By Libby Salmon, aged 10 years old
As part of our project to follow British History from the beginning, we decided to visit the Roman baths at Welwyn. We met up with friends there during the half term holiday because the baths are inconsistent in their opening times during term time and we spent a really good afternoon exploring and doing lots of different activities.
The Roman baths at Welwyn are actually under the A1 motorway at its junction with the A1000. We had to go down a little tunnel to get to them – they’re nine metres under the motorway! At first we were a bit surprised by how small it was. I would describe it as a cross between a secret bank vault and a modern swimming pool, complete with echoes, as sounds bounced off hard surfaces.
The centre part is the bath itself, a deep hollow in the ground that had been fenced off so that visitors could look down and see where things would have been. Around the edges sat a walkway, about a metre and a half wide, which has lots of information boards and exhibits. In fact, there is an amazing amount of stuff packed into a relatively small space. Each side of the baths has something different to do and there are audio guides for guests to listen to the baths’ discovery story and then find out more about how they worked; including a walk-through of a visit to the baths in Roman times. Tony Rook, the man responsible for discovering the baths, created the recording.
One of my favourite features was the array of life-size statues, which gave an idea of scale. The first one was a statue of Tony Rook, ordered by his wife Merle. Then when Merle died Tony wanted to remember her so he had another statue made, this time of her. The statues show them as Roman citizens in the baths and they are in the cold room at the far end of the baths, looking lovingly at one another in perpetuity.
The baths are near the river Mimram and were discovered when Tony Rook, a building technologist and archaeology tutor, found some Roman tiles on the banks of the river. He thought there might be more to find and dug deeper, with the help of his wife Merle and a team of volunteers. Between 1960 and 1970 they slowly uncovered four buildings. Everything they found was carefully examined, categorised and stored – they had a time limit because the A1 was being built and would pass right through the middle of the site. The whole complex was called the Dicket Mead Villa, which we believe was occupied by a Roman family for about 150 years, around 2000 years ago.
The Roman baths at Dicket Mead were Turkish style baths, where you went from The Cold Room to The Warm Room and then The Hot Room . Bathers wore wooden soled clogs in The Hot Room, as it was too hot to touch the walls and floor. There are some in the museum, as well as lots of other things that have been found. This included jewellery, strigils (scrapers used to clean your skin) and other trinkets, which were probably astray in the drains and then dug up two thousand years later!
There were so many things to see and do, making it easy to go back again and find out even more. We tried on togas, played Roman games, learned about food, ground some spices and even learned about toilets (including holding a sponge stick, which was used instead of toilet paper). I think the one we held was only a model, thankfully! We also designed some jewellery and saw the model of the baths, as they might have been when in use. It was fascinating and a really good introduction to Roman life for our project.
What other British history would you like to learn about?