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.