Charles E. Davis.

The Excavations of Roman Baths at Bath online

. (page 2 of 3)
Online LibraryCharles E. DavisThe Excavations of Roman Baths at Bath → online text (page 2 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

remembered, was 43ft. by 34ft., or rather 30ft. 6in. from the face of
the pilasters. In other words, the length was equal to the diagonal
of the square of the base. Then, having observed that the base of
the room of the great Roman Bath - formed by the length of Lucas's
Bath - was 68ft., Sutherland assumed that its length also would be
equal to the diagonal of the square of base, namely 96ft. This patent
error, assuming that the unknown would have a relative correspondence
with the known quantities, was the fruitful source of many more. (1)
The dimensions of the outer rectangular area formed by the room of the
great Roman Bath being false, the dimensions of the inner rectangular
area formed by the water surface of the bath were necessarily false
also. (2) Steps were observed at one end only of the water surface of
Lucas's Bath; therefore it was inferred that steps would be found at
one end only of the water surface of the great bath, the eastern end
as figured in the maps of 1763 and 1864, whereas we now know that
steps run all round. (3) The _exedrae_ at the back of the _schola_
having no existence in Lucas's Bath, were omitted from the conjectural
plan of the great Roman Bath. (4) Lucas's Bath being a plain hall
without piers, Sutherland assumed the same form for the hall of the
great Roman Bath, and altogether omitted the arcades that divide
it into three aisles. (5) Not to dwell on other errors built on the
baseless fabric of conjecture, it is evident that Sutherland imagined
a system of baths existed west of the great Roman Bath similar in
all respects to that known to exist east of the great Roman Bath.
But here, again, theory has been upset by facts. And now is a fitting
opportunity to draw attention to what has been actually discovered
west of the great Roman Bath, namely, the octagon Roman Well, which
I should be disposed to consider Major Davis's greatest discovery,
though I observe that hostile critics take no notice of this, possibly
because it is beyond the region of dispute. If any one, able to point
what he reads, still believes that the great Roman Bath was ever
practically opened up in the last century I would refer him to Mr.
Moore's able and suggestive paper, entitled 'Organisms from the
recently discovered Roman Baths in Bath,' read to the members of the
Bath Microscopical Society, in May, 1883. Once more I insist that we
must clearly separate what Sutherland knew from what he conjectured.
Indeed, Sutherland himself fairly draws the distinctions. On page 21
he says, 'This ground plot is exhibited in the plate annexed, as far
as the earth is cleared away. The remainder is supposed, and drawn
out in dotted lines.' These dotted lines represent a vast _terra
incognita_ covering, practically, the whole of the ground recently
opened up. That the existence of the great Roman Bath has been
transferred from the region of conjecture to the region of fact we owe
entirely to the enthusiasm and unwearied zeal of Major Davis, and no
fair mind can deny him the credit of being the practical discoverer of
the great Roman Bath. More credit than this he has never claimed; less
than this only the churlish and envious will grudge him."]

All these fragments I have lately proved to be portions of the great
Roman Bath (_Plates VII. and VIII._), and being within instead of
without that building. The Rev. Prebendary Scarth omits altogether to
figure the southern rectangular _exedra_, found at the same time as
the last named discovery. He also omits the discoveries made in 1809
(?) beneath the houses at the north-western end of York Street. In
1790 very valuable discoveries were made in digging the foundation of
the present Pump Room. Many writers have treated of them and expressed
opinions as to the character of the work and the meaning of the
design, and Mr. Scharf, in _Archæologia_, Vol. XXXVI., has done ample
justice to these most interesting vestiges: They have been described
by Pownall, Lysons, Warner, Collins, Scharf, Tite, and Scarth,
as being portions of a Temple of the usual type, dedicated to Sul
Minerva. Whitaker, in a review of Warner's History of Bath, printed
in the _Anti-Jacobin_, Vol. X., 1801, differs from all these writers,
although believing the remains to be a portion of a temple, and
thought they were a part of a building of the form of "_a rotunda_,"
as the Pantheon. "The _Pantheon_ of Minerva _Medica_, an agnomen very
similar in allusiveness to our prænomen _of Sulinis_, for Minerva is
noticed expressly by Ruius and Victor in their short notes concerning
the structures of Rome, as then standing in the Esquiline quarter. The
form of a Pantheon is made out by the multiplicity of niches,... and
such, we believe, was our own Temple of Minerva at Bath." It would
occupy too much space were I to attempt to add to this paper my views
of this discovery, but I may briefly say, that I am satisfied that
they were not the remains of a Temple, but a portion of the central
Portico and grand Vestibule of the Baths. I have not gone fully into
the reasons that induced Whitaker to believe that the discoveries
showed that the building was a Rotunda, but it is curious that he
should have thought they had a similarity to the Pantheon at Rome,
which antiquaries since his time have proved was not 'built for a
temple, but that it was an entrance hall or vestibule of the Baths of
Agrippa, although it is doubtful if the Rotunda was built at the same
time as the Portico, which was, without doubt, erected B.C. 27.

