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.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head

While I've been here in Bath, on my placement, I've found it a little hard getting used to all the rain. I'm from a place that has a naturally dry climate so it doesn't rain very often and there is little moisture in the air. When it does rain back home, it most certainly does not rain like it does here in Bath. One minute it's bright and sunny and the next you're caught in a torrential downpour. Where I'm from you can quite literally see the weather "rollin' in" for hours. You never get stuck without an umbrella.

One of my favourite things to do when it is raining is to go down to the baths and watch the water falling on them. It always looks so beautiful.

The Great Bath Diving Stone
I must admit that during moments like those I quite enjoy the rain, even when it was raining almost constantly there for a few weeks. I find the rain quite relaxing when I have time to sit and think and watch it reflect the light and change my surroundings.

The Great Bath

Here at the Baths there are so many beautiful places to sit and watch the rain falling down on the spring waters. I really suggest that the next time it starts to rain and you have nothing to do you come visit the Great Bath, the Sacred Spring or which ever pool is your favourite. Just sit and watch the waters meet and let your mind wander.

Katrina Elizabeth

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Speed Dating with Clay Pipes

Clay Pipe: So what do you spend most of your time doing?

Me: Um. I like hanging out at museums. You?

CP: I like smoking.

Me: Really? Do you smoke a lot?

CP: Yeah. All the time. Well, actually just once. Once is all you need really. Most clay pipes just do it once.

Me: Oh I see...

Just once? Could be.

Clay pipes were cheap and mass produced. People bought them, used them a threw them away.

The shape of the bowls and stems changed a bit over the years making it possible to date them. If you’re lucky you’ll find a maker’s mark on the stem or foot which will make your life infinitely easier. If you have a maker’s mark you just need to look up when that producer was in business.

However, if you’ve just got unmarked stems and bowls you’re better off using this chart. It won’t give you precise dates (it takes an expert for that) but it will help you narrow it down.


Try your hand at dating the pipes in the picture and post your answers in the comments.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Best Museums

So, floating around the education office right now is an article about father-son bonding in the museum, accompanied (of course) by a list of museums designed around big testosterone-provoking machines, funky bad Viking smells, and good atmosphere. (Including the Roman Baths, of course!)

In response here’s MY museum list! Museums aren’t just good for dads and lads, you know. Here’s a list of (in my own humble opinion) some of the best and oddest museums any museum junkie should know about. Comment if you think I’ve missed any worth mentioning!

Best Museum to Catch up on Fashion Trends: The Fashion Museum, of course! They’ve just updated their ‘trends’ display for Autumn and Winter 2010. Definitely worth checking out.

Apparently, Helmut Lang ALWAYS thinks black is this season’s ‘it’ colour…

Best Museum to make you feel good about your lack of art skills: Hands down, this is the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA): the only museum in the world ‘dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms.’ Much of their permanent collection was acquired out of trashcans, and when one of their pieces was stolen, the thief was so anxious to get rid of it that he paid the museum to take it back. True story.

Best Museum to waste time with on the internet: The Bata shoe museum may seem unappealing to the half of the population who DOESN’T get excited about cute shoes, BUT WAIT! There’s more! Check out their online display about Shoes That Work, and prepare to be amazed with the rugged manliness inherent in Tree Climbing Clogs, mountaineering boots, and… Grizzly bear shoes? They’ve even got a shoe that was designed for the Canadian Military for when they clear out land mine fields. Shoes that save lives, neat!

Best Museum to question the meaning of the word ‘museum’: I’d say that’s the condiment package museum. It’s a website dedicated to the display of condiment packages. Is it a museum just because it displays collections, though? I’ve spent hours trying to decide. Comment and tell me if you think it is, isn’t or if I’m just kind of sad for spending that much time on it.

Best speed dating museum: The Freud museum! Where else but in the home of Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyzer of dreams extraordinaire, could you expect to find the guy (or gal) of your dreams? They’ve held a couple of dating events, which seemed kind of successful.


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Speed Dating with Glass Bottles

Me: May I ask how old you are?

Glass Bottle: No, but you can try and guess.

Me: Alright, let me see. Hmm... Judging from the slenderness of your neck I’d say you last partied with Major Davis. Am I right?

GB: Ha ha. Trying to flatter me, are you? Try again.

Me: Hmmm. On second thought that base looks more like it belongs in John Wood’s company.

GB: You’re getting closer...

I’m sure your mother told you never to judge a book by its cover because first impressions can be misleading but speed dating is all about snap judgements.

