Roman Baths, Strand Lane
Drawing of the Roman Baths on Strand Lane by John Wykeham Archer, 1841.
|Managed by||City of Westminster|
|Address||5 Strand Lane|
|Parking||Paid, on street|
The Roman Baths, Strand Lane is a cold spring-fed plunge bath beneath 5 Strand Lane, in the City of Westminster, off the Strand. The baths have a historical reputation of being Roman in origin. Although Roman London lay 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east, antiquarian finds of a Roman coffin and Roman pottery vessels are recorded on the Greater London Historic Environment Record from this part of the Strand. The visible remains, which lie 4 feet 6 inches (1.4 m) below the modern street level, date from a 17th-century refurbishment.
The first written reference to the bath occurs in a 1784 book by John Pinkerton, describing a "fine antique bath" in the cellar of a house in "Norfolk Street in the Strand formerly belonging to the Earl of Arundel whose house and vast gardens were adjacent [to the site]". In April 1792, antiquarian, collector and MP William Weddell died "from a sudden chill" when bathing there.
Charles Knight wrote in London (1842) of the "Old Roman Spring Bath" at Strand Lane, suggesting that it shared a source with the nearby Holy Well, just north of the site of the church of St Clement Danes. Of the water he noted, "it is clearly natural, and not artificial, and sparkles as clear as crystal". In David Copperfield (1849–50), Charles Dickens speaks of the old Roman Bath "at the bottom of one of the streets out of the Strand", in which Copperfield had many cold plunges.
The baths remained open to the public at the end of the 19th century, when the owner thanked his subscribers for their patronage and announced that:
"The celebrated Cold Plunging Bath (built by the Earl of Essex in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, 1588) is open all the year round. It is known to be the most pure and healthy bath in London ensuring every comfort and convenience to those availing themselves of this luxury. This bath, which is strongly recommended by the Medical Profession, is essentially supplied from the Spring, and discharges at the rate of ten tons per diem. Consequently every bather has the advantage of a continual change of water. The old Roman spring water bath, nearly two thousand years old, can be viewed."
This bath lay to the south of the remains, under what is now the Norfolk Building (formerly the Norfolk Hotel) of King's College London. Since it was also on Arundel land, the tale of construction by the Earls of Essex – whose home in the Tudor period lay further to the east – is fanciful. There is a theory that the baths were built under James I, for use by Anne of Denmark, in 1612. The true origin of the baths is lost in time, but it may be that they were built as cisterns for Arundel House over the spring. They were subsequently lost in the 16th century when the estate was broken up, the area was then built over by row houses, and later rediscovered after a fire in 1774.
The modern Strand follows the course of Akeman Street, a Roman road running parallel to the river, towards Chiswick from Roman London. Later, Strand Lane formed the boundary between the parishes of St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand. The street was thought to originally be the site of a stream leading to the Thames. By the 18th century, this had become a sewer, and today is a narrow alley located next to King's College London, lying behind the former Aldwych tube station. The spring feeding the bath still flows, but only at a rate of 2,000 imperial gallons (9 m3) per day.
The River Thames originally lay at the foot of the street, with a landing point for watermen. In 1865, the Victoria Embankment was constructed, with its sewers and District line railway. The River is now some 50 metres (164 ft) from the foot of Strand Lane and Victorian buildings lie in between.
The baths are administered and maintained by the City of Westminster, on behalf of the National Trust. The baths are open free of charge on Wednesday afternoons from 6 April to 19 October by appointment only. Appointments must be made one week in advance.
The bath measures 15 feet 6 inches (4.72 m) by 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m), and 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m) deep. Its lining is built from bricks measuring 9 inches (22.9 cm) by 3 inches (7.6 cm) and are 1.75 inches (4.4 cm) thick; these measurements are more typical of the Tudor era than Roman.
- City of Westminster notice board, at site
- The area, north of the church, including Holywell Street was redeveloped in the 19th century. It is now occupied by the Royal Courts of Justice, and the modern London School of Economics buildings of Clements Inn.
- The Strand (southern tributaries), Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 63-84. Date accessed: 24 March 2008.
- Dickens, Charles David Copperfield Chapter 35:Depression (London, 1849–50)
- Archaeology: The Romano-British Period, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1: Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, The Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes to 1870, Private Education from Sixteenth Century (1969), pp. 64-74. Date accessed: 29 March 2008.