Roman healing centre at Keynsham?

Could Bath have had a nearby Roman rival when it came to rest and recuperation. Keynsham may not have ‘magical’ thermal waters but it seems the Roman remains underneath Keynsham Cemetery could be “one of the most important buildings ever found in Britain”, according to archaeologist Bryn Walters.

The following is a report from the on-line newspaper ‘The Keynsham Voice’ – -which l have been allowed to quote in full.

“Mr Walters, who is director of the Association of Roman Archaeology (ARA), is challenging the long-held belief that the Durley Hill building was a private villa and suggests it was instead a healing centre visited by hundreds of people.

Excavations at the cemetery by volunteers from Bath and Camerton Archaeological Association (Bacas) in July last year appear to support his theory and now, Mr Walters told members of Keynsham Town Council last month, he hopes to be able to get permission carry out more work at the site.

keynsham cemetery
The excavation. the ashlar block wall on the left and the presumed blocking with large stones on the right. © Antony Beeson

A Victorian wall, a number of conifers, building materials and timber at the base of the road embankment would need to be removed to get better access to the ruins that were partially explored in 2015’s dig, he said.

There were similarities between Keynsham’s remains and those of the Roman temples at Lydney and Nettleton in Wiltshire, he explained, with no sign of living quarters at Durley Hill and instead what could be a series of small baths or “slumber rooms”.

A set of very worn steps also suggested it was a place visited by hundreds of people, and not a private residence.

keynsham cemetery
The ashlar block wall built over upright foundation slabs on the left. Presumed rough blocking appears at the left. © Anthony Beeson

A healing sanctuary at the site could have been the stimulus for building Trajectus, the Roman town believed to lie underneath the Somerdale site, he said.

“There were three terraces down the hillside, it was designed to be seen at a long distance, glowing on the hillside when viewed from Trajectus. Look across at dawn and that building would be gleaming on the hill, which suggests it’s not private, but public.”

He added: “We need to gain more accurate and detailed archaeological information from within the cemetery to get new evidence and a better understanding of what this building was all about,” he said.
ARA has funding to carry out a geophysical survey of the field to the south of Durley Hill, opposite the cemetery, this year.

Permission for further work at the cemetery would need to be granted by Bath and North East Somerset Council and the diocese and Mr Walters hopes he can get the go-ahead to dig new trenches at the site next year.

He added that once work had been completed the remains could be covered and capped, creating a visible outline of the building in the grass, and new information panels could be installed. He said: “My aim is to give Keynsham some of its history back.”

Town councillors expressed support for further work and have asked Mr Walters to submit his proposals in writing.”

The images were taken last year by Roman expert Anthony Beeson who lives in Bristol.