Certain shapes were popular during certain eras making it fairly simple to date the bottle if you have the right pieces. Obviously dating complete bottles is the easiest but you can still get some good information from bits and pieces. That is, if you have the right pieces. Rims, bases and necks are usually pretty distinct and can be dated.

Here at the Roman Baths we use these simple charts to do a preliminary sort for our bottles. Once we’ve got it narrowed down we bring out the books to refine our identification.

 Why don’t you try your hand at dating some glass bottles. Post your guess in the comments.

By the way... John Wood and Major Davis were architects in the Georgian and Victorian periods respectively.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Day in the Life of an Archaeologist (Well … Almost…)

Alright, so technically I'm not working as an archaeologist, but I do have a degree in archaeology! I’m currently working as a student placement here at the Roman Baths. However, my work still involves archaeology, although I am not familiar with all the time periods and material I am now working with.
Carrying some Equipment around Englishcombe

Englishcombe was a Festival of British Archaeology event, hosted by the Roman Baths that took place back in July 2010. During the setup and activities many of us who are working here at the museum got the chance to work at an archaeology activity where we demonstrated the practice of archaeology by surveying the Wansdyke. We had all the proper tools and equipment and were taking measurements of the site, providing a demonstration, while answering visitor questions.

I was the lucky individual who got to help set up in the morning. We dragged all the equipment down to the site and used a bench mark (a point of known height) to set up our surveying equipment. This took quite some time because the area was rather hilly. We then set about creating a grid and line and began to take the measurements.

The Roman Baths hosts an event for the Festival of British Archaeology every year and bases the information on the location selected. This year the event was hosted in the Tithe Barn in Englishcombe so the event had a Medieval theme.

Keep an eye out for next years Roman Baths Festival of British Archaeology event!

Katrina Elizabeth

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Meet the volunteers......

My name is Amélia, I'm 23 and I am from France. I am currently studying Public Law and Cultural Management at the University of Orléans in France. One day I hope to work in a Cultural Program Department or in a museum. That's why I applied for a work placement at the Roman Baths and I was really lucky to get the chance to work behind the scenes for 3 weeks in June 2010. I have written a blog to share my experience of my work placement at the Roman Baths.

Amelia in the collections office

On 6th June 2010 I boarded the coach from Sully; a little town where my parents live to Bath, England. On the coach there are people from the twining association between Sully-sur-Loire and Bradford-on-Avon; the president of the association had kindly let me join them on their journey. After a pleasant journey we are quickly at Calais, a short channel tunnel crossing and we arrive in England.

Monday and it is my first day at the Roman Baths, Susan, the Collection Manager introduces me to the other staff in the office; I have to remember a lot of names and try and concentrate on what people are saying to me!

Susan shows me around the Roman remains and the museum, it's a beautiful place; there is a roman pavement around the Great Bath, a hot water spring and around the upper terrace there are various statues of the Emperors and Governors of Rome. We move from the museum into the eighteenth century Pump Room, a very "chic" place, where we can drink a glass of Spa Water - it is good for health but it's not tasty!

It's like an old movie set, in fact, some movies and T.V. programmes have been filmed here.
After a few days I know the name of everyone on the team. There is Susan the Collection Manager and Helen the Collection Assistant, Stephen the Roman Baths and Pump Room Manager, sweet Gladys the Team Administrator and James the Office Apprentice. Then there are the other volunteer’s, Beth from Australia, Edina from Hungary and Penny from Bath.

During my placement I went with Stephen to various meetings: "Public Services Team meeting", "Management Team meeting" and the "Business Team meeting” these all give me great insight into how the site is run. After a while I meet with Pat the Commercial Manager and Maggie the Press Officer and I am given my first task- to translate the Fashion Museum website into French.

I work to a timetable set out prior to my placement and I have a lot of visits: the Victoria Art Gallery, the Fashion Museum, St Johns store and even the Ashmolean in Oxford. During my lunch hours I walk around the World Heritage City of Bath, it is rich in architecture and there are a lot of musicians playing on the street. Very often we can hear a woman singing opera songs as her voice drifts through the office window.

The days go by very quickly and before I know it the end of my internship comes It's time to go back to France. I met a lot of very nice people; a good mix of very different people from various places around the globe. I learnt a lot about English cultural management and improved my English.

So if you want to meet people from all around the world and share learning experiences why not come to the Roman Baths and volunteer.

Amelia’s update: I'm currently on work placement at a museum in France; the Museum of Resistance and Deportation in Loiret. I will be going back to university at the end of the summer and will start a "work-study program" in the Cultural Development Department for the Town Council of Rouen.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Women: Hair Free since BC

Epilators, razors, hot wax and cream. Every modern woman has her weapon of choice when it comes to combating unsightly body hair.

