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Tyne and Wear HER(809): Wallsend, Roman bathhouse - Details

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N Tyneside

Wallsend, Roman bathhouse



Health and Welfare

Bath House


Documentary Evidence

In 1840 John Hodgson published his account of the uncovering of "a very curious cauldron for heating water in... On the outside it was square, and consisted from the foundation to the top of a broad wall, of common ashlar work. Within it was oval", measured 5 ft x 6 ft, and 3 ft deep, and was lined with smooth hard cement, 1 in thick and mixed with brick. Close to the cauldron was a flue. It is possible to read his account to mean that he saw this feature in 1814, during the forming of the gears of Fawdon Staith, a little above the high water mark, and that it was the last fragment of a building most of which had already been removed. It seems unlikely, on grounds of date, appearance and improbable survival, after his observation, that this was the same structure described from second hand information by MacLauchlan, and sited near the Ship Inn at the above grid ref. In 2014 the bathhouse was found again through Wallquest, a Heritage Lottery Fund community archaeology project by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. The bathhouse was found 130m south of the fort on the site of The Ship Inn, which was demolished in 2011. Evaluation on the site found Roman building materials, cement and opus signinum (tiles broken up into small pieces, mixed with mortar then beaten down with a rammer), typical of bath buildings. Open excavation found that the wall foundations and structures survived. All the typical rooms were present - the frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room) and caldarium (hot room). There were two plunge baths and one semi circular bath, which was a later addition. One of the rectangular plunge baths still had its pink waterproof lining and steps down into it. The hot room had pilae to support the raised floor. There were three semi-circular apses, which typically contained a fountain or bath. The western apse featured a stoke hole. The Wallsend bathhouse does not resemble others on Hadrian's Wall (such as Benwell, Bewcastle, Chesters, Carrawburgh and Netherby), which have one narrow and a number of square rooms. In fact the Wallsend example is not paralleled anywhere. It has buttresses on the exterior wall. The projecting apses do not feature in Hadrianic plans. Earlier walls continue to the south. The apses were built on a concrete surface - the basement of a heated room. The bathhouse was once bigger but the Hadrianic plan was reduced in size. An earlier wall was found under the later pilae of the heated room. The reason for the reduction in size was landslip. The land falls steeply into a stream which fed into the River Tyne. The whole building is skewed. There is a huge crack in the cold room wall. The building slipped down the slope and so was rebuilt. In 1998 a reused inscription was found in a building built over the western fort wall. It dates to the late 2nd or early 3rd century. 'BALI[NEUM] ASOL[UM]' (rebuilt from the ground up). It may have have been rebuilt smaller because the military unit based at the fort was smaller by the 3rd century. There have been next to no modern archaeological excavations of baths on Hadrian's Wall. Great Chesters was excavated in the 1890s. There was small scale work at Bewcastle by John Gillam in the 1950s. Small scale unpublished work at Chesters. There was a similar reduction in size at Carrawburgh, which has two apses added and one room becomes a yard. Were extra mural baths given up before Hadrian's Wall was abandoned? Possibly when the vicus was abandoned? Was the bathhouse at Wallsend demolished by the Romans or was it intact until 1814. Nick Hodgson says probably the latter. The demolition fill was mostly cement and flag stones from the floor above. There were no finds to date the smashing in of the walls. At Binchester the baths went out of use before the end of the Roman period and were used for rubbish dumping. Baths closer to the forts, like Chesters, invited re-use. At Chesters and Binchester there were late Roman baths inside the fort walls. Finds from the excav




<< HER 809 >> J. Hodgson, 1840, History of Northumberland, Part 2, Vol. III, p. 171 n. H. MacLauchlan, 1863, Memoir of a Survey of the Roman Wall, p. 7 n. 1 and fig. 4. G.R.B. Spain, ed. 1930, Wallsend Fort Suburbs, Northumberland County History, XIII, 492-3 J.C. Bruce & C.M. Daniels, 1978, Wallsend (Segedunum), Handbook to the Roman Wall, 13th ed. p. 59 P.T. Bidwell, N. Holbrook & M.E. Snape, 1991, The Roman Fort at Wallsend and its Environs, p. 3 no. 4; Notes taken during a lecture by Nick Hodgson (Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums) on Tuesday 17th November 2015 at Newcastle University, ‘WallQuest Community Archaeology and the discovery of the fort baths at Wallsend (Segedunum)’; Tony Henderson, 9 July 2014, Roman Baths Found after 200 year wait, The Journal

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