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The Historic Skibo Swimming Pool

Posted: 18 September 2019

The elegant Skibo swimming pool is one of The Carnegie Club’s most iconic features.  Built for Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s by Mackenzie & Moncur on the banks of Loch Ospisdale, the steel-framed, glass-paned pavilion has been beloved by visitors to Skibo for well over a century.

Mackenzie and Moncur were the principal glasshouse designers of the period, holding royal warrants from HRH Queen Victoria and HRH The Prince of Wales, and counting the Palm House at Windsor Castle, glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and even the Skibo glasshouses amongst their prestigious commissions.

The Skibo swimming pool, c. 1930s

The Skibo swimming pool, c. 1930s

The pool building was 90ft long by 30ft wide and the salt-water pool was 25ft long. It was steel-framed with impressive glass panes and a glass canopy roof, which could be opened with the pull of a lever. Unusually for a swimming pool, it also boasted a minstrels’ gallery. This was not so that Andrew and his guests could be serenaded as they swam, however. Rather, the pavilion was designed to double as a ballroom so - should the occasion call for it - the pool could be drained and a dancefloor fitted on top. The minstrels’ gallery was there to house the band on such occasions.

Like all building projects, the construction of the pool was not always easy. A boiler house was built to heat the pool, but it was then discovered that the prevailing wind from the south-west blew the smoke uphill towards the castle. The (rather expensive) solution was to dig a long tunnel from the boiler house to the castle to funnel the smoke into the castle furnace and expel it out the central chimney. The accounts books held in the Skibo Castle Archive show that D. & J. Milligan was paid £2550 in 1900 for the construction of the smoke tunnel – approximately £274,000 in today’s money.

The swimming pool before its renovation in 2006

The swimming pool before its renovation in 2006

While the pool was state of the art and the height of luxury when it first was built, after a century of use it was in need of some TLC. In 2006, the pool building underwent major renovation at the cost of £4.2 million to restore the pavilion to its former glory. In October that year, a closing ceremony for the pool was held with fireworks, synchronised swimming and (appropriately) Handel’s Water Music.

The pool as it looks today post-renovation

The pool as it looks today post-renovation

The renovation was sensitive to the historic integrity of the building, with the club retaining as much as possible of the original structure – including the metal roof trusses and the sandstone pillars with carvings depicting mythical sea creatures – while new additions replicated as closely as possible the design and materials of the original. Just as it did in 1902, the pool once again boasts the latest technological innovations. The stainless steel-lined pool is ozone treated, the building is temperature controlled with heating supplied through period-designed air vents, and the glass panes have been treated to deflect the sun’s rays to avoid overheating.

The swimming pool during the club’s Arts, Wine & Music weekend, with an orchestral performance under the stars and a firework display

The swimming pool during the club’s Arts, Wine and Music weekend, with an orchestral performance under the stars and a firework display

The pool is used daily by guests at The Carnegie Club. There are family sessions each morning and afternoon, and children can also enjoy trying out our Walk on Water [WOW] balls. For adults, in addition to a refreshing early-morning dip or late-afternoon poolside nap, each November the pavilion plays host to a concert under the stars as part of the club’s popular ‘Arts, Wine & Music’ weekend.

Andrew Carnegie standing below the Minstrels Gallery and waving for the camera in the early 1900s, and the swimming pool today

Andrew Carnegie standing below the Minstrels Gallery and waving for the camera in the early 1900s, and the swimming pool today

Almost 120 years after it was first built, thanks to its sympathetic renovation by The Carnegie Club the swimming pool at Skibo is still one of the world’s most luxurious pools. Over the past century some of the history’s most famous names have enjoyed a dip in its waters, and thanks to the pavilion’s sensitive renovation, members of The Carnegie Club will continue to enjoy it for decades to come.

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