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, 25 January 2011

Reflecting on the Sacred Waters

Well, our time here at the Roman Baths and Pump Room is drawing to an end and this will be the last blog I write for you. Although, by the time you read this Joanna, Barbara and I will be long gone.

We will all miss our time here in Bath. I in particular will miss all the friends I have made here at the Baths, getting to work with the collections from Roman Britain and the Georgian period and being able to wander around behind the scenes here at the museum. It has been such a great learning experience that my time spent here has truly been invaluable and I will never forget it. From working events at Englishcombe, for the British Archaeological Festival, and Number Four the Circus, for Heritage Days, to working family events here at the Baths and researching collections down in the study area or here in the office. This placement has been quite an experience. I have written interpretation, designed displays, researched the most unusual things and learned more than I could ever have thought possible. I highly recommend the experience.

‘Reflecting on the Sacred Waters – Stories from beyond the Baths’ was another possible title for this blog. I thought it was appropriate to use it as the title here, for my final post.

The Cold Plunge Pool

(Joanna has one more blog coming out on March 15th for all of you. Think the ‘fall’ of Julius Caesar.)

We will miss you all,

Katrina Elizabeth

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Prince of Monaco Visits the New Royal Baths

During a quiet moment at St. John’s Store (The Roman Baths’ local history store on Locksbrook Road) I was flipping through the Bathers Report Book for the New Royal Baths and I came across a thank you letter from the Prince of Monaco dated September 28th, 1894.
Bathers Report Book

The letter was written by the Prince’s secretary, A. Blanchy, and from the secretary’s account it sounds like the Prince had a lovely time. Have a read:

Secrétariat des Commandements de S.A.S. Msr. Le Prince de Monaco

D’après les instructions de S.A.S. le Prince de Monaco, j’ai l’honneur de vous faire commaitre que le Prince c’est bien trouvé de l’installation médicale des bains de Bath, tout le personnel et le materiel se laissant rien à desirer.

A. Blanchy
Attaché au Secrétariat des Commandements
Bath le 28 Septembre 1984

Original Version


Secretary’s Office of Commande of Son Atesse Serene Monseigneur the Prince of Monaco.
According to instruction from S.A.S. Prince of Monaco I have the honour to let you know that the Prince benefited by the “installation médicale” of the Baths of Bath, the attendants being all that can be desired.

(signed) A. Blanchy
Attaché au Secrétariat des Commandements
Bath 28th of Sept. 1894

Translated Version

St. John’s Store is full of spa equipment from the Spa Treatment Centre which closed in 1983. Many of the people who come to visit the stores remember having treatments at the Spa Centre. What about you? Did you ever experience the “installation médicale”?


Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Search for an English Pottery

This small fragment is one which was discovered in the yard of No. 4 the Circus, in Bath. It’s pretty exciting, because with a little archaeological detective work we can figure out what this piece once looked like, where it was from, the sort of person who may have owned it, and when it was made.

Even with the little detail,
we can discover a lot about a piece of pottery!

This fragment has a maker’s mark, also known as a backstamp. Potters put a lot of time and energy into making their designs, and so they wouldn’t want for anyone to be able to rip off their patterns. By registering and patenting their designs, they could be legally protected if anyone else tried to use it without their permission. The marks helped to show who owned the design and when it was registered. Staffordshire potters have marked their wares since at least the 1790’s. This has the name of the maker, a pattern name and a registration number – all of these give us information.

The Swinnertons were a company formed in 1906 based in Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent. In their peak they owned six factories – three of which were teapot factories. They sold pottery with the Swinnertons name on it for almost 60 years, aiming their goods at middle class households. Today, the company is part of the Doulton group – I’m sure you’ve heard of their figurines!

The registration number on this piece, 837606, lets us know when the pattern was first made. Each registration number is unique, and kept in files at the National Archives in Kew. The numbering system was started in 1884: with over 1500 potteries in Staffordshire alone, no wonder the numbers are long! This number would have been registered in 1940.

Now, what does the actual piece look like? Since this is just a base, I couldn’t tell you if it was a saucer, a plate, or a larger dish. There also seems to be TWO patterns selling online with the name ‘luxor vellum’ and the same registration number: a plain cream, and a floral pattern. Try searching for Swinnertons “luxor vellum” 837606 on the internet, and tell us in the comments which one you think this pattern is!

Want to look up your granny’s teacups and find out more about them? Thepotteries.org (run by an amateur historian in Stoke-On-Trent) has a table of what range of numbers were registered between 1884 and 1965. It’s a good place to start!


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Speed Dating with Pottery

Pottery Fragment: So have you ever dated pottery before?

Me: No. But I’ve dated clay pipes. I imagine it’s much the same. Clay is clay.

PF: No way. Pottery is way more exciting than pipes! Everybody likes pottery. Men, women, kids, even your grandma. Trust me. Pottery fragments are where it’s at.

Me: Are you an archaeologist by chance?

PF: Me? No. I’m really more into cooking. I should really make dinner for you sometime.

Me: Oh. No Thanks. You’re a bit too old for me. I was really looking form something more post medieval.

I knew it from the start. It was Roman pottery. Samian to be precise. I could have avoided that whole conversation.

By now you know the drill. You’re an experienced speed dater. You’ve been dating glass bottles and clay pipes. Now it’s time for the big leagues: Pottery Fragments.



Bonus Round

Here’s a handy flow chart and some pictures of pottery fragments for you to try and date. Post your answers in the comments.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Curse of the cold.

It’s a very cold October morning; its 5am and I am in work! Why, oh why, have I left the warmth of my bed? Two words - the BBC……………………………………

Cameraman and sound engineer recording Neil Oliver around the Great Bath.

I have been asked to stand guard over 5 lead curses, as they are presented as part of a new BBC series, ‘The Ancient History of Britain’. The outdoor piece is presented by Neil Oliver (that guy from Coast) and discussed with Dr Roger Tomlin (a really cool and clever Roman Historian).

A cold crew including me!

Filming begins at 6am in front of the Temple Pediment; Neil Oliver delivers his piece quickly and succinctly to camera (a trait which has earned him the nickname of ‘the one hit wonder’). We are soon joined by Dr Tomlin, who is probably one of the most intelligent and enigmatic men I have ever met. Now that the two are together, filming of the curses by the Great Bath can begin……

Vilbia curse tablet

The two men don their gloves, as requested by me, and begin handling and talking about the lead tablets to camera. Filming wraps up by 9:30am and I go in search of a hot mug of tea to warm me up from the cold. I am smiling at the unusual experience I have just had while the rest of the world had been sleeping……….

The series is due to be aired in 2012 so, if like me, you are a bit of an archaeology geek, I suggest you look out for it because it’s going to be good!

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

P.S. A Happy New Year to you all!

UPDATED 26TH APRIL 2011 - Programme to be aired tonight at 9pm BBC2 series name change 'A History of Celtic Britain' Don't miss it!