York’s Roman Baths
Located smack-bang in the centre of York, in the cellar of a rather unassuming pub, lies one of the few Roman remains still visible in the city; the Roman bath house.
Originally built by the ninth legion sometime between 71 AD and 122 AD, the complex would have covered an area of around 200 square metres, although only the caldarium (hot room), a small section of the frigidarium (cold room), and a single plunge pool have since been excavated.
Late in the fourth century AD, the cold room’s plunge pool was filled up with limestone blocks, indicating that the facility had fallen out of use by that time. By the fifth century AD and the Roman withdrawal from Britannia, the remaining sections of the bath house would almost certainly have been in ruins.
Excavations of the bath house first took place in the 1930’s, when the ruins were accidentally stumbled upon during renovations to the pub above. In 1972, excavations on the other side of Swinegate revealed additional stone buildings of Roman date, some standing nearly three metres high. It is thought that these structures marked the other end of the baths.
Above: The Roman Baths aren’t the easiest to find. If you reach this door, you’re in the right place!
Nearby, archaeologists have also discovered a remarkably well-preserved Roman sewage system which would once have carried waste water away from the baths. In the soil that was taken out of the sewage tunnels were all sorts of small objects which were probably lost by people using the baths: small playing counters of glass and bone, gold beads, and engraved gemstones from finger rings.
Interestingly, this bath house is one of two which would have served Roman York. The other is located in the council buildings towards the south west of the city, which – in Roman times – would have sat outside of the city walls. The second bath house is therefore likely to have served the civilian population of Eboracum (the Roman name for York).
Today, the Roman baths are open to the public between 11am and 5pm each day, complete with a small museum. There is a small entrance charge, but this goes to help maintain the museum so it’s for a good cause! The baths are also part of the York Pass scheme.
Above: A floor plan showing which areas of the baths are visible, as well as those which are still to be excavated.