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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.

 

Don’t go beyond the rope when dinghies are sailing!

From April to September, Clevedon Sailing Club runs weekly lake sessions for novice sailors on Friday from 6pm – and will be running an RYA course across May and June on Saturdays from 10am.

These sessions are for young sailors who are learning how to control their craft – thus aren’t yet able to consistently steer clear of unexpected swimmers or canoeists or to cope with sudden gusts of wind.

For safety’s sake, during sailing sessions on the lake, all other lake users (swimmers, SUPs, canoes) are kindly requested to stay at the island end of Clevedon Marine Lake.

A rope with floats will be attached across the lake to segregate the sailing dinghies from other lake users, creating a safe area, around the island and toward the pumphouse steps, for swimmers and other users.  The designated sailing area, the other side of the rope is out of bounds for any other users.  The rope will be clearly visible and is intended to protect all lake users during sailing dinghy sessions – sailors and other users alike.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the lake calendar when planning your visit.

Well done to everyone who assisted

Just before Christmas an elderly gentleman suffered a cardiac arrest after a brief swim in Clevedon Marine Lake. He was fortunate to receive immediate care from three swimmers lakeside, who were off-duty or ex-nurses; he was given CPR and the Coastguard Station defibrillator (pictured) was deployed. Three paramedic vehicles and the air ambulance attended and took over after approximately 15 minutes. The patient was stabilised and transferred to an Intensive Care Unit.

We are pleased to announce that after several days in ICU, the gentleman has been transferred to a Cardiac Unit for further treatment.

Marlens would like to say thank you and well done to everyone who assisted.

Don’t jump into the unknown

Take notice of the safety signs around Clevedon Marine Lake. NO DIVING means NO DIVING.

There are ‘No Diving’ signs positioned around Clevedon Marine Lake. This means no diving in Clevedon Marine Lake, because most of it is shallow, the water is murky and there may be obstructions on the lake bed.

Water may look safe, but it can be dangerous. Water depth may be shallower than it seems. Submerged objects like rocks may not be visible – these can cause serious impact injuries.

Know the SIGNS. A red ring shape with a line running through it, white background and symbols mean you should NOT do this.

Polar Bear Challenge

During the winter months, November 2017 to March 2018, lots of brave swimmers challenged themselves to swim regularly in Clevedon Marine Lake, incentivised by the Polar Bear Challenge.  The challenge, which was organised by volunteers, required participants to swim a minimum of 100m twice a month.  One way to rack up the required distance was a 100m circuit around the lake’s much-loved pontoon.  Watch this wonderful bird’s eye view of the swimmers celebrating their achievements on 25th March 2018, when individual awards were given out at Clevedon Sailing Club.  The challenge raised £500 to support Marlens, the charity behind the maintenance and development of Clevedon Marine Lake.  Well done Clevedon Polar Bears for enjoying the cold water!  And thank you Geoff Langan from Orbitance for the amazing view.

Polar bears are excellent swimmers; their scientific name, Ursus maritimus, means ‘sea bear’.  They live in countries that ring the Arctic Circle, swimming in seas of -2oC.

Marine Lake Swimmers

All hail the early bathers
Swimwear on before the dawn
Then entering the water
As autumn day is born
Mirrored surface broken
As cross the lake they power
Immune they to the coldness
At this the waking hour
They say it’s warmer in there
Than standing on the brink
But some are made for swimming
While others merely sink.

PETER GIBBS, September 2017