C O N T E X T 9 9 : M A Y 2 0 0 7
In 1978, a young student complained of a bad headache
after a dip in the thermal waters at Bath, and within
a few days had died of meningitis. The condition was
caused by a tenacious amoeba called Nigleria Fowlerii
that is well known to live near naturally occurring hot
water springs around the world. Immediately all Bath’s
famous immersion facilities were closed to the public,
awaiting resolution of the problem.
No one would have foreseen that it would have taken
nearly 30 years and so many millions of pounds to re-
open. It has been a classic stor y of many high-profile
projects that never run quite according to script.
To understand some of the issues, we need to go
back to the time when Elizabeth I gave the waters to
the people of Bath, following its wresting from the
Church by her father a few decades previously. It then
fell to the council to be the custodian on behalf of the
In 1978 the council had to consider its options. The
National Health Service had operated the spa facilities
in the Hot Bath and elsewhere. This was falling in
popularity and support, and the emphasis had been for
the waters to be cooled to much lower temperatures
for more popular leisure swimming. (Bath’s thermal
waters emerge at around 45ºC and are cooled for
spa bathing at 35ºC. Swimming at that temperature
is dangerous, as the body’s natural cooling systems
can not operate to reduce the additional body heat
generated by the exercise, and so 28–30ºC is more
common for that activity).
The council members were reluctant to undertake
the task themselves. Not only did they not have any
expertise or histor y of running spas (throughout its
history the spa operations had always been let to others
to run and organise) but they were also averse to any
risk in becoming a developer in that way.
Rebuilding the spa in Bath
When Bath’s thermal baths closed in 97, no one foresaw that it would take nearly 0 years
to re-open them. But the debate on new building in the centre of Bath has only just begun.
The Bath Spa
complex: a classic
story of a high-profile
project that d id not run
according to the script.
A view of the site
before 1998