Roman Bath Strand Lane, WC2
Just off the Strand in a narrow back alley is an ancient curiosity known as the Roman Bath. Entirely hidden by the surrounding buildings and with only a polite little sign to guide the way from Surrey Street, it is hardly surprising that the bath goes unnoticed by most. But anyone inquisitive enough to walk a few steps down the strange lane which leads to the site should find the trip rewarding.
A flight of steps opens on to Strand Lane and turning right you can see the old watch house with its wonderfully grim-looking light. The bath can be found just in front of the watch house arch. It is behind some railings on the right hand side and it can be viewed through a large glass window set at street level.
Despite its historical title, the bath is probably not Roman and there is no archaeological evidence to support the name. Nevertheless, it must be more than three centuries old as it is referred to in documents dating from 1784.
The bath - a plunge bath measuring around 13 ft by 6 ft - is contained in a vaulted room enclosed in red brick and it is believed that its feed water comes from the Holy Well of St Clement, nearby, which was once greatly valued for its spa qualities.
Now looking rather musty and unloved, the bath was in regular use until quite recently. In the last century, Charles Dickens used to bathe here and he mentions it in chapter thirty-five of David Copperfield.
Strand Lane, which is believed to follow the bed of a stream which ran from Drury Lane to the Thames, has been effectively cut off from the hubbub of the Strand and Aldwich due to the expansion of Kings College and what remains of it has a vaguely sinister air. It is said that it was in a house in this neighbourhood that Guy Fawkes and his comrades took the oath of secrecy and received the sacrament before setting out the Gunpowder Plot. Looking around this dark and dingy passage, it is easy to believe.
Copyright © Jan Collie 2002
Published by permission of the author.
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