The UK’s oldest public open air swimming baths have recently been reopened to the public, roofed with Welsh Slate. 

The building has been rescued from the Buildings at Risk register thanks partly to 75m2 of the new Penrhyn Heather Blue roofing slates. The new slate featured alongside salvaged originals atop Cleveland Pools, which was first erected back in 1815. After a rise in competition the baths were abandoned in 1984, however after a 20 year campaign led by volunteers, the historical building reopened to the public. 

The £6.5 million renovation was handled by Beard Construction, and all materials had to be moved up to site on a barge up the River Avon. This was to ensure minimal disruption to the surrounding areas while the construction took place. 

The reincarnation of the historical attraction is now open to the public as a 25m swimming pool, but also now offers to visitors a children’s splash area, a pavilion, and a café. 

Architects Donald Insall Associates had the responsibility to compile a Conservation Management Plan, and were commissioned by the Cleveland Pools Trust in 2015. 

The renovation required specially suited new materials which would go hand in hand with the already at risk original building structure, and could restore the building with no further damage coming upon it. Welsh Slate’s 500mm x 300mm Penrhyn Heather Blues were specifically approved by Historic England, who were also responsible for grant-funding the project. 

David Barnes, associate director of Donald Insall Associates 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.”

Loading the materials to the site proved to be a complication for the restoration, and the barge had to make six trips a day due to it’s 5 tonne limit. The process was further complicated by the need to navigate around those with which the barge shared the river. 

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 main pool was reconstructed to fit within the footprint of the original, red brick pool which had been preserved beneath it, and a new system of drainage crates were installed to allow natural spring water to flow into the crescent shaped swimming bath. 

The original Georgian changing rooms that curve around one length of the swimming baths were also reinforced with Welsh Slate. The Central cottage and archway got the same treatment, with the refurbishment utilising reclaimed slates from the original roof wherever was possible. 

The reopening was originally intended for last year, however the process faced delays and could not welcome the public until 2023. However, this was not wholly detrimental as the reopening now coincided with the local Jane Austen Festival, and the historic element of the baths attracted many festival goer to also come and visit the restored Georgian building.