It may seem strange today as you walk down Henleaze Road towards Southmead that instead of the comfortable houses and well-kept front gardens you see now, in another era this was a scene of industrial quarrying.
Limestone was being extracted from quarries to feed into five kilns in the area to produce lime for use in construction, agriculture and for chemical and industrial uses in Victorian Britain.
However, as the limestone began to run out and newer sources were found, and industrial processes changed the two quarries at Southmead and Eastfield closed leaving large scars in the landscape. Today there is little sign of Eastfield Quarry which was filled in and features a playground as part of Old Quarry Park at the bottom of Henleaze Road. The last remaining buildings associated with the quarry have been replaced by Amelia Lodge on the junction of Southmead and Eastfield Roads.
Southmead Quarry was much larger and deeper than Eastfield and is very much still a feature although no longer a quarry and no longer called Southmead. That changed in 1912 when quarrying ended and natural springs began to fill it with water forming a lake. Major Stanley Badock leased the lake and stocked it with trout so it could be used for fishing and it was even used for swimming although this ceased after a young man drowned as reported in The Henleaze Book by Veronica Bowerman.
Following the end of World War 1 a swimming club was established in the summer of 1919 which abided by the rules of the Amateur Swimming Association. The club initially leased the lake but later bought it from Badock in 1933 heralding a flourishing period for the club with new diving boards, changing rooms and projecting rocks were removed along with the remains of the kiln.
During the freezing winter of 1947 the lake froze over allowing for skating on the surface. The 1940s and 1950s saw the lake’s popularity reach a peak – sadly it was not to last as in the 1960s membership fell away with diving competitions and water polo phased out as numbers dropped. By 1986 membership was at an all-time low of just 307 compared to today with the numbers over 2,000.
In 1988 the lake was drained completely to remove any rubbish, to check on fish stocks and to clear away pond weed heralding a new era as the lake refilled naturally and membership increased. Today the club has a waiting list for new members such is its popularity, and many residents not only go swimming but to relax, picnic on the lawns and sun-bathe.
Since its inception the lake has become surrounded by development with Lake Road eventually linking up with Doncaster Road on one side and the development of Lakewood Road on the other side. It is a long way from more than a century ago when the lake was a quarry and rang to the sounds of machinery and Edwardian workmen working the cliff faces that still overlook one side of the lake.
For details of the lake and how to join the club visit www.henleazeswimmingclub.org
Harry Mottram writes features for the Voice publications in Bristol and Bath and is a freelance journalist. Visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/