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 Shoalstone Pool

Berry Head Road, Brixham TQ5 9FT

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The Pool was built on the site of a natural rock pool that people used for bathing in 1896. Two walls were built around some rocks to retain water for bathing at all times of the tide.


In 1926 the Pool was altered to more or less the same shape as it is now but with a lot of bedrock removed, a gradient bottom to form a shallow and deep end with a depth twice the height of the original.


For most of the Second World War the Pool was shut. The Americans took over a large part of the area and used a number of houses on Berry Head Road as field hospitals. Notably some houses near the Pool being The Elders, Greenbrier and the Shoalstone Hotel.


After the War was over, the Pool reopened in 1946 and survived the elements reasonably well winter after winter. The start of the Pool’s season used to be marked by local lady Minnie Bowman jumping off the diving board (yes, we used to have one) wrapped in the Union Flag. That tradition carried on for many years.


In 1979 a New Year storm badly damaged the Pool and dumped most of the broken up concrete from the seawater side in it. At the time the Council considered shutting it, however, because of its popularity came up with money to reinstate the facility.


When the Pool was repaired a wall was built along the sea edge to help protect it from further storms in the future; a move that to a certain extent worked well.


A number of years went by with rumours circulating about closure, and a brief spell of being run by a Leisure Company, when in 2004 Torbay Council announced that they could no longer guarantee funding. A public meeting was called and subsequently a working party set up to look to keeping the Pool open.


That working party became The Friends of Shoalstone Pool and undertook the task of doing the maintenance of the Pool in partnership with Torbay Council. The Friends are now well established and working on a number of ways to keep the Pool as a main attraction for Brixham.


In 2009 eleven wooden beach huts were sited on the raised platform at the kiosk end for locals to hire for a 16 week season.


In 2012 the Chairman, Mark Portwood inspired the town to support the annual pool refurbishment in the face of a Torbay Council decision to only open for the six weeks of the school holiday. Youngsters from Brixham College have worked with a graffiti artist to paint a huge sea mural which can be clearly seen out to sea.


Shoalstone Pool in the press:  cuttings from the British Newspaper Archive, 1925-1949


In 1923, the Western Guardian (11 January) reported that Brixham Council had “made a move forward in the right direction for popularising the town as a summer seaside resort by its decision to apply to the Ministry of Health for sanction to borrow £1,700 to carry out certain improvements at Shoalstone Beach.”  These improvements would see the “construction of a permanent pond 60ft. long and 48ft. wide with the water graduating from the shallow to about 5ft in depth, which will be one of the largest of its kind along the Devon coast when completed”.  The improvements were carried out, and Shoalstone pool, as we more or less now know it, was opened in 1926.


At around the same time, the newly formed Brixham Chamber of Trade was also turning its attention to “the task of making their town really attractive to the holiday-maker” and the writer of a piece in the Western Morning News and Mercury of 20 August 1925 was of the opinion that “it is at Shoalstone Beach that there are the greatest possibilities for development.”  Yet to this day, the potential afforded by Shoalstone remains under-exploited.  Even after the initial expansion of the pool between 1923 and 1926 from a natural rock formation to a more man-made structure, a mere three years after the initial improvements, a reporter noted that “the spacious bathing pool could be easily trebled in area at a very modest expense.  [It] provides an asset which very few seaside towns possess, enabling bathing to be indulged in at all stages of the tide” (Western Morning News and Mercury, 11 June 1929).


In 1931, Brixham Urban District Council advertised in the Western Morning News and Western Daily Mercury (26 January) for “tenders from Persons desirous of securing the catering rights at both Shoalstone and Breakwater beaches”, the sealed bids being returned to one Sanders Lear, Clerk to the Council.  A Publicity Committee was established, and was obviously successful in promoting Brixham, which in August 1931 could “genuinely boast of a record number of visitors for the Bank holiday week, due undoubtedly to the enterprising manner in which the Publicity Committee have done their work”.  Particularly noteworthy was “the bathing pool at Shoalstone [which] has been a great attraction” (Western Morning News and Mercury, 8 August 1931).  In contrast, it was remarked that by the end of the same year, that “Torquay has made improvements in recent years, but there has been no very marked addition to them by the Borough Council during the past twelve months (Western Morning News and Mercury, 4 January 1932).


Brixham Council, having been advised that it would do well to enlarge the bathing pool at Shoalstone, and that his could be done “by direct labour at very small cost, as the rocks form a natural basin for the enlargement of the present pool to at least twice its size” (Western Morning News and Mercury, 4 January 1932), put the recommended improvements into effect during the spring and summer of 1934, thus effectively beginning “the exploitation of the natural amenities in the development of the town as a summer seaside resort” (ibid).   By July 1934, Brixham was in possession of “one of the finest and most spacious pools in the West of England.”  Bathers were allowed to use the newly expanded pool for the first time on Saturday 14 July 1934 but “unfortunately, Brixham Council were too modest to arrange a formal opening” (Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 27 December 1934).  At the time, the enlarged and improved Shoalstone was “still the only pool in Torbay” and despite its impressive dimensions of “180 ft long by 80 ft wide at the deep end, tapering to 40 ft at the shallow end, and being 6 ft 6 in deep under the diving boards, of which two have been provided”, the existence of the pool “remains unknown outside Brixham” (Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 27 December 1934).  The writer hoped that “one day it will probably attain a deserved popularity (ibid).  Even so, that year there had been a late spell of fine weather which swelled numbers of visitors to the beaches and at Shoalstone bathing pool, it being noted in the Western Morning News and Daily Guardian of 15 September 1934 that “this quaint old town with its fleet of fishing trawlers, offers many attractions to the late visitors and it is safe to say that never before has Brixham had so many towards the end of September”.  Once more, at the beginning of 1935, Brixham Urban District Council invited tenders for the catering rights at Shoalstone and Breakwater for the following three years.


Brixham is different.  Its “situation is unique.  The town and harbour, with Shoalstone beach and bathing cove are sheltered just inside the southern arm of Torbay” (Western Morning News and Mercury, 31 May 1927).  It is “in this ‘difference’ that lies its drawing power among those who want a really restful and healthy holiday” (Western Morning News and Mercury, 11 June 1929).  Whereas “Torquay and Paignton spell modernity, Brixham and Dartmouth with their old-world atmosphere, offer a peace and a quietude becoming all too rare in the hectic bustle of contemporary life” (Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 15 June 1939).  The perception at the time was very much that Brixham was in a state of transition, that its fishing industry was in irrevocable decline and “its history as the home port of a large fleet of the famous brown-sailed trawlers had closed” (Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 15 June 1939) and it was now “entering a new life as a seaside and health resort” (ibid).  In fact, Brixham is still both of these:  it “now ranks as one of the largest in the English league of fishing ports, based on the value of the catch landed.  It has 375 full time fishermen with 2500 fishing industry dependent jobs in the Torbay travel to work area” (http://www.torbay.gov.uk/index/yourservices/harbours/harbourgovernance/fishingindustry.htm) and, as a seaside destination attracting thousands of visitors each year.  As a holiday destination it retains “a certain amount of quaintness, historical interest and absence of that stereotyped character of so many resorts” (Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 4 August 1932).  


Suzanne Mieczkowska


MSexton_Flo Bawden Lighthouse Keepers Daughter with Marjorie Sexton c1937 MSexton_Bathing Beauty Contest Day at Shoalstone P MSexton_Harry Philp_caretaker of Shoalstone Pool_1