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.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A Picture is worth 1,000 Words

When I first started my Job as a Curatorial Apprentice at the Roman Baths, what I looked forward to the most was being introduced to new things and to learn new skills. What I never expected to happen was a skill that I already possessed to be put to use in this profession; Drawing.

Georgian Man for 4 Circus

During my earliest weeks of employment, my Artistic skills were only brought up during my original interview, and not until July was it put to use when I was asked to draw images needed for the Englishcombe Event.

Victorian Man for 4 Circus

Since then?

Now whenever we need illustrations for upcoming events, everyone in the office is looking at me. Although not the typical images I’m used to drawing, it’s been a fun and interesting experience to try sketching new things; Victorian Tiles, Medieval Peasants, and the Bath Token used as a watermarked image of a display on tokens now put up in the museum’s Sun Lounge. And that’s just naming a few.

Reconstructed Fortified Settlement

It gives me a mixed feeling of amazement and satisfaction to see my own drawings laid out on tourist display boards and information leaflets. Sometimes I look at them and think they look too professional to have been the pen doodles done by my hand.

Reconstructed Burial Mound

Needless to say, I got more than I bargained for during my time here; I’m not just a Curatorial Apprentice, but now a Resident Artist too. People looking for work can come to so many conclusions on whether their personal talents can find a place in different professions. If they have the same luck as me, they may be surprised.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A Token of Affection for Bath

Joanna and I (mostly Joanna) have been working on a display for down in the Pump Room’s Sun Lounge, which is now on display. The display features Georgian tokens that were minted in Bath and have images of local architecture.

Working on this project has really given me a greater appreciation for Bath and allowed me to explore the diverse nature of the local architecture which may, at times, seems so uniform and homogeneous. This project has exposed me to Bath’s more recent history and the affect it has had in building survival and use. Being from Canada it is quite shocking and intriguing to see images of local buildings that were hit during the Blitz, particularly ones that have since been restored.

Archive Photo of Bath

I’m hoping to get the chance to go and visit the buildings that appear on our tokens in person, or those that have survived anyways. I think it will be nice to take some pictures of them as they stand now, or perhaps what stands in their place.

As Joanna has already shown you some sneak peaks of the display I can't do that, but I can show you some interesting historic images of architecture in Bath that we ran across while searching the digital image archives for pictures for the display. I hope you enjoy.

Archive Photo of Historic View of Bath

Are there any particular buildings in Bath that you would be interested in seeing historic images of? Which buildings are your favourites?

Katrina Elizabeth

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Copper Credit

This display can be assembled by even the newest museum staff members, including students on placements and internships.


19 Georgian tokens
7 Georgian pence
1 Georgian £1 bank note
1 Georgian map of Bath courtesy of the Record Office
3 images of Georgian buildings courtesy of the Victoria Art Gallery
1 drawing of token by Artist in Residence, James
1 replica pocket
2 magnifying glasses
1 writing tool
1 writing tablet
1 stamp
1 brooch
1 ring
1 button hook
1 pin cushion
1 thimble
1 ball of string in a red container
7 thread winders
1 spool of thread
80 small nails
silica gel

A pocket overfollowing with many of the 'ingredients'.

1. Coat window glass with UV film, spread silica gel in base compartment and line case with non-reactive fabric.
2. Research Georgian tokens for 1- 1 1/2 weeks
3. Condense research into labels. Set excess information aside.
4. Put text, map, images, drawing by Resident Artist*, into computer and mix until aesthetically appealing.
5. Send graphics mixture to printers, wait 3-5 business days and transfer to display case.
6. Archive excess information for future projects.
7. Add tokens, pence, bank note, pocket and other remaining ingredients to display case. Mix until aesthetically appealing while remaining up to conservation standards.
8. Enjoy

Serves over 800,000 people per year.

Completed Display

*Our Resident Artist, among many other important things, is James, who you will be meeting soon.


Monday, 13 September 2010

So why do people come to the Roman Baths? - Guest Blogger - Part 2

Let's return to the question of people’s continued fascination with the baths. (For Part 1 please see the preceding post from Thursday, September 9th.)

