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The Island Club: A Tale of Transformation, Notoriety, and Abandonment in Bath’s Nightlife

From Public Restrooms to an Underground Nightclub, the Rich History of The Island Club

Bath, UK – The Island Club, once a central figure in Bath’s nightlife, now stands as a forsaken relic at the heart of this vibrant city. Its journey from humble origins to a renowned nightclub is a captivating story of architectural evolution, notoriety, and eventual abandonment.

In the 1930s, the catacombs that would later become The Island Club were conceived as a utilitarian solution, designed by city architect Percy Morley Horder. This facility, housing separate entrances for ladies and gentlemen, represented a cutting-edge concept in public restrooms. Its Art Deco style, featuring distinctive black and white tiling and colourful glass windows, lent an aesthetic charm that set it apart.

Fast forward to the 1970s when a father-and-son duo took possession of the structure, crafting it into an upscale establishment that included a fine dining restaurant and an exclusive members-only club. They named it “The Island Club”. The club garnered attention not only for its offerings but also for its unconventional signage. Placed without official approval, these signs drew the ire of the council, which demanded their removal. The owner’s defiant response emphasised the cost involved and insisted that if the council wanted the signs gone, they should “f**k off” and “take them off themselves”. Surprisingly, these unauthorised signs still stand today, serving as a testament to the building’s rich history.

In the early 1980s, a trio of enterprising individuals—Bill Lye, Pete Heindorff, and the esteemed Bath Rugby player Roger Spurrell—acquired the property. They embarked on an ambitious renovation project, even removing the supports that once held up the road above, creating additional space and ultimately transforming it into an underground nightclub.

The nightclub quickly captured the hearts of University of Bath students, owing to its strategic location along a major bus route, the prestige of its owners (given the university’s rugby tradition), and a rare late-night license that permitted it to operate until 3 a.m. At a time when late-night venues were scarce, The Island Club carved its niche. Its history as a former public restroom, coupled with its appeal to university students, earned it the endearing moniker “The Bog Island Club,” or simply “Bog Island.”

The club’s popularity gave rise to numerous anecdotes, including tales of patrons attempting to use it as a public restroom well into the early 1990s. It also became known for its legendary third entrance—a hidden passage leading from the Parade Gardens, now recognised as its fire exit.

The dawn of the 1990s brought with it a significant shift in the preferences of partygoers in Bath. The dark and atmospheric ambience of The Island Club, which had once been its unique selling point, no longer held the same allure for many. This transformation in tastes was closely tied to the evolving musical landscape. The electric mix of music that had been a trademark of the club’s offerings now faced competition from other venues that embraced the burgeoning genres of the time. Genres like house, techno, and electronic dance music were on the rise, captivating a new generation of revellers seeking a different kind of nightlife experience. The Island Club’s distinctive atmosphere, while beloved by its loyal patrons, found itself at odds with these evolving trends.

In 1996, the vibrant history of The Island Club came to an abrupt end. While the club was in decline, the closure was primarily attributed to structural challenges it faced, including the lack of support for the road above, as well as deficiencies in fire escapes and ventilation—persistent issues resulting from its subterranean location. Today, The Island Club remains abandoned, an intriguing relic, echoing the echoes of its storied past in the heart of Bath.

In 2007, the site faced a turning point when it was acquired by a developer with intentions to erect a block of flats on the premises. Nevertheless, the proposed plans encountered resistance from local residents, ultimately leading to the abandonment of the development project.

Six years thereafter, in 2013, the Bath and North East Somerset Council assumed control of the premises. Since then, the council has transformed the location into an appealing public area. Today, this rejuvenated space stands as a beloved gathering spot for the community, providing a venue for relaxation and the opportunity to savour meals from nearby pop-up eateries. The Island Club’s legacy endures no longer as a nightclub but as a public haven at the core of Bath.