John Penn's Bath

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John Penn's Bath in 2009.

John Penn's Bath is a large oval shaped bath, built for John Penn, the owner of Pennsylvania Castle, on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is located at the base of the cliff directly below Pennsylvania Castle, although it is not part of the property. The bath measures 9 feet (2.7 m) long, by 4 feet (1.2 m) deep and 4 feet (1.2 m) high.[1]


After sea bathing gained popularity as a health benefit around the start of the 19th century via King George III, John Penn, the owner of Pennsylvania Castle, decided that he would also take part in this latest interest. However, Penn was not happy with the idea of travelling from the castle to the beach of Church Ope Cove, located down below the castle. He decided to have a large oval shaped bath built of carved stone halfway between his castle and the sea. In order to use it, his servants were tasked with fetching sea water from the cove below using buckets in order to fill the bath.[2][3] Over the years, Penn had become unpopular with Portland's governing Court Leet and the local people. Penn had fenced in the nearby Rufus Castle and the ruins of St Andrew's Church, which the local people were used to freely walking on. The Court Leet, acting as the people's representatives, strongly protested, but were unsuccessful. This resulted in lengthy legal battles which were not settled until 1822 after the Court Leet agreed that Mr. Penn should be allowed to keep the land he enclosed in return for an annual payment of five shillings.[1]

During construction of the bath, the Leet members decidedly waited as the bath was built. At the bath's location, two other rooms were built aside from the one containing the bath itself, although their purpose is not known. Upon completion, they announced that Penn had built his bath on Common Land and therefore would have to pay in order to use it. They set the price at a then exorbitant 2 shillings and 6 pence per year. Outraged and refusing to pay any charge, Penn abandoned his bath, much to the relief of his servants. In the few times the bath was used, Penn would sit in it to find peace.[4] The bath was left to ruin and remained that way ever since.[2][5] The Dorset Rambler website described the bath as "a rather quirky Dorset curiosity!"[6]


To date, the bath remains on public land however is difficult to access due to erosion. The bath is heavily overgrown and can only be visited by a precarious path through foliage over a precipitous drop. From the gardens of Pennsylvania Castle, a set of wooden steps lead down to the bath, whilst in the right-hand corner of the graveyard of St. Andrew's Church, close to the two remaining tombstones, there is a small gap in the wall leading to the bath. For years the gap has had a safety bar installed as an attempt to warn away the public from the precipitous area.[2] The bath is located within Portland's woodland area - a rare feature on the island.


  1. ^ a b "Penn". Retrieved 2013-02-12. 
  2. ^ a b c "Penn's Bath, Portland, Dorset". Retrieved 2013-02-12. 
  3. ^ November 16, 2012 (2012-11-16). "Pirates Graveyard Guided Walk - Claire Whiles Wellbeing". Retrieved 2013-02-12. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Pennsylvania Castle". Retrieved 2013-02-12. 
  6. ^ "Church Ope Cove « The Dorset Rambler". Retrieved 2013-02-12. 

Coordinates: 50°32′18″N 2°25′45″W / 50.5384°N 2.4293°W / 50.5384; -2.4293