The Bath House in the centre of Colchester has been given a new lease of life.

For decades many of us will probably have passed by the historic Grade II Listed tower, with its distinctive copper roof, as we went about our daily business without even realising it was there.

But now it has been refurbished and handed a new purpose, as part of a redevelopment which a long-serving Colchester Company is in the process of moving into.

Legal experts Ellisons has been in the town for more than 250 years and has snapped up the Bath House as the offices for the Insurance Litigation team to expand into.

And as Robert Jones, Partner and Head of Insurance Litigation at Ellison's, explains it is almost a matter of fate which brought him and the company to the premises.


  • Guy Longhurst, managing partner at Eliisons, Robert Jones and on the right Tim Logan, senior partner

The Bath Tower itself was originally built as part of the Royal Artillery barracks, later changed to Le Cateau Barracks, which was originally there, in 1878.

It was on the corner of the parade ground and was originally used as a washing facility for soldiers, and a watering station for the horses.

The Barracks itself was enclosed by high brick boundary wall with entrance gates on to Layer Road, which is now Butt Road and to the south-east by an iron paling fence with pairs of gates opening to Abbey Field.


  • An aerial image of the barracks parade ground

The parade ground had six Stable Blocks with Soldiers' Quarters over and housed more than 250 Non Commissioned officers and men, 186 troop horses and 18 Officers' horses, including a cook House, forge, shoemaker's shop and wheel Shop.

There were also officers' quarters for two field officers and ten officers and for 32 married soldiers and their wives as well as a gun shed, canteen and guard house.

Historians say accommodation even included an adult school, recreation and reading rooms, a library and coffee bar at one time and kept its original outline and plan until around 1900 when expansion continued.

It was in use until at least 1959 and its name was also changed, in homage to the First World War battle of Le Cateau in 1914.

The Bath House provided water to the Colchester Garrison from its octagonal water tower, the water being held in a cast iron tank and the brick base used as a bathhouse.

Robert explains: "There were baths at the bottom and the water was collected in the roof tank and then released down below to the soldier in the baths.

"It is right next to what was the Artillery Cavalry Barracks and there was an enormous parade ground and around that there would have been the officers mess and officers mess and sergeants mess.

"Slowly , over the years that has been taken over and redeveloped."

But even with the arrival of offices and the Butt Road car park around it, the Bath House remained.

Robert explains when they began to look around for somewhere to specifically house the Insurance Litigation arm of their business, whilst maintaining the town centre presence in their Head Street offices, their search initially came up short.

"There just wasn't anything appropriate, near the town”.

"And then we heard about the development that Jonathan Franks, of Lexden Restorations, was working on and it just sounded perfect."

Specialising in working on historic buildings Jonathan is responsible for a host of restoration schemes in the area including Fingringhoe Mill and Lexden Park House.

His original proposals explained the original plans indicate there were seven large baths around the outside walls of the building.

"We looked at it as it was being finished off and just saw it would suit us perfectly," adds Robert.

He also discovered his own grandfather, Fred Jones, had been billeted to the barracks before the start of the Second World War, during the middle of the 1930s.

And this was not the only connection he has with the barracks and Ellisons even before he began working there.


  • The tower, in the right top corner, in its heyday

During the 1950s there was a second hand goods shop called Lomax Thrift shop on the site - which his mum Iris Jones and her good friend Marion Smith helped to run.

Marion was also Robert's godmother and her husband Ken, his godfather, worked at Ellisons.

"It was a sort of swapping facility where the soldiers could buy good quality clothes and household items for their children and families.."

Then in 1970 Robert regularly attended an after school youth club which was run at Le Cateau Barracks - where the tower once was.

"It was operated out of one of the mess halls , on a Tuesday and Thursday, and my Uncle Stanley was one of the youth club officers."

Robert started work at Ellisons in 1973 where his godfather Ken Smith was a managing clerk and had already worked for many years.

"It was fall back career because I had hoped to play professionally for Colchester United but I had been released that year," he jokes.

A search through the archives revealed a photograph of Robert's parents at an Ellisons work party in 1948.


  • Robert's parents and godparents were among guests at this 1948 Ellisons party

"In those days Ellisons was a much smaller operation and staff members were not only encouraged to bring their partners but also friends and Ken and Marion must have brought my parents along."

And while sorting out filing cabinets they also unearthed a further connection to the Ministry of Defence who ran the barracks they are soon to move into.

"At the time Ellisons was retained by the Ministry of Defence to deal with the prosecution of Court Martial cases, so the company also had this historic connection with the garrison too”.

"I see this building as being representative of Ellisons history and also where it is going, and I am proud and honoured to have an association with it.