The grand Roman enclosure of the Hot well (_Pl. VII[12]_) (which I
have lately discovered and excavated, beneath the King's Bath, on the
south of this principal Portico) is again utilised, and forms a tank
for the mineral water, from which are fed the baths and fountains
with water, pure as it rises from "depths unknown," and secured from
any possibility of contamination in its passage, through the newly
discovered water ducts and drains of the Romans.

[Footnote 12: Pl. VII. gives a correct plan of former discoveries
as far as I have been able to ascertain, and these I have made up to
April 19th, 1884.]

In 1871, whilst making some necessary excavation to remedy a leak from
the King's Bath that apparently ran beneath Abbey Passage, I found
that the hot water, that was reached through layers of mud, Roman
tiles, building materials, and mixed soil, was one and the same with
the hot water of the Kingston Bath that then occupied the site of the
Bath called Lucas's Bath, discovered in 1755; and the levels were
the same. I pumped out this water with powerful pumps, emptying by so
doing the Kingston Baths. This enabled me to sink to a depth of 20ft.,
passing in so doing a flight of four steps at the point (A) on the
plan (_Pl. VIII._), to the bottom of a bath which was coated with
lead.[13] Being compelled by the then owner of the Kingston Baths
to discontinue pumping, I was obliged to abandon my work; and having
little hope that I should ever be allowed to recommence it, I removed
a portion of the lead, which proved to be a thickness of about 30lbs.
to the foot, placed on a layer of brick concrete 2in. to 2¼in. thick,
and this again on a layer of freestone 12in., or rather a Roman foot
11-5/8in. in thickness, which was again bedded on rough stonework,
the depth of which I could not ascertain. Fortunately I did not again
fill in the soil, but arched it in, building walls of masonry to keep
it in position. The Corporation having obtained possession of the hot
water supplying the Kingston Baths, I should rather say, the right to
the water that leaked from the King's Springs, I again drained off
the water, maintaining it at a low level by a laborious excavation
and re-construction of the Roman drain which was conducted at great
expense for two or three years. This drain I followed several hundred
feet until it reached the great well previously mentioned, making
various and important discoveries; but, as I have already read a paper
on this subject before the Society of Antiquaries of London, which
will shortly be in the press, I will not repeat it here, but avail
myself of the space allotted me in the Transactions of this Society
for an account of the Great Bath, which I have, in great part, laid
bare, soliciting a pardon if the account is somewhat tedious.

[Footnote 13: The water, on ceasing pumping, rose to a height above
the lead of 7ft. 6in.]

The bath, placed in a great hall 110ft. 4½in. long by 68ft. 5in. wide,
is about 6ft. 8in. deep. The bottom, 73ft. 2in. by 29ft. 6in.[14] is
formed as described in the last page.[15]

[Footnote 14: The dimensions must not be taken to be quite correct in
all cases, as there are discrepancies and inaccuracies in the building
that prevent measurements being always reliable.]

[Footnote 15: This bath is drawn to a large scale in Pl. VIII.]

