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, 30 March 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

Back in November 2010 we were introduced to the very first Illuminate Bath Arts Festival. Parts of Bath (including the Roman Baths and Pump Room) became a canvas for many new works of art, this included some impressive light shows, which I am afraid I missed out on seeing. Looking at the photos in magazines or in leaflets is one thing, but it holds no comparison to seeing the real thing. However I did manage to see a magical light transformation of sorts in Stall Street…..

Christmas lights in Stall Street
So it’s November and it’s the run up to Christmas; it was only a matter of time before the City installed the Christmas lights. A carousel joined the Christmas festivities along with the Christmas market and served to light up Stall Street.

Christmas carousel in Stall Street
In the past I’ve never really explored the city during the Christmas season – I know what you’re thinking at this point; you should get out more……. Now working at the Roman Baths there was no excuse for me to miss out on what I saw. The mixture of the Christmas illuminations with the crazy spinning lights of the carousel, lit up the street at a time of year known for being dark and dreary. It made things feel less like the forests of Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar and more like the T-rex holding cell escape scene from Jurassic Park.

Bath Christmas lights
It’s funny really; whilst missing out I don’t feel I missed out. I let too many opportunities to see the light displays of Illuminate Bath pass me by. But, on my short journey from the Baths to the Bus Station I was always delighted by the prospect of viewing Bath’s very own little light show. Lesson to be learnt for the next time the Arts Festival is in town - the next time a great opportunity to see new things comes my way, I won’t let it pass me by!

Bath Christmas lights


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The smallest thing can make the biggest difference

Tucked away in a corner at the entrance to the old Cadbury (formerly Fry’s) factory in Keynsham is a strange little thing. At first glance it looks like nothing more than an odd selection of stones, but take a closer look and what you will see is actually a major part of the archaeology of Keynsham.

Somerdale villa layout

These stones are actually the reconstructed remains of a Roman villa, the Somerdale villa to give it its proper name. This small villa along with two stone coffins was discovered in 1922 during construction of the factory. This discovery not only brought to light the archaeological potential of the factory site, but raised interest in another set of Roman remains inside the cemetery at Durley Hill.

The villa in the cemetery was slowly being destroyed by grave digging; however the discovery of Somerdale villa raised enough interest for an excavation of both villas. The excavation was carried out between 1922 and 1924 under the supervision of Dr Arthur Bulleid and Father Ethelbert Horne, largely funded by Fry’s who also paid around £600 to lift the mosaics.

After the excavation the foundations of Somerdale villa were moved to the entrance of the factory, where despite currently being fenced off they are still visible today. The mosaic panels, coffins and many other artefacts from the villas were displayed in what was known as Somerdale museum for around 60 years before its closure in 1988. Everything from the museum was then put into storage in Keynsham Town Hall, where they still remain.

Very little is actually known about Somerdale villa as unfortunately its excavation was not well documented.

So why is this little villa that hasn’t been well recorded and isn’t even in its original location anymore so important to Keynsham? Well if it hadn’t been discovered there is a great possibility that the cemetery villa might never have been excavated and the beautiful mosaics (already badly damaged at the time of the excavation) could easily have been completely destroyed. This little villa played a huge role not only in the history of the Cadbury/Fry’s factory but in the long term preservation of some truly beautiful archaeology that may otherwise have been lost.

Unfortunately now the factory has been closed and the future of the villa is uncertain, which I feel really is a sad ending for something that played a defining role in protecting the heritage of Keynsham.

So next time you are in Keynsham, why not pay the villa a visit?


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

“Beware the Ides of March”

When you’re in a building complex as old as the Roman Baths, strange things are bound to happen.

One day, some time back in the 1980s Julius Caesar went for a dip in the Great Bath.

And no, it was not the ghost of Julius Caesar, it was a statue of the Roman dictator. The statue was carved by G. A. Lawson in the late Victorian period and stood along side Lawson’s other works on the terrace overlooking the Great Bath.

Legend has it that a visitor asked a staff member, “What happened to Julius Caesar?”