The baths of a hundred years ago are barely recognizable today, which may seem an odd thing to say about a seemingly unchanging ancient monument. Indeed there is only really one part of the site that still looks the same, and that is the Great Bath itself. Much of what visitors see today on the rest of the site has been uncovered in the last hundred years; the East Baths in the 1920s, the West Baths in the 1970s and the Temple Precinct in the 1980s. The astonishing finds from the hot Spring were only excavated in 1980.

Finds from the Spring excavated in 1979/80.

It’s not just the baths that have changed. The interpretation of some of the key objects on the site has also changed. The great stone head on the Temple pediment, and indeed the iconography of the whole of that pediment, has been re-interpreted several times. Perhaps that’s part of the public fascination with this site; the fact that the evidence can sustain more than one interpretation, that there is scope for imagination and debate in the meaning of what you see. In 1935 that fascination led Dr Franzero, the Italian Ambassador, in writing a book on Roman Britain (which he dedicated to Benito Mussolini) to describe the pediment as ‘the most peculiar and the most complete specimen of Romano-British art’.

The Temple Pediment as it appears today.

There is no doubt that the setting of the Great Bath is something that has to be seen. It should be on everyone’s list of those things you do before you die. But today it makes far more sense than it did to those visitors a hundred years ago. You can now see more of the baths and Temple complex of which it formed a part, and through guided tours, audio tours in eight languages, costumed interpreters, a fantastic museum collection, models, film projections and even a sign language tour, you can gain an insight into the lives and minds of the people who built and maintained it. We’ve set out some ideas to start you thinking as you go around the site interspersed with observations, comments and explanations from Bill Bryson, Alice Roberts and our own staff. I’m sure you will have ideas of your own, and one thing we can be pretty sure about is that some of the best ideas about this site are still to come.

So my theory is that the rise in visitor numbers we have seen at the Roman Baths in the last few years is down to the fact that people can now understand it better, and because it’s such a great place they tell other people about it. In the language of the professional marketeers they have come ‘through word of mouth’…… tell your friends, or better still bring them with you.

Stephen Clews

Roman Baths & Pump Room Manager

Thursday, 9 September 2010

So why do people come to the Roman Baths? - Guest Blogger - Part 1

This year more people are visiting the Roman Baths; visitor numbers like this haven’t been seen since the end of the 20th century.

In the world of museums and attractions there are plenty of pundits who can proffer an explanation for a change in visiting patterns and you can take your pick from macro-economic circumstances, cultural trends and ‘local factors’ or some proportional permutation of them. Personally I’d like to think it’s something to do with the investment we have made in the last four years in conservation, better access and improved interpretation at the site, but in this strange world where science and speculation meet, any reason can have some weight and some reasons must be right. If only we knew which ones!

Since its discovery in the 1870s visitors, or at least the prospect of visitors, have been the reason why the Roman Baths were uncovered, developed and indeed continue to exist. Visitor's interest and the money they bring have sustained the site now for well over a century. Without visitors the site would have little purpose and it would have no money for conservation and maintenance either. It would become a forgotten and ruinous ruin.

The Great Bath in the 1890's

So what has sustained the interest of visitors for so long? We don’t really know why people visited a hundred years ago. Nearly all our evidence is circumstantial. The baths then were another new attraction in Britain’s leading spa city. Many people were here to enjoy a spa holiday or take a medical treatment. We know that the discovery of the baths had roused national interest and indeed it’s uncovering and care had generated some controversy too. Although the population was smaller, there were probably more people then with some classical education, having learnt Latin or Greek at school, than there are today.

So many people in Britain had heard of the Roman Baths and some of those visitors may have come to Bath specifically to see the Roman Baths; but back in that age of the train when motor cars were curios longer distance travel was still not particularly easy and those visitors were probably in a minority.

I think I’ll leave the matter here for now. This is a mystery that cannot be solved in one post. Check back on Monday (following post) for Part 2 and feel free to give suggestions about why the Victorians may have visited the site in the comments.