The lead in sheets (of about 10ft. by 5ft. square) was turned up at
the edges and _burnt_, not soldered together, but these joints are in
many cases now imperfect. This well secured bottom, or floor, appears
to have been placed in position, rather to keep the hot water from
ascending into the bath from the springs beneath than to make the
bath water-tight. Enclosing the bath all round the four sides are six
steps, the sixth landing the bather on the _Schola_, or platform. The
riser of the bottom steps varies in depth from 15in. to 11in., with a
tread of 14in., the next riser is 14in. with a tread of 11in., as also
is the next step and the one following. The step above has a rise of
12in., and a tread of 14in. This step was scarcely covered with water,
but it is evident the water flowed over it when bathers agitated it.
The riser or the step above, 10in. to 12in., completes the flight and
helped to keep the water within proper bounds, giving a total depth of
6ft. 8in. to the bath, and from 5ft. 9in. to 5ft. 11in. for the water.
These steps are quite devoid of lead (except, in places, the riser
of the lower step and at the north-west corner), and it is not clear
whether they had at any time such a covering, although I am inclined
to think so, as it evidently went beneath the piers and under the
central pedestal. At the bottom step, in the north-east corner, was a
bronze sluice. The frame of this sluice, with an opening of 13in. by
12in., I found in position when I excavated my way up the drain, but
I was obliged to remove it in order to force my way into the bath. It
has not been replaced, but is preserved in the Pump Room, and weighs
more than 1 cwt. 2 qrs. An overflow was provided, immediately above
the hatchway, by a grating 15in. wide that was doubtless of bronze
also, but it had been removed, the stud-holes in the stones alone
remaining.[16] The extreme surface of the water measured 82ft. 10in.
by 40ft. 11in. and was a parallelogram, except that the north-western
angle was cut off by the steps being carried obliquely in three tiers
from the bottom a length of 7ft. at an angle of 39° with the western
end. Resting on the platform, formed by these three steps, is a
quarter circle pedestal,[17] on which stands a large stone 6ft. 8in.
long and 9in. thick, over-hanging its base, and presenting a concave
line towards the bath with an _ovolo_ section in its thickness. This
stone spans a large channel 2ft. 3in. wide, within which is fitted a
very thick lead pipe, gradually narrowed _horizontally_ and turned
up under the _ovolo_ concave stone. Through this aperture the mineral
water was thrown into the bath in a sort of spray, so that it might be
cooled in its passage. A deposit from the water is incrusted over the
stone and pipe several inches in thickness, until the petrification
entirely stopped the flow of water, which was then compelled to flow
_over_ instead of under the stone.[18] The water was conducted a
distance of 38ft. in the thickness of the lower pavement (which I
shall presently describe) of the _Schola_, the stone being removed a
width of 2ft., the bed being concreted. On this was laid a lead pipe
which filled the whole orifice, but, unfortunately, a length of 25ft.
of it has been removed. This conduit takes a diagonal direction, and
leads direct to the north-west angle of the hall, turning beneath a
large doorway in the western wall, when it again resumes its original
direction (the pipe, where perfect, is 1ft. 9in. by 7in. deep), as far
as the outer surface of the wall of the octagon well. At this point
the wall of the well is not original work, and the pipe is cut off.
I have no doubt that it was at one time carried up vertically until
it reached the level of the surface of the water of the well, which
was about 2ft. 6in. higher at the least, thus giving a sufficient
elevation to the "spray" into the bath. Another bronze hatchway, which
must have been here, has been stolen in mediaeval times, its having
been less than 2ft. below the bottom of the King's Bath making it
accessible, whilst the 25ft. length of the lead pipe beneath the
_schola_ must have been stolen much earlier, and in all probability on
the destruction of the baths in the sixth century. In addition to the
arrangement for the supply of mineral water to the baths, which must
have been capable of affording a flow of water, very nearly, if not
exceeding, the yield of the spring, there was also another, which I
have every reason to think was for the delivery of cold water, and
conveyed in a lead tubular pipe of 2¼in. in diameter. A length of
25ft. 6in. of this pipe, in its original position, has been found and
laid bare. It is made with a roll along the top, and burnt, as was
usual before the invention of "drawn pipes." This pipe is particularly
interesting as there are also in it two soldered joints at intervals
of 9ft. in the method of making which we have clearly not improved
on the work of our Roman predecessors. This pipe starts from the same
point in the north-west angle of the hall as the other supply, and is
sunk in the lower pavement of the _schola_, which (wanting the pipe)
is continued to the centre of the north side of the bath, where
stands a stone pedestal 3ft. 3in. long, 1ft. 6in. wide, and 2ft. 6in.
high. This pedestal has small vertical rails, or balusters, at the
angles and on the shorter sides, and that towards the bath has some
appearance of having once had a tablet of either bronze or marble
inserted in it. At the top is a circular hole 3½in. in diameter,
through which the pipe previously mentioned must have passed. The
upper portion of this pedestal is sculptured, and much mutilated, and
appears to me to be the drapery covering the feet of a figure that has
perished. It is true that the work bears some resemblance to a small
recumbent figure; but if so it is not worthy of the name of sculpture,
as it is in the worst taste, and altogether out of keeping with the
architecture or the other sculpture we have found.[19] There are
several grooves in the _schola_ for branches of this pipe: 1st. The
continuation of it to the northern semi-circular bath of 1755. 2nd.
From the first soldered joint to baths on the north of the Great Bath.
3rd. Along the western end of the latter to baths on the south, and
along the _schola_ to the south circular bath of Lucas's. Beneath the
mutilated sculpture is a second pedestal, or plinth, perfectly plain,
with the upper surface sunk to a level corresponding with a similar
indentation on the third step. Within this must have stood a marble on
bronze sarcophagus, the base of which was 6ft. 9in. long by 2ft. 5in.
wide. The water flowing through the aperture previously described
would run into the sarcophagus (I use the word in its modern sense)
and from it into the bath. This water was not poured in sufficient
volume to perceptibly cool the bath, but was provided for the
thirst of the bathers. In the modern baths of Bath there is no such

