Future plans for a hidden past.

Spent some time in part of Bath’s dim and distant  past this morning getting an idea of how it could fit into exciting plans for the future.

The old laundry in Swallow Street
The old laundry in Swallow Street

P1060024Having been shown around what used to be the Bath City Laundry – in Swallow Street and York Street – l was taken through an underground tunnel and into excavated areas of the Roman Baths not normally see by the everyday visiting public.

These are disused – or under-used facilities – of great historical significance – that could now be exploited to enlarge the huge educational potential of what is surely one of the UK’s most important heritage sites.

Stephen Bird – who is the Head of Heritage Service for Bath and North East Somerset Council – was the man ensuring l watched my feet or my head in walking through a labyrinth of amazing spaces.

Stephen Bird who is Head of Heritage Services for B&NES
Stephen Bird who is Head of Heritage Services for B&NES

First of all it is hoped the  Grade 11 listed old laundry building could be used to create a proper Learning Centre with two major spaces for teaching sessions and proper  cloakroom and refreshment facilities.

There’s potential here for people of all ages and disciplines – everything from Key Stage 2 through academic studies to the University of the Third Age!

There would also be space for a proper World Heritage Interpretation Centre which would show how the Roman Baths and Georgian architecture come together to afford Bath its UNESCO World Heritage status.

There is also scope to show how these highly-decorated industrial buildings were part of the late Victorian spa that was built over the Roman Baths soon after their discovery.P1060018

The underground tunnels – originally used to circulate thermal waters from the spring in the King’s Bath – would give access into areas of the  Roman Baths not normally opened to the public.

The Laconicum - which could be on permanent display.
The Laconicum – which could be on permanent display.

It is hoped that the project would also allow an improved access for the daytime visitors to the Baths to see the Roman laconicum – a small round treatment room where intense dry heat was utllised.

Pathways would be created through other areas where in-situ remains could be viewed. Heavy duty racking would provide display storage for monumental Roman stonework currently scattered on the floor.

Roman monumental stones 'scattered' on the floor.
Roman monumental stones ‘scattered’ on the floor.

The Council is waiting to hear if the Heritage Lottery Fund will approve a development grant to enable a detailed proposal to be put together which – with Council approval – would be asking for several million pounds in grants from the Lottery Fund to help achieve the ambitions of the proposal.

The arch in York Street.
The arch in York Street.

You will be hearing a lot about the so-called Archway Project in the months to come.

It is named after the ornate 19th century arch across York Street which links the Roman Baths complex with the former laundry.

These buildings were part of the late Victorian spa complex built on either side of the York Street by the City architect Major C E Davis soon after he had excavated the Roman Baths.

The Victorian Spa included a boiler house for re-heating thermal water piped from the King’s Spring through a tunnel beneath York Street.

Once re-heated, the water crossed York Street in a pipe concealed in the arch.