Britain’s only natural hot-water spa hotel is due to open in Bath next Spring. It’s the 5-star Gainsborough which is rapidly taking shape behind a wall of scaffolding and plastic screening near the city’s own Thermae Spa complex.
The new Grade 2 listed building will offer 99 guest rooms and unique spa facilities. This area is in the middle of a town-centre space – the size of a football pitch – in which three springs of thermal water come to the surface.
This week – at the Pump Room – members of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides were brought up to date on developments by Mr Richard Solomon who is a chartered civil engineer working for Wessex Water.
He is overseeing the supply of thermal water which has now been tapped for the hotel to use by drilling 110 metres down into the base of the carrot-shaped funnel in which the hot water rises under great pressure from two miles below the surface.
Waters from the new bore hole will also supplement supplies for other city-centre needs.
It is the latest of several new bore holes drilled to ensure an uncontaminated source of water for bathing and drinking. People used to be able to bathe in the Kings Bath and Great Roman Bath but this was stopped in 1978 after the death of a young girl from a rare strain of meningitis – possibly contracted from the natural bacteria in the earth’s strata through which the spa water passed – after she had swum in the spa waters.
The new bore holes tap the waters at a depth below these shallower rocks and water is piped up through them – free of bacteria.
The new Gainsborough is a conversion of Bath’s old Technical College which was itself a conversion from the city’s first general hospital. The owners – YTL – are also converting the old Bellot’s Hospital – alongside – into more bedrooms that will be linked by tunnel to the main building.
They are also using the nearby Abbey Church House – the site of a leper hospital going back to 1138 – as a Conference Centre. The present building dates back to Elizabethan times.
Also there last night was Mark Williams who is the principle building survey for B&NES and the official ‘Custodian of the Springs’. Mark explained that the thermal waters deliver 50,000 litres an hour through the three springs and help generate 300 million pounds a year in tourist benefits.
The thermal waters, he said, fell as rain on the hills around Bath – as far away as Bristol and on the Mendips and Cotswold – between one and ten thousand years ago. The water we see bubbling up today could have been rain falling on those building the first earthworks at Stonehenge!
The rainwater slowly trickled down through the rock strata to a depth of 5 kilometres where it has been superheated and forced up under great pressure through three faults in the rock to deliver a million litres a day through the King’s Bath, the Cross Bath and the Hot Bath. Around three-quarters of that bubbles up in the KIng’s Bath, which is also known as the Sacred Spring, at a temperature around 44-45C.
Obviously guests staying at the new hotel will have use of a novel natural facility but the ordinary people of Bath benefit too. The waters from the new bore hole will be metered and the hotel owners charged accordingly. So some money comes back into the Council’s coffers.
Of course while B&NES may ‘own’ the waters – they were given to the town by Royal Charter via Elizabeth the First – they are not free to enjoy. Tourists and locals alike have to pay to use the facilities at the Thermae Spa – Britain’s only natural thermal spa – and even taste the water at the Pump Room. Though – it has to be said – that although Her Majesty declared the waters should be accessible to the people of Bath she did not say ‘freely’.
One final point about this city-centre hotel. It does not have any parking space for guests. Car keys will be handed over for the vehicles to be parked elsewhere. There is a chance some of the empty arches under Brunel’s main-line railway viaduct may be accessed for hotel parking. A good use for an under-used facility which would prevent more cars adding to the parking pressures of mid-town.