Welcome to the Roman Baths Blog!

This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

An Alphabet of Objects: C is for Clay

In the Sun Lounge next to the Pump Room is a display called ‘A-Z’ showing objects from the Roman Baths’ vast collections. Now the display has changed from B for bottles to C… for clay!

Katarina installing the new display in the Sun Lounge

The theme ‘clay’ covers many millennia and areas, as its use has developed over time dependent on peoples’ changing needs. As I found out when creating the display, clay objects can be used as a gateway to many different stories about human progress!

Roman cheese press

The object on the second highest step, is a Roman cheese press. It is possible that cheese was first discovered by accident, when milk transported in sheep, goat or cow stomachs, curdled due to the presence of the rennet-enzyme in the stomachs. 

Over time, cheese production changed. In the beginning, the cheese was soft and would spoil rather quickly. However, by using a cheese press made from clay, it was possible to drain more liquid from the cheese. This produced a harder product that lasted longer.

Roman brick with a dog's paw print impressions

Yes, it is a brick placed on the second lowest step! In the Roman period, bricks were made by shaping the clay, leaving them to dry, and firing them at 1000 °C. However, this brick is also part of the story about dog domestication, as while the clay was drying a dog walked over it.

While this topic is widely debated, most scientists believe it happened around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. How this happened is also a mystery. Some believe it was the result of a mutual need between hunters and wolves. Others believe that some wolves developed ‘cuter’ features over time, allowing them access to human food supplies.

C is for Clay, on display in the Sun Lounge at the Roman Baths and Pump Room

The most modern objects in this display are the clay pipes on the lowest step, dating from 1645 to 1900. Clay pipes were cheap and easy to produce but fragile, making them a common find in archaeological excavations. 

Due to rapidly changing fashions, clay pipes are easily dated by their style, shape and size. The pipes on display are placed chronologically, with the oldest at the top.

The A-Z display is free to see in the Sun Lounge during opening hours. Stay tuned for updates as we work our way through the alphabet!

Volunteer, Collections department.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Miss Garraway's Lantern Slides

As part of my volunteering in the collections department, I was given the opportunity to write a blog about any artefact in the Roman Baths collection. Although I was initially overwhelmed by the choice of interesting objects, I soon came across an intriguing collection of 7 lantern slides featuring the palace of Versailles. 

Lantern slides are photos printed onto glass and projected using light. They have been around for hundreds of years, and before photography was discovered they were made by hand painting an image onto glass. These slides were donated to the Roman Baths in 1989 by a Miss Garraway.

Lantern slide of La salon de guerre at Versailles

 The photos were taken by a French photographer called Adolphe Braun, who used contemporary methods to market his pictures worldwide. Some of Braun’s Versailles lantern slides were taken in an area of the estate called Le Petit Trianon, like the photo of le temple d’amour (the love monument).
Le Petit Trianon was given to Marie Antoinette in 1774 when she married Louis XVI of France. It already included a small castle surrounded by gardens that Louis XV had been developing since the 1750s.

Lantern slide of le temple d'amour

Marie Antoinette dramatically changed the gardens of the Le Petit Trianon, commissioning the architect Richard Mique to redesign them to her taste. She was responsible for the addition of the Love monument as well as The Queen’s Hamlet, a small village of 10 buildings that included a working farm and dairy. It is widely believed that the Queen would amuse herself by pretending to be a farmer here, but really the Hamlet was used for hosting guests and educating the royal children. Unfortunately, there is not a photo of the Hamlet in Miss Garraway’s collection, although I did find a Braun photo of the Hamlet online.

Miss Garraway donated lots of items to the museum in 1989, including an Egyptian mud brick, a flint arrowhead and a total of 120 glass lantern slides. On a trip to the Record Office, we found that the collection had belonged to her father, who was headmaster at St. Saviour’s school.

A Bath Chronicle article about Mr Garraway, 1st November 1947
It is still unclear why these artefacts were in his possession. It is possible that he used these items in his school to help educate children. The fact that the photographer Braun was known for using contemporary methods to market his pictures worldwide does explain how the Garraways were able to access these photos.


Thursday, 2 January 2020

Happy New Year!

2019 has been a busy year, with the Archway Project in full swing, new displays in the Sun Lounge, lots of wonderful events, and a huge update to our Collections Management database. Our amazing team of placements and volunteers helped to create over 3500 new records on the database, and 6400 were records altered or updated!

Imogen explains animal bones in archaeology

Imogen spent most of 2019 on a placement with the Collections team, all the way from Australia! She helped us to care for the collection, catalogue archives, and created a fantastic new display  of medieval objects in Keynsham Civic Centre.

Bournemouth PhD student Owen running a handling table by the Great Bath during the summer

We ran events on site throughout the summer, and out and about in Sydney Gardens, Batheaston and at both of our offsite stores. These events help to bring the hugely varied collections out of storage. From Roman death and burial to Victorian Spa equipment, we’re got it all!

Some of our wonderful volunteers investigating displays at St Fagans

To celebrate everyone’s hard work, we went on a brilliant trip to St Fagans National Museum of History in the summer to explore their open-air museum and see amazing archaeological finds.

Most of the time, however, you could find us in the office or in our stores, sorting boxes and cataloguing objects. Our work is never finished!

Typical scenes in store - sorting Staffordshire slipware sherds

In the Collections office we do tend to welcome Christmas and the new year with open arms as the holiday gives us some time to catch up on all the little things, so stay tuned and look out for our blog posts as we dust our way into 2020…

Dusting a model of the Roman Temple...just one of our many chores for the winter!

Collections Assistant