London’s Roman Baths
by Ben Johnson
London’s only (supposedly) Roman Baths can be found just off the Strand in Westminster. Located about a metre and a half under street level, you can just about glimpse a view of the remains through a rather murky window set into a modern office block.
Although no-one is entirely sure whether or not this bath has Roman origins, the current remains are most certainly Tudor. The debate surrounding the Roman heritage of the bath is mainly centred on its location; it’s around one mile east of the city walls of Roman London, and there has been no archaeological evidence to support the claim.
The first suggestion that the baths were of Roman origins came from a number of Victorian writers. In 1878 for example, Walter Thornbury wrote in “Old and New London: Volume 3”
It will thus be seen that passengers along the Strand in the present day are within some fifty or sixty feet of one of the oldest structures in London, one of its few real and genuine remains which date from the era of the Roman occupation of England, and possibly even as far back as the reigns of Titus or Vespasian, if not of Julius Cæsar himself.
Thornbury goes on to quote other writers of the time who also make reference to the baths, including an extract from William Newton’s “London in the olden time”:
…Without doubt a veritable Roman structure, as an inspection of the old walls will prove.
Regardless of its origins, during the bath’s heyday in the 17th and 18th century it was said that 10 tonnes of water was discharged from the spring feeding it every day. The constant change of water gained the bath a reputation for cleanliness, and certainly by the early 19th century it was being used solely as a source of drinking water.
For those interested in visiting this rather peculiar piece of London history, simply head towards the East end of Strand (just before you reach Aldwych) and turn down Strand Lane. On the left there is a small window and accompanying light switch to illuminate the baths.
The baths are also open for visitors every Wednesday afternoon between April and September, but this is by arrangement only. Contact the National Trust for more information.