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, 20 July 2011

The Museum - A Brief History

The museum opened in 1897, following the discovery and excavation of the Roman bathing complex during the 1870s. In its infancy, the museum was more of an informal cabinet of Roman curiosities than a museum, with various pieces of stone from the excavations set up around the baths. The baths became a huge tourist attraction, charges were made for admission and guides gave tours of the site.

Great Bath 1885
 Visitor numbers steadily grew over the years and the collection was added to by further excavations and gifted objects from other institutions and individuals. By the early 1980s, the site was attracting over 1 million visitors a year, although this has since levelled off to a constant 900,000 + a year.

Excavation of the Temple Courtyard 1981-1983

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the museum was formalised and its management remodelled as part of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Heritage Services. For the first time, The Roman Baths Museum was curatorially led. In 1990, the museum became a registered museum and in 1999 the collection was designated by Resource (Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries) as having a collection of national significance. In 2004, registration became accreditation, serving to ensure that The Roman Baths Museum provides:

• opportunities to use, enjoy and learn from the collections
• an assurance that the collections, including donated items, are held in trust for society
• information about the museum, its collections and its services
• a commitment to consultation with users, to ensure that future developments and changes take account of their needs and interests
• appropriate visitor facilities or details about facilities nearby

There are five on-site stores housing stone, ceramic building material, mortars, bulk archaeological material and sensitive items, and there is one off-site store, housing our larger social history items.

• The oldest object in our collection is a Mammoth’s tooth (150,000yrs old)
• To date, the newest object within the collection is a site archive for High Street, Batheaston dated 2010
• The lastest objects to be catalogued are a collection of tile and mortar, collected during cleaning of the laconicum area on site, prior to archaeological survey in 2011
• The first catalogued object in the collection was found in 1727, in a drain along Stall Street and is the bronze head of Minerva
• The last aquision through the Treasure Act (1996) was in 2010 and comprised of 16 medieval coins from the Wellow area.

Stephen Clews, Roman Baths and Pump Room Manager, with the head of Minerva

Today, there are two members of staff dedicated to caring for, interpreting (including outreach) and catalouging the collection. There are two senior members of staff involved in its care and interpretation and one Learning and Programmes coordinator, resposible for creating teaching sessions and who is heavily involved in collection outreach events. The visitor services team are responsible for giving hourly guided tours of the Great Bath, school teaching sessions and are the first point of contact for many face-to-face visitor enquiries.

Temple Pediment Projected 2010

The museum has recently benifited from a 5 year redevelopment, which has included many new museum displays and an upgrade to visitor areas and there is more to come in the next 5 year phase…. We are still collecting and we are the English Heritage recommended repository for all archaeological archives in Bath and North East Somerset. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the site and/or the collection, why not come along on one of our Tunnel or Store Tours (info page link below)


Helen Harman - Collection Assistant

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