The missing bath house thought to be located underneath an old pub has finally been discovered after many years of wondering.
Organisers of the WallQuest project have had the knowledge that a Roman bath house was located outside the walls of Segedunum Roman Fort for a number of years. The only clue they had towards solving the mystery was that it was thought to located close to the grounds of what used to be a pub.
After some time and a lot of effort, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums were finally convinced by a group of volunteers and begun to dig at the suspected site.
“We dug some trial trenches at the end of May and we were pretty sure from what we found there that we were on the site,” says Nick Hodgson, the Project Manager.
“We enlarged the site and began to find traces of wall lines and so on, which confirmed that we were on the site of a major Roman building.
“We’ve seen enough of the remains now to be 100 percent certain that we have the site of the fort bath house.
“In particular, we’ve got a Roman cement-lined cold plunged bath, which absolutely puts the tin lid on it.
“We’ve only got a tiny fragment of it exposed at the moment – because of where it is we might never get the whole of it exposed – but it looks to be in good condition.”
According to research, the baths would have been used by both soldiers and civilians but it still remains unclear as to whether men and women would have bathed together.
“It was simply one of those longstanding mysteries. There is this reference in literature, an account of the discovery of a building that sounded very like the fort baths in 1814, when a coal wagon way was being constructed – the wooden supports were being put in to lead down to the river.
“There is a rather unhelpful description of it which doesn’t exactly describe it as baths but makes it sound like them to the trained eye. But of course it doesn’t say exactly where it was.
“The description made it sound as if it should be in the vicinity of the old Ship in the Hole, so when that was demolished and the site became available it obviously became a focus of interest.”
Hodgson added that residents have played a crucial role during the search.
“Local people have driven it,” he explains. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the volunteers – it shows what can be found out by mobilising the local community.
“We get people coming along who’ve just seen archaeology digs on the television and they want to give it a go.
“We’ve got people who worked in the shipyard and that sort of thing – they’re just fascinated that these Roman baths have come to light immediately next to where they used to work.
One onlooker with memories was the Director of the museums group, Iain Watson.
“Twenty-eight years ago, when I worked in Wallsend, I occasionally had a sandwich at lunchtime in the Ship in the Hole,” he recalls.
“Little did I think I was sitting on top of a Roman bath house.
“When we ask ‘what did the Romans ever do for us?’, one of the first things we come up with is the introduction of baths and central heating.
“The bath house really was a central part of Roman society, both civil and military. This is a fantastic find, particularly given the coincidence that it is 200 years since the remains of the baths were last seen.”
A full excavation of the site is not set to commence immediately, but the volunteers involved will surely be busy above ground this summer.
“The odds of actually hitting it first time are pretty remote. It’s very gratifying that we hit it at the first attempt,” says Hodgson.
“I think we’re very lucky, really, when you think we could have easily put our trial trenches in and just missed it.
“This is the first dig we’ve done at Wallsend and it’s hit the jackpot straight away.”
Contributing Source: Culture24
Header Image Source: WikiPedia