Our ancient foremothers and their medieval granddaughters were no different. They kept themselves looking well groomed with the help of tweezers.

Roman women (and men) plucked their arm pit hair using tweezers. Well, actually they didn’t pluck it, their servants did. Between that and scraping hot, grimy oil off bathers (with a strigil) I can safely say Roman beautician is not on my dream job list.

Medieval women were not fond of the follicles that grow between your eyebrows and the crown of your head. Woe to the unfortunate maiden with a low forehead! She would have to pluck away at her hairline back towards the crown until she achieved the highly fashionable high forehead all the cool kids were wearing.


I pulled out a pair of tweezers for our Englishcombe display. They were excavated from Swallow Street, Bath in the 1980s and archaeologists were never quite able to put their finger in a precise date. They are probably medieval but they could also Roman.

I guess we’ll never know if they were used to pluck arm pits or foreheads.

The tweezers were displayed as part of a medieval vanity set during the Archaeology for Everyone Event, part of the British Festival of Archaeology, at Englishcombe. They were displayed along side a mirror case and a bone comb.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Aquae Sulis

Aquae Sulis is the Roman name for Bath. Many people mistakenly think that it is the name for the baths themselves, but it is actually the name of the Roman settlement which became Bath. The name ‘Bath’ dates to the 6th century.

The city of Bath has been continuously occupied since Roman times, although the area had been lived in long before that. In the Saxon period the place name was first Aquaemann, which was a name designed to not be associated with a religion (as Aquae Sulis was associated with the Celtic and Roman religions as Sulis was a Celtic goddess and Minerva a Roman goddess). Mann was an Old Welsh word meaning place, so the new name meant 'place of the waters'. However, Bath was also known by the Saxons as Akemannceaster, which references the healing powers of the waters, and 'Hat Bathu'. The modern version of the Saxon name, Bath, evolved from the latter.

As you can see, Bath has had many names throughout the ages, but it has been a constant presence, mostly due to its natural hot springs, which throughout history have been said to have healing powers. However, the city itself began as Aquae Sulis.

The Sacred Waters and Baths in Aquae Sulis

Much of Aquae Sulis, or Roman Bath, was destroyed (while in ruins) by King Alfred the Great and his son who reorganised Bath and provided it with a new street layout.

The Baths and Temples of Aquae Sulis

Aquae Sulis translates as ‘the waters of Sulis,’ so you can see why many people make the mistake of thinking it refers to the baths.

Katrina Elizabeth

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Cooking Roman Style

One of the most popular Education room activities we had this summer was a table filled with spices and oils that the Romans could have used. I swear, there were a dozen people and two camcorders around the table at one point! If you want to experience the tastes and smells of the Romans, it’s to set up at home.

A Roman Mortatium and Some Roman Herbs and Spices

Start by gathering herbs and spices which the Romans used - things like honey, lovage, rosewater, wine, olive oil, black pepper, mustard seed, garlic, sage, mint, coriander, thyme and salt. You probably have a lot of these in your cupboards already.

Romans mixed their spices (and their foods) a bit differently than we do today - how many recipes have YOU seen which call for you to pulp lettuce, then mix it into a batter to deep-fry it?*

Romans also used a few things which Western cooks usually don’t - the closest we have today for their fermented fish sauce, Garum, is Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla). Man, is it strong smelling! A few of their ingredients, like silphium, went extinct due to over harvesting.

Close your eyes and smell the ingredients you’ve gathered. Can you imagine a Roman kitchen? They would’ve grilled, boiled, fried and baked their foods, using hot coals in ovens. Many poor people would have only eaten food from takeaways - not everyone could afford a kitchen.

If you’re really ambitious, you could try cooking a Roman recipe! Apicius wrote a book of Roman Cookery, and experienced cooks may be able to get something out of his recipes. You can find translations here. Be warned, Apicius wasn’t too keen on writing down times and temperatures, just ingredients and a sketchy ‘how-to’ guide.

Lots of people have made modern versions of Roman recipes - I’d recommend checking out Mark Grant’s book Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens, or The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger. Who knows? You might find a new-old favourite!

* There’s a recipe for Seasoned Fritters made out of lettuce on page 62 in Mark Grant’s book, Roman Cookery.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Why don’t you take a Picture? It Lasts Longer.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

The Great Bath while Drained

Like many admirers of historical sites and landmarks, I’ve looked in awe at the images captured and presented in books, leaflets and posters, and wondered what it must be like to have actually been there and to have seen these things.

