Victorian bathing habits laid bare at Wales retirement park

When restoration work began on a Victorian fish pond at Ham Manor residential park near Barry recently, it caused more than a ripple of excitement among local historians.

For when the water had been drained, the pond revealed a secret that had been immersed for over a century – a rare wallowing pool built for the gentry of the times.

Up until then, the ornamental pond stocked with koi carp was – to all appearances - simply the attractive centrepiece of a walled garden at the Llantwit Major park.

But once emptied, restorers were amazed to find a sunken structure at the pond's centre, surrounded on its four sides with what looked like terraced stone benches.

Experts from the local history society were called in, and confirmed it to be a perfect example of the Victorian equivalent to today's high-tech spa pools.

But instead of being filled with warm bubbling water, the wallowing pool would have been fed by natural rainfall which ran down from its circular enclosure.

Here, residents of the former manor house would sit and relax on warm summer days, either knee deep on the top benches or chest deep on the lower tiers.

"It was a stunning find, and something which nobody suspected existed!" said David Curson who is operations director of Berkeley parks which has owned Ham Manor for over 30 years.

"The wallowing pool is built from Welsh bluestone which was quarried nearby, and is also said to be the building material used to create Stonehenge.Victorian bathing habits laid bare at Wales retirement park

"Very few examples of these structures still exist, and when news about it got out, we started receiving requests for visits from historians and archaeologists from across the country.

"We were delighted to welcome them, but the decision was taken to return the pond to its function of the past hundred years, and now our koi carp have their home back.

"But it's certainly added another layer of charm and mystery to this lovely garden!" added David.

The original Victorian manor house was destroyed by fire in 1947, but its landscaped grounds still remain, and play host to around 100 park homes for people in or near retirement.

Ham Manor is one of 50 residential parks throughout the UK under the umbrella of multi-award winning Berkeley parks which has been family-owned since its formation 60 years ago.

There is more information about the group and its parks at


March 13, 2019

Add new comment