Stephen Clews

Roman Baths & Pump Room Manager

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Word Nerds

Working at a museum will certainly expand your vocabulary into realms you didn’t even know existed. You will shortly find that your newly acquired vocabulary is of very little use in the outside world. Trying to slip the quirky, specialist words into everyday conversation is more likely to result in raised eyebrows than elevated opinions.

Furrowed brows cause wrinkles. So, in the interest of helping you keep that lovely face of yours, I present my favourite museumy words;

Philately, n. Stamp collecting

Numismatic, adj. Of or relating to the study of coins and medals

Last uttered: Probably in the 1930s but both terms really belong more to the nineteenth century.

Lately I’ve been pouring over the pages of a number of books, including The First Dictionary of Paranumismatica by Brian Edge (or as I refer to it, A Guide to Coin-ish Things), trying to sort out some Georgian tokens which I hope to put on display in the Sun Lounge.

Some of the Georgian Tokens in our Collection

So far I’ve discovered that the tokens were minted by shop keepers and industrialists as a response to the shortage of government issued small change between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The wealthy land owners and merchant that generally made up parliament were satisfied with the official gold and silver coins they used on a daily basis and had no need for small change. The government basically ignored the coinage problem because they felt it had little to do with them.

With the rise of urbanisation and industrialisation, the demand for small change grew and eventually the government was forced to take action. In 1817, the Act of Suppression made the copper tokens illegal and official regal shillings and sixpence were issued to replace them.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

My Time Team Discovery

I was digging through the archive records and stumbled upon an entry for the ‘Time Team Dig archives and finds,’ from 2002. The entry contains a description which reads, ‘Dig to find ‘missing’ parts of Fosse Way at St Andrews Church, Julian Road and Crescent lawns.’

The Time Team episode associated with this archive entry is entitled ‘Death in a Crescent’ and according to the Time Team website on Channel 4¹ it aired on 16th February 2003. The material from the dig was accessioned on 3rd September 2002 which shows you how far in advance they film these programs to have good weather and allowing the television making process to do its work before the episodes make it to TV screens.

Time Team describes their excavations as taking place at the Royal Crescent in Bath, with a Roman cemetery ‘round the back' of the Crescent and the Fosse Way ‘at the front’¹ in the lawns of the Royal Victoria Park.² The Time Team Diggers were in search of archaeological evidence relating to parch marks in the Royal Victoria Park and for archaeology associated with the Victorian discovery of a Roman sarcophagus behind the Royal Crescent.¹ Parch marks are areas of grass where the growth is effected by the presence of buried archaeology. As per usual, things didn’t go exactly as planned on Time Team and things weren’t exactly where they expected them to be.²

The episode can still be seen on Channel 4 On Demand (4oD

I took the opportunity to look through the material archives and in the object stores and found the boxes and material from the Time Team dig.

The Paper Archive Record Books

There are always neat things to be discovered while searching through the archives. I bet you didn’t know that the Roman Baths are associated with most archaeological activity in the area and are the repository for artefacts from and materials relating to archaeological excavations in the local area. The stores and archives here are full of fascinating material and much of it is not Roman or associated with the Baths. Outside of the Roman Period I think my favourite time period is either the Anglo-Saxon or Georgian Period. I just can’t decide. What is your favourite period in England outside of the Roman Period?


Katrina Elizabeth

Monday, 6 September 2010

Public Programmes at the Roman Baths

If you’ve visited the Roman Baths anytime in these past ten years, and managed to drag your eyes away from the Great Bath long enough to look up - you may have seen a big, arching window. If you were there at the right time, there might have been wide-eyed kids looking back at you. That’s our Education Room.

An Inside View of the Education Room (We're usually much busier!)

Now, seeing as how we’re posting this blog at the end of the summer, you might be wondering - ‘what the heck are they doing writing about volunteering in education now? School’s not in session!’ This is very true. However, as Mark Twain once said, ‘you should never let school get in the way of your education.’