The chance to take photographs around the Roman Baths site was an exciting opportunity, and it came as quite a surprise when I learned I’d been visiting different museums and areas during my time here; even more so when I was asked to do it in a professional capacity, as their official photographer.

The Temple Pediment

From my first trial run around the Roman Baths, to the exhibits at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to the displays at the Fry’s Club and Cadbury’s factory; I’ve loved the moments I’ve been able to walk away with more than just memories to take with me; now I have images captured, printed, and sealed in both my own photo album and in our latest events leaflets (most recently, a small collection of my photos of No. 4 the Circus).

Cadbury Chocolate Bar Display at the Fry's Club

For me, it’s a wonderful thought to know that your job can also be your hobby. In my previous blog I talked about the sketches I’ve done and how drawing was always a hobby and interest of mine before I started working here. It’s actually rather like that with photography as well. After all that time spent admiring the photographic works of others, now I’m actually there with a camera in my hand experiencing the same enjoyment and satisfactory feeling that they must’ve.

Back Garden of No. 4 the Circus
(used in the leaflet)

And who knows, years from now I may one day open a leaflet or look at a poster, and find myself looking at my own photographs. When my contract expires, I may be gone from this workplace, but I take great pride in the thought that in the time I’ve been here, I have made an impression, and left my mark.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Pottery Fragments Everywhere and Sometimes a Complete Bottle or Two

I’ve been spending a lot of time here at the Roman Baths down in the study room in the storage areas working on the collection material from No 4 The Circus. The material comes from an archaeological excavation that took place in the back garden at No 4 in 1986 that was done by the Bath Archaeological Trust.

I have been cataloguing and organising all the material and let me tell you, at times it felt like I was drowning in pottery fragments. I’ve experience this feeling before while working as an archaeologist, but it is always overwhelming; even more so when you have to sort and identify it.

Among the many pieces of broken pottery there were a few special finds. Some of them were pottery pieces that could be pieced together to create a more complete vessel, others were even more exciting. Among the many broken bits were two complete stoneware bottles. (Well, they have a few small chips, but for material from an archaeological dig that is pretty good!)

Two Small Stoneware Bottles from 4 Circus

Every year for Heritage Open Days No 4 the Circus is opened up to visitors. This year Joanna and I were in charge of events. The building is used throughout the year for Bath College’s fashion program. Although the inside has all the requirements for modern fashion students the building still maintains most of its original features.

Veiw of back door to 4 Circus from the back garden.

And although our event for Heritage Open Days has now long passed, I hope you will come and visit next year.

Did you visit No 4  The Circus this year or have you visited in the past? What did you think?

Katrina Elizabeth

Friday, 15 October 2010

Hot off the press…….

It’s September 2009 and I have been dealing with transfer of title for an archaeological site called the Hat and Feather, the dig took place in the early 1990’s behind a shop along London Street in Bath. I meet Mr Hayes the owner of the archive and the shop; he is a lovely gentleman who is genuinely interested in the finds from the dig and the archaeology that took place. He signs over the finds without question in the knowledge that they are going to a good home. All he asks in return is that we create a display of some of the material to go in his shop.

Archaeologist at work on site 1991

So I set to work pulling together all the local history and archaeological research on the site and, with Penny our Friday volunteer’s help, it is soon done. Katie our Canadian volunteer and Edina from Hungary help me choose the objects, photograph them and fill out the masses of documentation required. I set to work pulling together images and text whilst researching the objects and pretty soon I have two boxes of objects and the design for two display boards. Mr Hayes is pleased with the objects, ideas and designs and sets about finding a special display case.

Work in progress September 2010
Leap forward to the end of September 2010 and the display has been designed, installed and is now ready to view and it looks fab! (Even if I do say so myself) So if you have an interest in Roman Bath or just like looking at pretty things why not pop along to T.R. Hayes 15-18 London Street and take a look - the purchase of furniture is not compulsory!

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant - Roman Baths signing out..........
If you want to read a little bit more about the background of this project just follow the link below

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Found It! - Pop Quiz!

Pop Quiz:

Who discovered the Baths?

a) a prince
b) a major
c) some pigs
d) the Romans

Excavations at the Great Baths

Answer: A B or C.

When the Romans came to Bath in the first century AD the local Celtic tribe was the Dobunni . The Dobunni had been worshiping a local god called Sulis.

Twenty years later the Romans built a religious and bathing complex on the site. They dedicated the temple to Sulis Minerva, a combination of the Celtic god Sulis and the Roman Goddess Minerva.

