Princes Lane, off Sion Hill, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4LD
Grade II 2000 list no. 1379950
Bath stone facing on an iron frame
Spa Pump Room
Closed to the public. Access to the exterior at all reasonable times to view the building from Sion Hill and Princes Lane.
The Grand Spa Pump Room stands next to the Avon Gorge Hotel, in a prime position overlooking the gorge. From the 1600s onwards, attempts were made to establish a spa in Hotwells or Clifton, as hot and supposedly healing waters bubbled up from the gorge below. This pump room was completed in 1894 and once connected with the fairly short-lived Clifton Rocks Railway, but it has long been semi-derelict.
It is a single-storey Neo-Renaissance building of Bath stone. The elaborate entrance frontage on Princes Lane features caryatids (sculpted female figures serving as supporting pillars) and a broken pediment bearing the initials GN (George Newnes, the spa’s promoter). Inside, the style is theatrical and late Victorian, with marble Corinthian columns, elaborate plaster cornices and a centrepiece arch for the spa fountain. The spa functioned until 1922, when the pump room was turned into a cinema. As talkies replaced silent films, the pump room became a much-loved ballroom from 1928 until the 1960s.
The Grand Spa Pump Room was designed by Philip Munro for publisher and MP, Sir George Newnes, the promoter of both the Clifton Rocks Railway and associated ‘Hydropathic Institution’ (the pump room). Over the years many had hoped that a Hotwells (from hot wells) or Clifton spa might rival that of places such as Bath. The fancy Princes Lane frontage shows that the idea was for a stylish establishment. It includes three bays either side of the entrance with arched Italianate windows containing little round windows in their arches. Originally the pump room opened out onto a garden with impressive views of the gorge and Brunel’s acclaimed Suspension Bridge. The building is quite plain on the Sion Hill side.
The boarded-up interior is a single large room that was approached by a marble staircase from the hotel (the hotel was built four years after this pump room). The Pump Room’s marble columns stand on panelled wooden plinths, forming numerous bays, and the north wall has three arched niches with female head keystones, either side of the fountain arch. The corner of the west wall has the old entrance to the Clifton Rocks Railway – a water-powered cable railway in a steeply inclined tunnel that was built to take people up from the gorge to the spa and hotel. Inside there is also a cinema projection room.