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, 27 March 2013

Latest News of the Beau Street hoard

It’s time for an update on the Beau Street Hoard - the stash of Roman coins found literally round the corner from the Roman Baths. Since our last post about this fascinating find, there have been significant developments. 

The conservation team and the Coins and Medals Department at the British Museum have worked hard to dismantle, clean and count the coins - recording the process in a remarkable, time-lapsed photographic record (which you can see on their blog). To date the definitive number of coins is 17,577, made up largely of denarii and early silver and later debased radiates. The hoard was discovered in eight decaying pouches, made of animal skin, secreted within a stone-lined pit in the ground of a Roman building within the town. This is unusual, as hoards were more likely to be buried in isolated, rural locations. The curators estimate the hoard was hidden there around AD 270 but, intriguingly, we don’t know who buried it or why.
Now the coins have been separated and are reasonably clean they are safely stored at the British Museum in plastic bags within Tupperware boxes (see photo). There is also a selection exhibited in the Citi Money Gallery at the British Museum.

Some of the sorted coins from the hoard at the British Museum 

The next stage is for the hoard to be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee at the end of May, after which the Beau Street Hoard project team here at the Roman Baths will know how much money needs to be raised. This team, consisting of staff from the Roman Baths and a selection of external partners, is responsible for fundraising to ensure we can acquire and display the hoard, keeping it safe and accessible, together with its archive material, at the Roman Baths. Alongside this, we will be delivering an exciting public engagement programme to encourage as many people as possible to enjoy and learn about the hoard – both first hand and virtually.

After a successful application to Stage One of the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are now working up our Stage Two application to submit in the autumn. I’ve been recruited as Project Officer to co-ordinate the project team and keep us on track. However, as well as lottery funding, we are actively seeking support from the public, and have been spreading the word about the Beau Street Hoard far and wide. Stephen Clews, Roman Baths and Pump Room Manager, has been talking about the hoard to various groups across the BANES authority and, from them, we have received vital contributions which will help us reach our funding target. Watch this space for updates and, if you haven’t seen the hoard, come and enjoy our temporary display in the Sun Lounge of the Roman Baths.

Saira Holmes – Project Officer

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Roman Baths weren’t built in a day... so how did they do it?

Whilst preparing for National Science and Engineering Week at the Baths, we looked at how the Romans solved five building problems to achieve their bath-house.

The first problem was the marshy ground around the spring. This land was too soft to support the weight of a building. The solution was to pound many tall wooden logs, called ‘piles’, into the mud. These made a strong base for the massive bathstone walls which they used to form the reservoir around the spring.

The excavation of the Scared Spring in 1979.  The black spots are the tops of the Roman piles

The second problem was how to control the water which rose in the spring. The engineers wanted to use it in the Baths and then let it flow down the main drain. They built a low sluice gate in the wall of the reservoir. When the gate was pushed down, the water level would rise and flow down a box drain into the Great Bath. When the gate was lifted, the water rushed through the gap at the bottom straight into the main drain. The water level became too low to flow into the Great Bath, which could then be emptied and cleaned.

The third problem was how to lift the massive stone blocks used in the buildings. The Roman engineers chose to use a five-piece lewis-bolt. Three specially-shaped pieces of the bolt were inserted into a fan-shaped cavity in the stone, and they and a loop handle were held together by a pin. This handle allowed the stones to be lifted with a hook and pulley system.

The Lewis Bolt activity at the Roman Baths

The fourth problem came from the smoke from the hypocaust fires. The smoke would rise through any cracks in a stone floor and enter the warmed rooms above. The Roman solution was to mix and lay thick concrete floors on top of supporting pillars and tiles. The concrete solved the problem as it was both fireproof and made without cracks or joins.

The fifth problem came with the Roman’s liking for high, wide roofs and openings. These needed to be strong enough to support themselves and any wall built above them. The engineers used a semi-circular arch for these places as they knew that this shape spreads the weight sideways and downwards onto strong points on each side.

The Roman arch over the main drain in the Roman Baths

When you visit the Roman Baths you can see these solutions to their building problems. Keep an engineering eye out outside the Baths for these solutions which have been used in buildings and rivers since the Romans.

Nicola Pullan is a visiting researcher from the University of Sydney.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

I Promise to Pay: early bank notes

We have recently added to our collection, six 18th and early 19th century bank notes, which mark an interesting point in the development of modern money.

Bank notes in Britain are a comparatively new type of money. From Iron Age times onwards coins were circulated as money. Their value was determined by the value of the metal they were made of, so a silver coin was made of the amount of silver you could buy for a denarius in Roman Britain or a penny in Medieval Britain.

By the late 17th century banks had introduced standard receipts for when you deposited money with them. On presentation of this receipt to the bank you could claim your money back.

Unused Bath and Wells Bank 5 guineas bank note

The movement and quantity of money became an issue in the 18th century as more people were travelling around the country and more commodities were being made. For example, if you wanted to take £100 from London to Bath when you travelled down for the season, would you really want to carry that amount in bags of silver or gold coins? Not with the fear of highwaymen! So you went to your own London bank who wrote a bank note and you presented this to the bank acting as their agent in Bath who would give you the full amount. These first banknotes would have your name on them, so only you could receive the money, so they acted more like our cheques.

Gradually their use changed: printed on them they had the words “I promise to pay the bearer….” This meant that as well as presenting it to a bank you could use it to pay for items in shops or pay someone for doing a job.

Commercial Bank £1 note: signed and  countersigned by members of the Shaw family

All the early banknotes were filled in by a bank clerk who wrote the number of the note and the amount it was worth. Each note was then countersigned individually by one of the bankers.

Next time you pick up a bank note in your purse or wallet, see how similar they are to these early ones!