[Footnote 16: The construction of the steps to the baths deserves
remark (some of the stones being 10ft. long). The depth of the riser
to the steps that were beneath the water is unusually deep, and the
treads narrow. This is compensated by the increased buoyancy of a
human body when immersed, or partially immersed, in water. The steps
have, on the contrary, a shallower rise and a wider tread when they
approach the top. The next notable point is the formation of the tread
of the upper flooded step. This is grooved by a somewhat circular
sinking, from 4 to 5in. wide, immediately against the riser of the
topmost step. Everyone frequenting a public bath must have noticed the
dashing of the water against the wall or upper step, and the nuisance
created from the breaking of the water against it. The grooving would
remedy, I believe, this annoyance, as the little waves of water would
be made to take a curved form before reaching the step; consequently
the water would fall back into the bath instead of dashing over the
surrounding platform. And in the ends of every upper step but one, and
on the steps lower down, have been square sockets, cut in the stone
and filled up again with pieces of stone. These mark the position of
balusters to a hand-rail for the use of bathers that were removed some
time previous to the abandonment of the baths, and the stones were
inserted. These hand-rails were doubtless of bronze, and therefore of

[Footnote 17: A statue of some size doubtless stood on this pedestal.]

[Footnote 18: This deposit must, from the thickness, have taken
several years to form, and the fact of its being of precisely the
same character as the present deposit from the mineral spring is an
evidence of the unchanging nature of the water.]

[Footnote 19: With reference to the sculpture, one piece, of debased
character, has been found - a Minerva with a breast-plate, helmet, and
shield in _alto relievo_ within a niche.]

The hall enclosing the bath I have already spoken of as 110ft. 4½in.
long by 68ft. 5in. wide. It has been completely thrown open since
this paper was read at the British and Gloucestershire Archæological
Society, in 1884. These excavations are open to the sky, excepting on
the east end (over which Abbey Street, at a height of 23ft. is carried
on a viaduct, which I have erected).[20] The platform, or _schola_,
surrounding the bath (measuring the original surface of the upper
floor) is 13ft. 9in. wide on the four sides. This platform was formed
by a layer of large freestone 9in. to 10in. thick, laid on the level
of the top step but one, on a solid bed of concrete. Above this was
another layer of concrete, and possibly on this, when the baths were
first erected, a mosaic of tesseræ; but that, if it ever was there,
has all disappeared, and its place has been supplied with paving,
mostly of freestone also, of inferior thickness to the lower paving.
Very little of this remains, and what there is is much fractured and
worn; indeed not only is this paving much worn, but the lower paving
also where the traffic was the greatest. I have given in the plan
(_Pl. VIII._) almost every detail of these floors, and shall speak
of them again further on. The general appearance of the place is
symmetrical, but there are remarkable variations and inaccuracies
that point to the fact that the juxta-position of this bath with
other buildings, of which we have at present no knowledge, must have
rendered these variations necessary, ultimately interfering with the
completion, architecturally, of the building.

[Footnote 20: The house over the bath having been purchased by
the Corporation, the Antiquities Committee (of which Mr. Murch was
chairman) with a liberal subscription from the Society of Antiquaries,
the Duke of Cleveland, and many noblemen and gentlemen of Bath and the
neighbourhood, bore the expense of the removal of the soil from the
bath and the general opening out of the rains, the arches beneath the
Poor Law Office and the Viaduct supporting Abbey Street.]

