The Story of the Lake

The origins of Henleaze Swimming Club

During the 19th century, a number of deep limestone quarries were worked in the Southmead area. Sometime after 1903, the site known as Shellard’s or Southmead Quarry ceased production and was allowed to flood. Soon after this, the flooded quarry started to be used informally for swimming and ice-skating. Sometime before 1910, a Mr Weekes charged people to swim at the lake, which became known as the Westbury bathing place or Henleaze bathing pool. It was very popular, with up to 200 people in the water on sunny days, and the whole length of the lake was used for swimming.

In both 1916 and 1917, drownings at the lake were subsequently investigated by the Coroner. Mr Curtis, the then lessee, was criticised for the lack of lifesaving safeguards and equipment on both occasions. It is probable that the main leaseholder, Major Badock, put a stop to swimming at the lake because of these tragedies. A group of swimmers led by Albert Wain then proposed establishing a club under strict Amateur Swimming Association rules so that swimming could be resumed and managed properly. After an energetic campaign, Henleaze Swimming Club was formed and took over the management of the lake in May, 1919. The club was extremely popular and played a successful part in local and regional swimming, water polo, lifesaving and diving competitions.

Key events in the club’s history

1907 Advert for ice skating at lake in the Western Daily Press

1908  Royal Humane Society gold medal  awarded to a Mr Turner who after his morning swim rescued a fellow swimmer who was struggling

1910  Report of drowning at popular bathing place Shellard's Quarry

1912  Advertisement for swimming at Henleaze Lake. Opening hours 6am to 9pm.  Entrance price 2d.

1919  Henleaze Swimming Club formed and leases part of the Lake for swimming

1920  Gents changing area built and first diving stage built.

1924 Major Badock buys the freehold of the Lake and gives the Club a five year lease. 

1926 Ladies changing room built

1928 Second  diving stage built

1930 National lifesaving  shield won by the club

1933 Henleaze Swimming Club buys the lake from Major Badock

1934 Lake dries up in August. Work carried out to improve lawns

1935 Pete Desjardins, world champion diver, gives diving demo at lake. Film made of the event.

1937 Toilet Block built

1939 Competitive events at the Lake suspended due to war. Swimming continues with allied troops granted access.

1946 Existing steel swimming steps installed.

1947 Crowds of people skate at the lake during winter.

1948 Great Britain vs Sweden water polo match held at Lake

1950 Existing steel diving stages built. Front gate built

1960 Existing steel fence separating the Lake from Badock's wood built after several drownings of intruders.

1966 Low membership numbers. Decline of water polo at Lake.

1968 Angling Section formed

1969 Pump installed to prevent flooding. Before this the Lake was allowed to flood in the winter.

1986 All-time low membership (307).  

1989 Good summer - membership numbers increase (842)

1991 Competitive section forms separate club – Bristol Henleaze Swimming Club 

1995 Long Swims started

1999 First Gloucester County Open Water Swimming Championship held at Lake

2003 Pontoon installed

2005 Nectar filmed at Lake

2010 Club becomes a charity

2013 Disaffiliation from Amateur Swimming Association

2014 Designation as an EU Bathing Water Site. Winter swimming begins. Sauna built.  Swimming area extended 

2015 Highest ever membership (2310) 

If you have memories, photographs or artefacts from the lake's past we would very much like to hear about them.  Please email us via the Contacts page 

More historic photographs can be found on the Historic Photographs page


The lake about 1910

The Lake in 1915 before the Club was formed

Lake members 1920

Early 1930s