Throughout the summer, we ran loads of hands-on Roman events in our Education Room. Visitors got to hold real Roman tesserae (mosaic stones), count out replica Roman coins, pick up Roman tiles and bricks, smell and touch Roman cooking ingredients, and make their own Votive offerings to give to the goddess of healing, Sulis Minerva.

I think that the best part about the Roman Baths is that they are real. You get to stand where Romans stood, touch things they made, and really picture what it was like in your head a bit. Being encouraged to explore using all your senses? It’s magic.

One of the biggest things we try to do with our public programme is to get you, the visitor, to put yourself in that place a little more. The more personal you let it be, the more it means to you.

Next time you’re in a museum (any museum, not just ours) try focusing on one object. Think about what it would have sounded like or what it would have smelled like. If you can’t touch it, imagine what the texture would have felt like, or how warm it would be next to your skin. Just experience it!


Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Strigil Ran Away with the Spoon

Of all the things you could possibly find in the remains of a Roman Bath, you’d certainly expect to find a strigil. Strigils are metal scrapers used to remove oil, which is used like soap.

Strigil and Oil Container

Having a bath could take a whole afternoon in Roman times. Can you imagine how much your skin would prune up if you spend half the day sitting in a tub of water?

Thankfully the Romans didn’t use much water. The tepidarium and the caldarium both had water in them, but you could also sit around the sides. The caldarium would have been hotter than the tepidarium.

Next it’s on to the dry sauna, the laconium, and then off for a massage. Here’s where the strigil comes in. After their massages bathers would have the oil scraped off their bodies before going back into the baths in reverse- hottest room to coolest room.

They finished off the afternoon with a dip in a cold pool of water.

Considering strigils would have been used everyday and considering all the excavation work that’s gone on around the baths, it’s surprising that we’ve never found a Roman strigil on site.

I wonder where they all went? Did they rust away?

Perhaps they’ve run off to the same place as the socks go to when they escape from the dryer. You always swear you put a pair into the washer but only one comes out in the end.


Sulis Minerva

Aquae Sulis, the Roman name for Bath translates as ‘the waters of Sulis.’

Sulis Minerva was a blending of Sulis, a local Celtic goddess associated with the springs, and Minerva, the Roman goddess often identified with the Greek Athena. Roman’s often combined their deities with local ones that had similar characteristics or myths. This was done in part to merge the two religions and two communities. By seeing the incorporation and acceptance of their own local cults into the Roman’s religion rather than seeing their replacement or destruction the conquered peoples were more likely to accept their conquerors and other aspects of the new culture that came with them.

Minerva was originally an Etruscan goddess, Minvre, associated with household arts and crafts, but under the Roman republic she quickly became associated with the Greek Athena and took on many of her characteristics. Athena was a goddess of crafts and skills, but was also the goddess of wisdom, intelligence, strategy and war. She was one of the twelve Olympian gods and was born fully formed from Zeus’ head after Hephaestus treated Zeus for a headache by hitting him with an axe (do not try this at home, I promise you a fully formed goddess will not be the result). Athena’s symbolic animal was the owl, which represented wisdom. As Minerva was merged with Sulis it seems likely that Sulis shared the associated traits of wisdom, curative powers, and martial prowess.

Cult Statue Head of Sulis Minerva

The head of Sulis Minerva that is part of the collections here at the Roman Baths was once crowned with a Corinthian helmet and was probably the cult statue in a temple dedicated to Sulis Minerva. Although the head does not say the name Sulis Minerva on it anywhere we know it must be of her because of many of its characteristics including its beauty, location, the fact that it was wearing a helmet, its likeness to other known statues, and the fact that it was re-gilded six times. Gilt bronze statues like this are very rare and reflect the importance of the deity and the wealth of the temple in which she was displayed. The head displays evidence of intentional destruction. It is thought that raiders or another religious group destroyed the statue in late Roman times. The statue head was found under a nearby street, just a few metres from where it is now displayed, when a sewer trench was dug in 1727.

Did you know that the name Sulis only appears in and around Bath?
This is due to the fact that Celtic deities like Sulis were commonly place associated deities.

Katrina Elizabeth