The Roman bathing complex fell into disrepair after the Fall of Rome but people continued to enjoy the hot spring, building new facilities over it. In 1878, Major Charles Davis unearthed the Great Bath when he was looking for the source of leak.

While some would credit the Medieval King Edgar as the founder of Bath, others prefer to go back in time to 863 BC to a story about a man and his pigs.

According to the legend, it was King Lear’s father, Bladud who founded Bath, but if you read the legend carefully the spring was actually discovered by pigs.

Bladud had contracted leprosy while studying in Greece. He was cast out of court when he got home for fear that the disease would spread to the rest of the court. Reduced to working as a swine herder, his pigs soon contracted the disease.

One day when he was out, his pigs started rolling around in some warm mud. Surprisingly, the pig’s skin had cleared after wallowing in the mud. Intrigued, he decided to jump in the mud too. Miraculously, his leprosy was cured.

The cured Bladud returned to court eventually becoming king.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In the Education Office…

You might not be able to tell from looking at the Baths buildings, but there is a heck of a lot of behind-the-scenes space. A lot of it is storage, but a lot of the work done in the offices might come as a surprise to anyone thinking all museum workers hunker down around boxes of old stuff, and mostly clean old pots with toothbrushes all day.

On any given day at the Roman Baths education office we’re not just working on Roman Baths programs, but also things for the Fashion Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery. Definitely a lot of fun - and as you can see, the Learning Apprentice, Greg, agrees!

Greg in Family Event Hat

The tissue paper, card and ribbon hat which Greg is tolerantly modelling for us in our office was made at the Fashion Museum as part of an activity called Flower Power. We explored how flowers have been used in fashion throughout the years, and made our own stylish flower creations.

Family in Laurels during Family Event at the Roman Baths

Everything we do as an activity has to tie in to what you see on display, or the themes which we cover in the museum – still, when you’ve got a museum dedicated to the Romans, a museum dedicated to Fashion and a museum dedicated to Art? I don’t think we’ll ever run out of things to do but until we do, our office will remain filled with Model Magic, Pritt stick, strange spices and lots and lots of pretty paper.


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A Picture is worth 1,000 Words

When I first started my Job as a Curatorial Apprentice at the Roman Baths, what I looked forward to the most was being introduced to new things and to learn new skills. What I never expected to happen was a skill that I already possessed to be put to use in this profession; Drawing.

Georgian Man for 4 Circus

During my earliest weeks of employment, my Artistic skills were only brought up during my original interview, and not until July was it put to use when I was asked to draw images needed for the Englishcombe Event.

Victorian Man for 4 Circus

Since then?

Now whenever we need illustrations for upcoming events, everyone in the office is looking at me. Although not the typical images I’m used to drawing, it’s been a fun and interesting experience to try sketching new things; Victorian Tiles, Medieval Peasants, and the Bath Token used as a watermarked image of a display on tokens now put up in the museum’s Sun Lounge. And that’s just naming a few.

Reconstructed Fortified Settlement

It gives me a mixed feeling of amazement and satisfaction to see my own drawings laid out on tourist display boards and information leaflets. Sometimes I look at them and think they look too professional to have been the pen doodles done by my hand.

Reconstructed Burial Mound

Needless to say, I got more than I bargained for during my time here; I’m not just a Curatorial Apprentice, but now a Resident Artist too. People looking for work can come to so many conclusions on whether their personal talents can find a place in different professions. If they have the same luck as me, they may be surprised.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A Token of Affection for Bath

Joanna and I (mostly Joanna) have been working on a display for down in the Pump Room’s Sun Lounge, which is now on display. The display features Georgian tokens that were minted in Bath and have images of local architecture.

Working on this project has really given me a greater appreciation for Bath and allowed me to explore the diverse nature of the local architecture which may, at times, seems so uniform and homogeneous. This project has exposed me to Bath’s more recent history and the affect it has had in building survival and use. Being from Canada it is quite shocking and intriguing to see images of local buildings that were hit during the Blitz, particularly ones that have since been restored.

Archive Photo of Bath

I’m hoping to get the chance to go and visit the buildings that appear on our tokens in person, or those that have survived anyways. I think it will be nice to take some pictures of them as they stand now, or perhaps what stands in their place.

As Joanna has already shown you some sneak peaks of the display I can't do that, but I can show you some interesting historic images of architecture in Bath that we ran across while searching the digital image archives for pictures for the display. I hope you enjoy.

Archive Photo of Historic View of Bath

Are there any particular buildings in Bath that you would be interested in seeing historic images of? Which buildings are your favourites?

Katrina Elizabeth

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Copper Credit

This display can be assembled by even the newest museum staff members, including students on placements and internships.


