The Marine Lake dates from 1929 but the history of sea bathing in Clevedon dates from the early years of the 19th Century when it was very much used as a form of therapy rather than enjoyment.
The original idea for enclosing part of Salthouse Bay was first documented in meeting records as far back as 1896 but at that time it was unanimously condemned as little more than amusing. It wasn’t until the early 20th Century that the idea was re considered and much debated and finally, in the late 1920s the Marine Lake was built in its current location, after Councillor Fred Nutting bought land on the foreshore with his own money and gifted it to the Town, virtually shaming the council into building the lake. Once built the lake replaced “Stinking Corner” where weed and dead creatures were dumped by the tides to rot and scent the air! In post war Britain it was seen also as a way to employ many of the towns out of work and clauses were put into the construction contact that 90% of the labour force used in the construction of the lake came from the local unemployed population. Marine Lake officially opened on 30thMarch 1929 and during the early years the lake was incredibly popular and became every more so lavishly equipped with features such as changing cubicles, deckchairs, a diving platform and a pavilion.
After Word War 2 the lake become increasingly popularwith locals and visitors alike becoming the magnet on The Bristol Channel for all water-sports, bringing holiday makers from far and wide with donkey rides, boats for hire, the Salthouse miniature railway, crowded promenades and floods of deckchairs. Local lady Joyce Gregory and her daughter Rita took on the day to day management of the lake and successfully ran the lake for the next 30 years, becoming something of a local legend. Rita herself was an extremely successful competitive swimmer and diver and completed the vast majority of her training here in Marine Lake. She won the ladies cup in the Clevedon Long Swim a staggering 19 times.
Sadly in the 1980s use of the lake began to wain and so did the will and finances to adequately maintain it and a period of decline began. Vandalism and disruption increased and Rita and her mother stopped working there. Some of the facilities were removed and the council (Woodspring as it was at that time) put up notices to ‘ban swimming’…though these were largely ignored.
Little happened with the Lake from the 80’s up until the year 2000 when the campaign to repair and restore it began to gain more momentum. However during this period a great many swimming successes were achieved due to the facility for long distance training available at the Lake. Many protests was organised by the outdoor swimming members of the Clevedon Swimming Club to protest to the Council that the Lake had fallen into disrepair. A few members of the swimming club were asked to leave various Council meetings during their presentation of petitions and continuous protesting to save the lake. The swimmers even penned a few folk songs about saving the lake.
During this time Clevedon Sailing Club also maintained some lake use, notably when they launched a fleet of Minnow Dinghies in 1985.
Finally in the early part of the 21st century the lake saw something of a renaissance and local councillors began to take an interest, most notably Councillor Arthur Knott. Cllr Knott had a particular interest in the lake as the Clevedon Sailing Club Cadet Officer and recognised its importance and value. He established the Marine lake Enthusiasts Society (MARLENS) in 2004 with the aim of promoting the Marine Lake and urging the authorities to do something about its continuing decline before it was too late. During this period the Clevedon model boat club revived model boating on the lake, Clevedon Canoe Club formed, and together with Marlens and the Sailing Club they worked together to offer ‘Have a go‘ sessions… which sparked great public interest and could probably be credited with making North Somerset Council (which had by now replaced Woodspring) and Clevedon Town Council take real notice of the lake and its potential once again.
In 2012 North Somerset Council, Clevedon Town Council, Marlens and Clevedon Civic Society jointly began the process of securing funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore and regenerate the Marine Lake. In 2014 £800,000 was secured and work began in March 2015, with a scheduled re-opening date of Spring 2016.