The Roman Baths

London, United Kingdom

The Roman Baths


The Strand Lane Baths, at 5 Strand Lane, London WC2R 2NA, have been reputed since the 1830s to be a Roman survival. They are in fact the remaining portion of a cistern built in 1612 to feed a fountain in the gardens of the old Somerset House, then a royal place. After a long period of neglect and decay, following the demolition of the fountain, they were brought back into use in the 1770s as a public cold plunge bath, attached to No 33 Surrey Street. The idea that they were Roman probably began some fifty years later as an advertising gimmick, and has aroused both enthusiasm and scepticism ever since.

The Baths’ real fascination lies in the changes of identity that have ensured their survival, from utilitarian infrastructure to publicly protected monument, and from cistern to cold bath to Roman relic. But even if they are not Roman, the fact that so many people have passionately wanted them to be is now as real a part of their history as their actual origins.

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