In the 1820s the Ilfracombe Sea Bathing Company was formed employing hundreds of Welsh miners to hand carve six tunnels through the Ilfracombe hillside leading to three bathing pools. They took two years to build and you can still see the pickaxe marks today throughout the tunnels.
The tunnels provided access to the coastline by foot or by carriage. Before the tunnels were carved the surrounding coves and caves were known to be used by smugglers.
The Ilfracombe Sea Bathing Company commissioned and built the Bath House in 1836, a large and elegant property offering hot and cold-water sea baths as an aid to health. At this time bathing was seen as an aid to health and doctors often prescribed ‘bathing’ for medial ailments, it was not seen as something that was done for pleasure.
Outdoor bathing pools were organized, segregated by gender to protect the modesty of the ladies. A bugler was positioned between the male and female pools who would blow an alarm if any man attempted to spy on the ladies, resulting in his arrest. Mixed bathing was eventually allowed in 1905.
Today Tunnels Beaches is a family attraction and wedding venue. Four of the six tunnels are still in operation and the remains of the pools themselves are open to visitors. You can read extensive history information through the site including hilarious guides to Victorian etiquette for boy, girls and for men when boating with ladies!