19 Georgian tokens
7 Georgian pence
1 Georgian £1 bank note
1 Georgian map of Bath courtesy of the Record Office
3 images of Georgian buildings courtesy of the Victoria Art Gallery
1 drawing of token by Artist in Residence, James
1 replica pocket
2 magnifying glasses
1 writing tool
1 writing tablet
1 stamp
1 brooch
1 ring
1 button hook
1 pin cushion
1 thimble
1 ball of string in a red container
7 thread winders
1 spool of thread
80 small nails
silica gel

A pocket overfollowing with many of the 'ingredients'.

1. Coat window glass with UV film, spread silica gel in base compartment and line case with non-reactive fabric.
2. Research Georgian tokens for 1- 1 1/2 weeks
3. Condense research into labels. Set excess information aside.
4. Put text, map, images, drawing by Resident Artist*, into computer and mix until aesthetically appealing.
5. Send graphics mixture to printers, wait 3-5 business days and transfer to display case.
6. Archive excess information for future projects.
7. Add tokens, pence, bank note, pocket and other remaining ingredients to display case. Mix until aesthetically appealing while remaining up to conservation standards.
8. Enjoy

Serves over 800,000 people per year.

Completed Display

*Our Resident Artist, among many other important things, is James, who you will be meeting soon.


Monday, 13 September 2010

So why do people come to the Roman Baths? - Guest Blogger - Part 2

Let's return to the question of people’s continued fascination with the baths. (For Part 1 please see the preceding post from Thursday, September 9th.)

The baths of a hundred years ago are barely recognizable today, which may seem an odd thing to say about a seemingly unchanging ancient monument. Indeed there is only really one part of the site that still looks the same, and that is the Great Bath itself. Much of what visitors see today on the rest of the site has been uncovered in the last hundred years; the East Baths in the 1920s, the West Baths in the 1970s and the Temple Precinct in the 1980s. The astonishing finds from the hot Spring were only excavated in 1980.

Finds from the Spring excavated in 1979/80.

It’s not just the baths that have changed. The interpretation of some of the key objects on the site has also changed. The great stone head on the Temple pediment, and indeed the iconography of the whole of that pediment, has been re-interpreted several times. Perhaps that’s part of the public fascination with this site; the fact that the evidence can sustain more than one interpretation, that there is scope for imagination and debate in the meaning of what you see. In 1935 that fascination led Dr Franzero, the Italian Ambassador, in writing a book on Roman Britain (which he dedicated to Benito Mussolini) to describe the pediment as ‘the most peculiar and the most complete specimen of Romano-British art’.

The Temple Pediment as it appears today.

There is no doubt that the setting of the Great Bath is something that has to be seen. It should be on everyone’s list of those things you do before you die. But today it makes far more sense than it did to those visitors a hundred years ago. You can now see more of the baths and Temple complex of which it formed a part, and through guided tours, audio tours in eight languages, costumed interpreters, a fantastic museum collection, models, film projections and even a sign language tour, you can gain an insight into the lives and minds of the people who built and maintained it. We’ve set out some ideas to start you thinking as you go around the site interspersed with observations, comments and explanations from Bill Bryson, Alice Roberts and our own staff. I’m sure you will have ideas of your own, and one thing we can be pretty sure about is that some of the best ideas about this site are still to come.

So my theory is that the rise in visitor numbers we have seen at the Roman Baths in the last few years is down to the fact that people can now understand it better, and because it’s such a great place they tell other people about it. In the language of the professional marketeers they have come ‘through word of mouth’…… tell your friends, or better still bring them with you.

Stephen Clews

Roman Baths & Pump Room Manager

Thursday, 9 September 2010

So why do people come to the Roman Baths? - Guest Blogger - Part 1

This year more people are visiting the Roman Baths; visitor numbers like this haven’t been seen since the end of the 20th century.

In the world of museums and attractions there are plenty of pundits who can proffer an explanation for a change in visiting patterns and you can take your pick from macro-economic circumstances, cultural trends and ‘local factors’ or some proportional permutation of them. Personally I’d like to think it’s something to do with the investment we have made in the last four years in conservation, better access and improved interpretation at the site, but in this strange world where science and speculation meet, any reason can have some weight and some reasons must be right. If only we knew which ones!

Since its discovery in the 1870s visitors, or at least the prospect of visitors, have been the reason why the Roman Baths were uncovered, developed and indeed continue to exist. Visitor's interest and the money they bring have sustained the site now for well over a century. Without visitors the site would have little purpose and it would have no money for conservation and maintenance either. It would become a forgotten and ruinous ruin.