On either side, north and south, are three recesses, or _exedrae_,
two of which are circular and one (the centre) rectangular. The south
rectangular one is 17ft. wide by 7ft. deep; the north one is nearly
a foot wider, and one foot less in depth. Greater variations exist
in the circular recesses; for, commencing in the western one, on the
south side, the width is 17ft. 3in., and the depth 7ft. 6in.; the
eastern one is 14ft. 3in. wide, and 6ft. 9in. deep; the _exedrae
vis-a-vis_ on the north is 17ft. 3in. wide, and 8ft. 4in. deep; the
remaining one, to the west, is 17ft. wide, and 7ft. deep. I give these
dimensions irrespective entirely of the pilasters which are attached
to the walls on either side the reveil of the recesses, and in the
rectangular recesses in the enclosing angles also. Piers are now
standing on the margin of the bath, dividing the north and south
sides each into seven bays. These piers are built with solid block
freestone, but as there are continuous vertical joints on either side
of the central division of each pier, it is clear that an alteration
was made in the design either previous to its entire completion or

I will endeavour to describe the bath as originally designed. Along
the margin of the bath, north and south, stood six piers, equally
divided (about 14ft. apart), as far as the length of the bath, but
allowing a lesser distance from the attached pilaster at either end.
These piers are cut out of a block (in plan, 2ft. 10½in. from east to
west by 2ft. 8in. from north to south), so as to form a pilaster of
three inches projection on either face. As the original pilasters on
the north and south walls do not correspond with these piers, I am led
to conclude that the _schola_ and _exedrae_, north and south, were
not vaulted at first, and were the only portion of the hall that was
roofed, and that the roof was only of timber, supported by an arcade,
the arches not exceeding 17ft. in height, and that the eaves of the
roof of about 22ft. in height dipped towards the bath. This was a
very usual arrangement in the _Atrium_ of a Roman house with the
_impluvium_ in the centre. A _crypto porticus_ would thus be formed
on the two longer sides of the bath, but the _schola_ on the east
and west ends was open to the sky. Practical experience, either on
the completion of this plan, or previously to its entire execution,
led to its abandonment. At any rate a roof over the whole was found
essential to the comforts of the bathers. The piers were accordingly
strengthened. Pilasters were erected, projecting 2ft. 9m. into the
bath, with smaller pilasters on the other side projecting on the
_schola_, 1ft. 4in. by 1ft. 11in. wide; and _vis-a-vis_ to these
pilasters corresponding ones were affixed to the side walls.
Unfortunately this brought into prominence the irregularity of the
size and position of the _exedrae_, and the pilasters were affixed
correctly with reference to the arcade, as was absolutely necessary,
but more or less trespassing on the width of the opening of these
recesses, and notched into the original pilasters.

None of the piers, or pilasters, at present exist to a height
exceeding 6ft. to 7ft. The base is a rude form of the Attic base;
and we have found several fragments of the capital, or impost, of the
smaller pilasters, from, which the arches sprang, but I have not been
so fortunate as to recognise any of the larger capitals, and but few
fragments of the cornices, and but one piece that I can identify as
the frieze 1ft. 6in. deep by 2ft. 4in. long, on which are 5 incised
letters 6¼in. long S SIL. The _schola_ was then arched in north and
south, and the bath spanned by an arch. The vaulting that spanned the
side arcades, and the centre (where the abutment was not sufficient
for arches formed in the ordinary way of tiles or stone), were built
of brick boxes, open at the sides, and wedge-shaped, 1ft. long, 4¾in.
thick, and 7¾in. wide at the wider end, set in the usual mortar, a
greater or less number of rings of these boxes being used according to
the span. These arches were made out by an extra quantity of concrete
on the under side for decoration, and on the upper in the case of the
great arch, so as to form a roof, the well-known roll and flat Italian
tiles being embedded in the mortar. Many and large fragments of
this roof were found lying on the deposit that had partially filled
the ruins previous to the fall of the roof, and are still carefully
preserved. A large fragment, 18ft. long by about 3ft. wide, and 1ft.
9in. thick, that has slipped down, as it were, from the western end,
in the position in which it was discovered, was formed of solid tiles,
with an arch of tiles 1ft. 8in. long,[21] the roof having sufficient


Online LibraryCharles E. DavisThe Excavations of Roman Baths at Bath → online text (page 2 of 3)