Possibly the most complete Roman remains to be seen in London….

I was lucky enough to visit this site, which is only occasionally open to the public, with a group of other interested people, and to hear about it from Jane Sidell, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for London. The bathhouse was found in 1848 and fortunately was preserved, at a time when this was not necessarily the usual approach to archaeology! It dates from the 2nd – 3rd century AD. The first building you see is the remains of a large courtyard house, of which only parts of the east and north wings remain. This house was cut into the hill slope and would have had lovely river views, and underfloor heating, a very des res.


In the later Roman period, it seems likely that the house was being used as an inn, and the bathhouse was built in the former courtyard. To enter, you would have gone through a corridor from the house and past the warm and hot rooms to the cold room, where you took your clothes off, which is an unusual layout. The only water was in a small tank in the cold room, there is a model of the bathhouse with a man standing in the tank, but realistically you would have had to scoop water over yourself from it. There could have been lead tanks with more water in them, which would have come from springs in the hill slope, not from the river. The cold room is built of large thin bricks, unlike the more familiar mix of ragstone with brick courses, and it has a plain tessellated floor. You can clearly see the underfloor heating for the warm and hot rooms. Two-foot flagstones survive as part of the hot room floor, these are not often found. In the later Roman period, there would have been no river view any more, as the river shore was fortified.

By the 4th century, there were still people living in the house, but probably camped out in the front part, as pollen evidence showed that the hill slope had slumped into the back of the house. And sometime after the house became derelict, an Anglo Saxon woman walked this way and lost a disc brooch, which is now in the Museum of London.

Jane Sidell also told us about the conservation work which is being done. The basement where the bathhouse is preserved is well ventilated, but gets a lot of traffic fumes from Lower Thames Street, so the whole thing was black when they first began to clean. Now there is still a problem with salts which form on the surface and have to be gently brushed off. It can also get damp, but this seems not too bad at the moment. As well as monitoring these aspects of the site, Jane hopes eventually there will be a walkway providing a view from the north side, from where the site is easier to understand.

The bathhouse is occasionally open to the public, including on Open House weekend in September, and it is well worth going to see if you get a chance.