Buried beneath an unremarkable 1970s office building, Billingsgate Roman House & Baths provides an insight into London’s first inhabitants.
Walk into an old office lobby, descend the stairs and into the remains of another world. The Romans founded Londinium in around AD50, establishing a settlement on the banks of the Thames. Strategically important, Londinium became an important trading town and later the capital of Britannia.
The bathhouse is built in the central courtyard of a winged waterfront house. The house would have been a wealthy person’s home, with riverside views and underfloor heating. Built in the early third century, it was constructed around 50 years after the house.
The Bath House is made from Kentish rag-stone and brick earth tiles. The latter would be made en masse and left to dry in the sun. A few tiles on display have the imprints of cats’ and dogs’ paws as they ran across the drying tiles almost 2,000 years ago.
The Modern-day Golf Course
The Bath House was used for business much like a modern-day golf-course equivalent today. We know the house must have belonged to someone wealthy, perhaps a merchant who could have done his business deals whilst sweating in one of the hot rooms… a fully-intact seat in the Bath House shows that two people would have fitted comfortably.
A Saxon brooch was found on top of a pile of collapsed roof tiles dating from a time when London was thought to be largely uninhabited. Why was someone at the bathhouse? Exploring? Squatting? Simply interested? Did they slip on the rubble and lose their brooch?
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