The Great Bath in the 1890's

So what has sustained the interest of visitors for so long? We don’t really know why people visited a hundred years ago. Nearly all our evidence is circumstantial. The baths then were another new attraction in Britain’s leading spa city. Many people were here to enjoy a spa holiday or take a medical treatment. We know that the discovery of the baths had roused national interest and indeed it’s uncovering and care had generated some controversy too. Although the population was smaller, there were probably more people then with some classical education, having learnt Latin or Greek at school, than there are today.

So many people in Britain had heard of the Roman Baths and some of those visitors may have come to Bath specifically to see the Roman Baths; but back in that age of the train when motor cars were curios longer distance travel was still not particularly easy and those visitors were probably in a minority.

I think I’ll leave the matter here for now. This is a mystery that cannot be solved in one post. Check back on Monday (following post) for Part 2 and feel free to give suggestions about why the Victorians may have visited the site in the comments.

Stephen Clews

Roman Baths & Pump Room Manager

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Word Nerds

Working at a museum will certainly expand your vocabulary into realms you didn’t even know existed. You will shortly find that your newly acquired vocabulary is of very little use in the outside world. Trying to slip the quirky, specialist words into everyday conversation is more likely to result in raised eyebrows than elevated opinions.

Furrowed brows cause wrinkles. So, in the interest of helping you keep that lovely face of yours, I present my favourite museumy words;

Philately, n. Stamp collecting

Numismatic, adj. Of or relating to the study of coins and medals

Last uttered: Probably in the 1930s but both terms really belong more to the nineteenth century.

Lately I’ve been pouring over the pages of a number of books, including The First Dictionary of Paranumismatica by Brian Edge (or as I refer to it, A Guide to Coin-ish Things), trying to sort out some Georgian tokens which I hope to put on display in the Sun Lounge.

Some of the Georgian Tokens in our Collection

So far I’ve discovered that the tokens were minted by shop keepers and industrialists as a response to the shortage of government issued small change between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The wealthy land owners and merchant that generally made up parliament were satisfied with the official gold and silver coins they used on a daily basis and had no need for small change. The government basically ignored the coinage problem because they felt it had little to do with them.

With the rise of urbanisation and industrialisation, the demand for small change grew and eventually the government was forced to take action. In 1817, the Act of Suppression made the copper tokens illegal and official regal shillings and sixpence were issued to replace them.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

My Time Team Discovery

I was digging through the archive records and stumbled upon an entry for the ‘Time Team Dig archives and finds,’ from 2002. The entry contains a description which reads, ‘Dig to find ‘missing’ parts of Fosse Way at St Andrews Church, Julian Road and Crescent lawns.’

The Time Team episode associated with this archive entry is entitled ‘Death in a Crescent’ and according to the Time Team website on Channel 4¹ it aired on 16th February 2003. The material from the dig was accessioned on 3rd September 2002 which shows you how far in advance they film these programs to have good weather and allowing the television making process to do its work before the episodes make it to TV screens.

Time Team describes their excavations as taking place at the Royal Crescent in Bath, with a Roman cemetery ‘round the back' of the Crescent and the Fosse Way ‘at the front’¹ in the lawns of the Royal Victoria Park.² The Time Team Diggers were in search of archaeological evidence relating to parch marks in the Royal Victoria Park and for archaeology associated with the Victorian discovery of a Roman sarcophagus behind the Royal Crescent.¹ Parch marks are areas of grass where the growth is effected by the presence of buried archaeology. As per usual, things didn’t go exactly as planned on Time Team and things weren’t exactly where they expected them to be.²

The episode can still be seen on Channel 4 On Demand (4oD

I took the opportunity to look through the material archives and in the object stores and found the boxes and material from the Time Team dig.

The Paper Archive Record Books

There are always neat things to be discovered while searching through the archives. I bet you didn’t know that the Roman Baths are associated with most archaeological activity in the area and are the repository for artefacts from and materials relating to archaeological excavations in the local area. The stores and archives here are full of fascinating material and much of it is not Roman or associated with the Baths. Outside of the Roman Period I think my favourite time period is either the Anglo-Saxon or Georgian Period. I just can’t decide. What is your favourite period in England outside of the Roman Period?


Katrina Elizabeth

Monday, 6 September 2010

Public Programmes at the Roman Baths

If you’ve visited the Roman Baths anytime in these past ten years, and managed to drag your eyes away from the Great Bath long enough to look up - you may have seen a big, arching window. If you were there at the right time, there might have been wide-eyed kids looking back at you. That’s our Education Room.

