of Health, soon to become the Council.  They were slow to progress however, eclipsed by the purchase of the Pier in 1890.  Subsequently, when a man attending a public meeting of ratepayers in 1896 suggested enclosing Salthouse Bay to form a lake at a cost of £12,000, it was unanimously condemned as little more than amusing!

Since the official opening of Clevedon Marine Lake in March 1929, thousands of children have not only been taught to swim in the lake, but also trained weekly over the summer months as members of Clevedon Swimming Club.  The lake was roped off into lanes for training and galas.  In the 1930s, Somerset County swimming competitions were held in the lake, including springboard and high diving events.

Until the 80s, the lake was owned and maintained by Clevedon Urban District Council and after that, Woodspring County Council, at which time it became victim to financial cuts during the 1990/1 recession.

During 1980s and 90s, although Clevedon Marine Lake fell into disrepair, it was never abandoned, and quietly nurtured long-distance swimmers who have swum the world over.  One of a handful of such swimmers is Steve Price, who went on to become the first man to complete the 3-Channels’ challenge, by swimming the English, Bristol and Irish Channels.  In 1999, Anders Frappell succeeded in his crossing of the English Channel thanks to hours in the lake.  And in August 2007, Gary Carpenter, a member of Clevedon Amateur Swimming Club was the youngest swimmer to cross the Bristol Channel, aged 16.  Not only covering a swim distance of 18 miles from Penarth to Clevedon, he battled the third highest tidal range in the world.

Many successful long-distance swims have since been achieved thanks to Clevedon Marine Lake and its enduring accessibility as a training ground – as a result of the lake’s renaissance in 2015, championed by MARLENS, the charity behind the lake.

Take a look at the lake’s historic album here.

As part of the Heritage Lottery bid to renovate Clevedon Marine Lake, North Somerset Council asked Civic Society member and local historian Jane Lilly to write about the history of the lake and the emergence of swimming as a pastime in Clevedon.  Grateful thanks go to Jane for providing the foundation for much of the detail in this BLOG.