Cleveland House and Tunnel in Bath
As you travel down the Kennet and Avon Canal through Bath past Sydney Gardens, you will pass through two tunnels, the longer one of which is Cleveland Tunnel. Cleveland tunnel is 173 feet (52.73 m) long and was built by renowned Scottish civil engineer John Rennie who formerly worked on other canal networks. John Rennie later went on to build the Avoncliff Aqueduct further down the canal just before you arrive at Bradford-on-Avon.
Sydney Gardens was opened on 11th May 1795 and rapidly became a popular place of entertainment. However, the canal builders needed to take the shortest and flattest route out of Bath, which meant passing through Sydney Gardens. Work began on the canal cutting through the gardens in 1799, but as part of the deal, the canal company had to agree to building two ornate wrought iron bridges over the canal as well as building decorative, picturesque tunnels as so not to spoil the surrounding gardens. The canal company paid £2,100 for the cost of providing the bridges and tunnels as compensation for the intrusion into the gardens.
The tunnel as agreed is ornate and lined with plain limestone ashlar. The Cleveland tunnel entrance is decorated with swags and a carved woman's face in the limestone over the archway, who represents Sabrina, the spirit of the Severn. The story of Sabrina says that she met her end in the river, but also (according to Milton at least) a transformation and rebirth into another form of life. Maybe this is why Sabrina looks into Sidney Gardens, As you travel along the canal out of Bath and the hustle and bustle of town you enter this new world of pleasure and relaxation of Sidney Gardens.
Today the Cleveland tunnel is Grade II* listed because it is such a highly decorated tunnel, and is an unusually elegant example of a canal tunnel with high quality materials throughout, and the impressive decoration.
Above Cleveland tunnel sits Cleveland House, which up until 1864 was the headquarters of the Kennet and Avon Canal Company. As the working narrow boats passed this way they would be obliged to exchange paperwork with the clerks in Cleveland House. To speed up the process of exchanging papers, a trapdoor was built into the roof of the tunnel and when boats passed under, they simply passed papers through. This of course saved considerable amounts of time for the boatmen and prevented delays in moving goods along the canals. You have to remember that although we see canal as slow paced tranquil waterways, back in those days, canals were the super high way.
Cleveland House was built by architect and surveyor, John Pinch in 1817-20 from local, honey coloured limestone, with a double pitched hipped slate roof with moulded ridge stacks. John Pinch was well-known for his Georgian style building in Bath and Bathwick. Cleveland house was a purpose-built Georgian style office building, built to be the headquarters for the canal company.
The canal industry was booming and the main offices reflected the canals wealth and power of the time. Cleveland House was remarkable for its visual, structural and functional relationship with the canal tunnel beneath, as well as for its interior.
In 1825 Cleveland House was passed into residential use and renamed Canal House. Canal House continued to be a residential dwelling until requisitioned for government use in 1939, and today has returned to offices. Cleveland House as it is again known, is now a grade II* listed building.