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 November 2019

Curious Coins from Batheaston

Recently, visited Batheaston to display a range of incredible objects from the local area. Of course, I chose my favourite subject – coins! We had several lovely Roman coins on display, from Emperor Domitian (77AD) to Emperor Gratian (367AD), but my two favourite coins found during excavations at the Batheaston Bypass aren’t Roman at all…

Visitors to Batheaston Scout Hut find out about the archaeology of the area

The first is what I think is one of the most beautiful coins in the collection. It is a sceat (a small silver coin) from the eighth century AD - just before the Viking invasion. It might have been minted in Denmark, or Frisia (now part of the Netherlands or Northern Germany), but there is a lot of ongoing debate about when and where these coins were made.

On one side, there is the bearded face of the Ancient German sky god called “Wodan”, related to the Norse god Odin. On the other there is a mythical monster, possibly a dragon!

The Woden/Monster sceat from Batheaston

The second is a European copy of an English silver penny, originally minted for Edward I (1288-1299). At the time, these were nicknamed “crockards”, which is a term of uncertain origin. There is also a medieval Latin word crocardus which is translated as “bad money”, but this may have been derived from the English term and not the other way round.

At the time, the English silver penny was famous throughout Europe for its quality and purity. European merchants would trade their goods to the English for the coins. Then they would melt down the coins, mix the silver with some cheaper metal, and mint more coins for themselves. By making the coins look like the English pennies, they could then pretend that the coins were just as high in value as the originals.

However, the crockards weren’t considered “counterfeit”, because they were not identical to the English pennies. The names of the European moneyers were on the coins, and instead of the royal crown, Edward I is wearing a “chaplet of roses” – or a flower crown!

A 'crockard' from Batheaston - with Edward I in a flower crown!

Our coin was minted by John, Duke of Brabant (part of Belgium), who was Edward I’s son-in-law.  

At first, Edward tried to use crockards as currency, saying that they were worth half a penny instead of a full penny, but this was confusing, and soon he decided that all the crockards should be destroyed instead. This makes our coin very special!

Collections Volunteer

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

An Alphabet of Objects: B is for Bottles

When you visit the Roman Baths and walk through the Pump Room, you will come to a small room on the other side called the Sun Lounge. Here, our A-Z display has now changed from A…to B!

Installing the new Alphabet display

Created by our volunteer Zoƫ, the display showcases beautiful bottles through time. Over the summer, Michela did a lot of research into the marvellous Victorian bottles in the collection and found that every bottle has got a story to tell:

Glass Codd-neck bottle

This is known as a Codd-neck bottle because it was invented in 1872 by a British engineer called Hiram Codd. He designed and patented a bottle specifically invented for carbonated drinks. In fact, the Codd-neck bottle has a unique closing design based on a glass marble that is forced against the washer by the pressure of the gas contained in the beverage. 

To open a Codd-neck bottle it is necessary to push the marble down and let the gas spill out. These bottles also have a special chamber to prevent the marble from blocking the neck when pouring the drink. This clever bottle design is still used in Japan for carbonated beverages. This bottle was produced in Newport (South Wales) but the drink that was inside was product by a soda-lemonade factory called Brooke & Co. that was founded in Bath (5 Walcot Street) in 1846.

Glass 'torpedo' bottle

This ‘torpedo’ bottle was introduced in 1814 to preserve the pressure of the bottle. This shape does not allow you to keep the bottle standing up, only lying down! In this way, the liquid keeps the cork covered, preventing it from becoming dry and avoiding the loss of bottle pressure. This particular example contained a carbonate drink produced in Bath by a factory called R. B. Cater & Co. that had a phoenix as trade mark. Can you spot the phoenix on the side?

Medicine bottle containing 'Kay's Linseed Compound'

This medicine bottle contained a preparation of chloroform and morphine that was sold as remedy for coughs, colds, bronchitis, influenza and asthma. This medicine was produced in Stockport by a factory called Kay Brothers Ltd. that was probably founded in 1867. On the 5th of December 1908, The British Medical Journal examined the contents of Kay’s Linseed Compound (page 1698). Reading the contents, it’s not surprising that it isn’t found in pharmacies today!

Extract from the British Medical Journal 1908

The A-Z display is free to see in the Sun Lounge during opening hours. Stay tuned for updates as we work our way through the alphabet!

Michela Amato
Collections Placement

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Bones

"In nature, there is no separation between design, engineering, and fabrication; the bone does it all"
Neri Oxman 

Why bone? Bones are exciting as they connect us with the past, but also feel forbidden as they are not a part of everyday life. They can prove useful as they survive through time where other materials (e.g. wood) may not.

Visitors to the Roman Baths find out about bones in archaeology

Past societies used bone to create different objects. Although this may seem gross to us now, bone was a readily available material and therefore an obvious choice to build things from. Many artefacts were made from cow or sheep bones, probably because they were the most commonly butchered animals. But how did the people of the past actually use bone?

Roman gaming counter

Imagine a Roman beating their competitors with this gaming counter. Gaming is a forever concept; whereas today we play on the Playstation, Roman games were far more rudimentary but just as competitive. One inscription from a Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum game board in Rome read ‘Levate dalocu, ludere nescis, idiota recede’ (Jump up, push off, you don’t know how to play, get out stupid) evidencing how heated games could get!

Gaming was clearly important as a 24 year old man from Lullingstone villa was buried in AD300 with his gaming board and 30 gaming piece (15 red and 15 white) possibly so he could play eternally in the afterlife. I wonder if anyone has ever been buried with a Playstation?

Two Victorian toothbrushes made from bone and animal hair

Picture the Victorians using their bone bristle toothbrushes. It’s hard to believe that it was not until 1780 that the Europeans produced a bristle toothbrush. Before this, rags and salt or soot were rubbed on teeth to keep them clean.

Our dental saviour was William Addis who, whilst incarcerated, found a bone on the floor and connected this with animal hairs to create the bristle brush. This was perfectly timed as the toothbrush industry boomed with the increase in refined sugar travelling from the West Indies. Toothbrushes were used with toothpaste made from odd materials such as soot, chalk or even powdered cuttlefish! Would you try that?

Bone object handling table

We are incredibly lucky to have objects like this readily available, teaching us the importance of everyday ritual to the people of the past. They have truly all been worked to the bone!

Roman Society Collections Placement

Alcock, Joan. Life in Roman Britain. English Heritage (1996) pp. 54-5.