An Inside View of the Education Room (We're usually much busier!)

Now, seeing as how we’re posting this blog at the end of the summer, you might be wondering - ‘what the heck are they doing writing about volunteering in education now? School’s not in session!’ This is very true. However, as Mark Twain once said, ‘you should never let school get in the way of your education.’

Throughout the summer, we ran loads of hands-on Roman events in our Education Room. Visitors got to hold real Roman tesserae (mosaic stones), count out replica Roman coins, pick up Roman tiles and bricks, smell and touch Roman cooking ingredients, and make their own Votive offerings to give to the goddess of healing, Sulis Minerva.

I think that the best part about the Roman Baths is that they are real. You get to stand where Romans stood, touch things they made, and really picture what it was like in your head a bit. Being encouraged to explore using all your senses? It’s magic.

One of the biggest things we try to do with our public programme is to get you, the visitor, to put yourself in that place a little more. The more personal you let it be, the more it means to you.

Next time you’re in a museum (any museum, not just ours) try focusing on one object. Think about what it would have sounded like or what it would have smelled like. If you can’t touch it, imagine what the texture would have felt like, or how warm it would be next to your skin. Just experience it!


Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Strigil Ran Away with the Spoon

Of all the things you could possibly find in the remains of a Roman Bath, you’d certainly expect to find a strigil. Strigils are metal scrapers used to remove oil, which is used like soap.

Strigil and Oil Container

Having a bath could take a whole afternoon in Roman times. Can you imagine how much your skin would prune up if you spend half the day sitting in a tub of water?

Thankfully the Romans didn’t use much water. The tepidarium and the caldarium both had water in them, but you could also sit around the sides. The caldarium would have been hotter than the tepidarium.

Next it’s on to the dry sauna, the laconium, and then off for a massage. Here’s where the strigil comes in. After their massages bathers would have the oil scraped off their bodies before going back into the baths in reverse- hottest room to coolest room.

They finished off the afternoon with a dip in a cold pool of water.

Considering strigils would have been used everyday and considering all the excavation work that’s gone on around the baths, it’s surprising that we’ve never found a Roman strigil on site.

I wonder where they all went? Did they rust away?

Perhaps they’ve run off to the same place as the socks go to when they escape from the dryer. You always swear you put a pair into the washer but only one comes out in the end.


Sulis Minerva

Aquae Sulis, the Roman name for Bath translates as ‘the waters of Sulis.’

Sulis Minerva was a blending of Sulis, a local Celtic goddess associated with the springs, and Minerva, the Roman goddess often identified with the Greek Athena. Roman’s often combined their deities with local ones that had similar characteristics or myths. This was done in part to merge the two religions and two communities. By seeing the incorporation and acceptance of their own local cults into the Roman’s religion rather than seeing their replacement or destruction the conquered peoples were more likely to accept their conquerors and other aspects of the new culture that came with them.

Minerva was originally an Etruscan goddess, Minvre, associated with household arts and crafts, but under the Roman republic she quickly became associated with the Greek Athena and took on many of her characteristics. Athena was a goddess of crafts and skills, but was also the goddess of wisdom, intelligence, strategy and war. She was one of the twelve Olympian gods and was born fully formed from Zeus’ head after Hephaestus treated Zeus for a headache by hitting him with an axe (do not try this at home, I promise you a fully formed goddess will not be the result). Athena’s symbolic animal was the owl, which represented wisdom. As Minerva was merged with Sulis it seems likely that Sulis shared the associated traits of wisdom, curative powers, and martial prowess.

Cult Statue Head of Sulis Minerva

The head of Sulis Minerva that is part of the collections here at the Roman Baths was once crowned with a Corinthian helmet and was probably the cult statue in a temple dedicated to Sulis Minerva. Although the head does not say the name Sulis Minerva on it anywhere we know it must be of her because of many of its characteristics including its beauty, location, the fact that it was wearing a helmet, its likeness to other known statues, and the fact that it was re-gilded six times. Gilt bronze statues like this are very rare and reflect the importance of the deity and the wealth of the temple in which she was displayed. The head displays evidence of intentional destruction. It is thought that raiders or another religious group destroyed the statue in late Roman times. The statue head was found under a nearby street, just a few metres from where it is now displayed, when a sewer trench was dug in 1727.

Did you know that the name Sulis only appears in and around Bath?
This is due to the fact that Celtic deities like Sulis were commonly place associated deities.

Katrina Elizabeth

Monday, 9 August 2010

Testing the Waters

Just a quick little note to say that we are working hard and hoping to have this blog up and running fully shortly.


Katrina Elizabeth