“He was assassinated,” replied the staff member, matter-of-factly.

And then they saw him: Julius Caesar’s torso in the green pool. A sight complimented by the empty pedestal on the terrace. One wonders if upon witnessing this site staff thought to themselves “Tis very like: he has the falling sickness” and giggled a little. (Julius Caesar 1.2.256)

With Cimbe, Casca and Brutus no where in sight, staff decided some mischievous youths must have climbed over the terrace late at night and accidentaly pushed Caesar into the waters. Laurence Tindall was commissioned to carve a new Julius Caesar and all the statues, including the new one, were permanently fixed to their bases. No more diving emperors at the Roman Baths.

The pieces of the Victorian Caesar are in storage at the Roman Baths.  His head and foot are on display for the Store Tours and Tunnel Tours.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Mineral Water

The water that fills the Great Bath is around 10,000 years old. It fell as rain water on the Mendip Hills, 15 miles to the south of Bath, when Mesolithic people were using the natural hot spring, bubbling out of a woodland area in 7500 BC.

The water flows underground from the hills along a fault line called the ‘Penny Quick Fault’ and collects in an underground lake, 2 miles down. The water in the lake gets heated to around 90 degrees C by the earth's core. A tremendous amount of pressure builds up in the lake forcing the water up through a large fissure in the rock allowing it to bubble up to the surface.

The Romans built a reservoir to contain this hot water. By the time the water has travelled the 2 miles up to the surface it has cooled down to 46 degrees C, that’s still about 10 degrees C hotter than a comfortable bath or shower.

After the water had collected in the reservoir the water would have been directed to a number of pools. Today the water only flows into the Great Bath or out of the Great Drain down to the River Avon. Thirteen litres of water flow into the Great Bath every second. This means that you could fill your bath at home in approximately 6 seconds! The temperature of the water in the Great Bath is 36 degrees C, just the right temperature for a bath.

Point where the water flows into the Great Bath
As well as being hot, the water picks up 43 kinds of metals and minerals in the ground. The largest concentrations of minerals are calcium and sulphate. The water is low in dissolved metals except for iron, which causes an orange staining around many parts of the pools.

Iron staining on the inflow channel to the Great Bath
If you have seen the Great Bath you can’t help but notice that the water is a lovely green colour today. When the water comes up from the ground it is colourless, the green hue is from the algae growing on the surface of the water, caused by its heat and daylight. When the Romans were using the Great Bath it was covered by a roof, eliminating direct sunlight, this stopped algae from growing. Unlike today, you could have seen the bottom of the Great Bath.
The green water of the Great Bath
Posted by Laura (Visitor Services Assistant)

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Monument in the Mist.

The number one question I get asked as I am walking around the site is, “what is the liquid you are spraying over the stones?”

Humidification system in action - Temple Precinct
Answer = The liquid is plain old tap water and it’s not being sprayed over the stones but into the atmosphere.

Next question = Why?

Answer = To prevent salt crystal growth which can cause stones to break where cracks exist and ceramic building material to breakdown.

Salt crystal growth - Temple Precinct
Next question = What is salt crystal growth?

Answer = Salts are contained within the stone and they expand as stone dries out, causing the weaker surrounding material to be pushed out. In a fluctuating environment the processes of dilution/absorption and concentration/expansion causes the stone to crack and clay to break down. Salt damage results largely from the growth of salt crystals within a porous structure. A broad variety of damage features—from granular disintegration to flaking and scaling. The water spray is keeping the environment stable i.e. constantly damp and aims to stop this process from happening.

Question = Why not just remove the salts?

Answer = Unfortunately due to the nature of the site, salts are constantly going to be present. The salts are present in the underlying soil fed by the natural spring water which is very rich in metals, salts and minerals and are drawn up by the stone and ceramic building material.

Pillars made from ceramic bricks - West Baths
Most people walk away very happy after this discussion= job done!

Can you think of any more monument conservation questions you might like to ask?

For a good place to start if you would like learn more about salt crystal growth follow the link below

Helen Harman - Collection Assistant