Roof slates by Welsh Slate feature on the renovated Cleveland Pools.

The UK’s oldest public open-air swimming baths, once used as a trout farm, are enjoying a new lease of life, thanks in part to Welsh Slate.

Some 75m2 of Welsh Slate’s new Penrhyn Heather Blue roofing slates feature alongside salvaged originals on the main building and changing rooms of the lido at Cleveland Pools, a Grade II* listed building that had been on the Buildings at Risk register.

All buildings materials for the £6.5 million renovation by main contractor Beard Construction had to be brought on a pontoon pushed by a barge up the River Avon to a purpose-built jetty on the site to minimise disruption to the surrounding residential areas during construction work.

Built in 1815, the river-fed Georgian lido in the World Heritage Site of Bath closed in 1984 due to competition from the newly opened indoor Bath Sports and Leisure Centre. More than 20 years after it was abandoned, it is now reopening to the public as a 25m swimming pool, children’s splash area, pavilion and café after an 18-year community campaign.

Architects Donald Insall Associates were commissioned by the Cleveland Pools Trust in 2015 to undertake condition surveys and compile a Conservation Management Plan as part of the application for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

David Barnes, associate director at Donald Insall Associates, an accredited Conservation architect, explained that meeting the brief had required a combination of careful repair, conservation and adaptation of the original building and structures, as well as unobtrusive new additions to provide necessary updated facilities.

Welsh Slate’s Capital-grade 500mm x 300mm Penrhyn Heather Blues were specified to match the existing roof slates and were approved by Historic England who also grant-funded the 17-month long project.

David said: “The existing building is in the form of a crescent, so all slate roofs have a gentle curve. The Welsh slates play a key part in the simple geometry and detailing of the project – crisp, clean lines following the curvature of the building and the pool. The roof pitch varied on different areas of the existing building, but it affected head lap only.

“The Welsh Slate interfaces with the other materials used on the project just as well as it did in 1815. The fact that it is a British product was fundamental as we had to match the existing materials on site, and its sustainability was a happy coincidence.”

Beard project manager Mark Tregelles said: “It was certainly a different prospect for us as we had to do a lot of work in preparation to establish a base down river at Avon Rugby  Club which we used as a loading site to get everything we needed onto the barge and sailed up to the site. There can’t be many building projects today which require access by boat.”

The barge was limited to carrying five tonnes of material per trip and had to make about six trips a day, navigating around everything from pleasure craft to the canoeists and kayakers who share the river.

Work saw the creation of a new crescent-shaped waterproof concrete main pool within the footprint of the original, red-brick pool which was preserved beneath it. This had to be drained and a system of drainage crates installed 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 base was excavated to construct a waterproof, below-ground plantroom which is now home to the pool filtration equipment, along with high-spec water source heat pumps which are used to heat the pool water. A refreshment kiosk and seating area are 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 reroofed in the Welsh Slate, some of which was reclaimed from the original roofs.

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

As well as allowing for access, water from the river will feed the water source heat pumps, providing the pools with a sustainable heating solution and heating the pool to 28°C – perhaps the reason why hundreds of people entered a competition to be the first to swim!

The Welsh slates were installed by specialist sub-contractor Youngs Roofing.


Photo: Suzy Slemen Photography.