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Kent Archaeological Review extract

'Isolated' Roman Bath Houses.
by John Parsons.

Researchers into the intriguing problem of "isolated" Roman Bath-buildings in Britain outlined in the CBA. "Romano-British Villas" (Research Report Number 1) may be interested to learn that a further study of the site at Bedens Field near Footscray, Sidcup, Kent, (NGR 51/47957118) has produced the following observations.

It will be seen from the accompanying drawings (Figures 1 and 2) reproduced side by side to the same scale, that the Bedens Field (Kent) Bath-house is parallel in type to that of the extra-mural Military Bath-house of the Roman fort in Prestatyn, North Wales, excavated by Professor Newstead in 1936. Indeed, when comparing the two constructions one feels that the same architect was responsible for the basic plan used in both buildings. Whereas at Prestatyn the military adapted the rough Welsh rock for their building, in Kent the native flint was used in order to produce the same basic structure and, being well bonded in mortar, survived the ensuing centuries.

It appears that the essential features of both Bath-buildings consisted of the following rooms known classically as the Caldarium, Frigidarium, Sudatorium, Tepidarium, and Vasarium. However, in the Bedens Field Bath-building the evidence of an internal toilet also existed, indicating a more refined aspect of the arrangements which has not been discovered in any other Bath-buildings featured elsewhere.

During the partial destruction of the building by bulldozer in 1956 (despite the fact that the writer had reported the existence of the Roman Bath-house to the "Authorities" in 1952), the outlines of the structure could be clearly seen, including the chalk-based construction of the toilet-stand in one of the rooms. The waste-channel was uncovered in the subsequent "Emergency Excavations" which took place under my direction. It was twelve inches wide and some six inches in depth, built of square chalk blocks resting upon a red-tiled base and capped with similar tiles over which the "opus-signinum" flooring of the Bath was laid. Inside the blocked sower-silted channel were found fragments of bead rimmed cooking pot of the first century AD together with a "splinter of samian."

It is from this evidence, and that of a Roman flagon found in the filling of the foundations, that the date of the Bath-building at Bedens Field is allocated to the last quarter of the first century (circa 80 AD).

The Bath-house's consequent life was short, being dismantled during the second half of the second century (circa 180 AD), when the pilae-columns were removed for further use elsewhere. We did, however, find the shadows of these supports still impressed upon the "opus-signinum" flooring.

DRAWING: A plan of the Footscray bath.

A plan of the 'Independant' bath buildings at Footscray and at Prestatyn.

The reason for the short existence of the Bath-building appears to have been due to the nature of the subsoil, namely marshland of the adjoining River Cray. An additional buttress had been built to support the riverside wall of the building but, it appears, to no avail, and so the Bath-house was demolished as a dangerous building in the second century AD, (some dumped domestic rubbish of this date being found under the demolition layer of the Bath-house).

Associated in date with the period of the Bedens Field Bath-building were several chalk-floored structures, each individually enclosed in a rectangular ditched compound measuring 200 feet by 250 feet, stretched in a regular pattern across the whole of Bedens Field. These seem to indicate a fixed allotment of land for the individuals looking after the cattle within the enclosures, as vast quantities of animal bones were encountered when the ditches were sectioned at intervals along their length. Many butchered bones, chopping knives, tethering chains and sheepshears were recovered, and some of these are illustrated here by Mr A C Hart of Orpington Historical Society (see Figure 3).

DRAWING: Some of the objects found at the site the site.

Figure 3. Several of the objects found at the bath building.

The Roman Bath-house was the only stone built structure on the Bedens Field site, and a detailed examination of the entire 35 acre field has shown that no other masonry building existed in the area. It served, it seems, as the centre for the stockmen on the site and was, no doubt, a favourite haunt to which they adjourned after their daily work in the cattle-pens of the Bedens Field "Military Farm." Whether the community at Bedens Field was composed of former Twentieth Legionaries from North Wales is beyond the confines of this article, but it is perhaps a thought for further research as it has been shown in this brief report that the Legionary Fort at Prestatyn, North Wales, and the Roman Settlement near Footscray, Kent, had a great deal in common when it came to Bath-Houses. This evidence can be substantiated when other isolated Roman Bath-Buildings in Britain are compared in detail with the two in question as an examination of the following similar structures will show, together with others at Boughton Monchelsea and Keston in Kent.

Roman "Isolated" Bath-buildings for Comparison.
Site Location Approx. Size References
Little Chart, Kent 15 feet by 25 feet Arch. Cant. (1933), 76; Arch. Cant (1957), 130-146.
Highdown, Sussex 15 feet by 25 feet Sussex Arch. Coll. 80 (1939), 63-88.
Cobham, Surrey 15 feet by 25 feet Surrey Arch. Coll. L (1946), 73-98.
Farnham, Surrey 15 feet by 50 feet Surrey Arch. Coll. LIV (1956), 47-56.
Cheapside, London 20 feet by 50 feet J. Roman Stud. Volume XLVII (1957), 220. Figure 27.
Bedens Field, Kent 20 feet by 50 feet J Roman Stud. Volume XLVII (1957). 224. Figure 29.
Prestatyn, North Wales 25 feet by 50 feet Arch. Cambrensis XCII (Page 2), 208-233, also J. Roman Stud. (1936), 196 and J. Roman Stud. (1937), 223.
Stutfall Castle, Kent 25 feet by 50 feet Invicta Mag. Volume 1. (1909), 105.
Hartlip Villa, Kent 25 feet by 50 feet V.C.H. Kent Volume III. (1932), 117.
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