Roman baths discovered beneath former Wallsend pub

Lost Roman baths which once served Segedunum have been found under, what was until recently, the Ship in the Hole pub

The replica Roman baths at Segedunum fort in Wallsend
The replica Roman baths at Segedunum fort in Wallsend

Volunteer diggers have uncovered the remains of Roman baths last seen exactly 200 years ago.

The team from the community archaeology project WallQuest have found the baths which served the garrison and civilian population at Segedunum fort in Wallsend in North Tyneside.

The discovery comes after months of detective work on old maps and records by WallQuest volunteers who pinpointed the site of the former Ship in the Hole pub as being the most likely candidate.

The pub was demolished a year ago and Nick Hodgson, WallQuest project manager, said: “The volunteers did a lot of background research and we were confident it was worthwhile digging.”

Clergyman and historian John Hodgson left an account of seeing the baths in 1814 which had been discovered by workmen building coal staithes on the Tyne.

Now the site has been re-discovered around 100 yards nearer the river than the current reconstructed Roman baths at Segedunum fort, which were modelled on those at Chesters fort in Northumberland.

The dig has so far produced debris from a Roman building, Roman pottery, painted wall plaster, and waterproof bath cement.

“There is also the unmistakable outline of cold and hot rooms and a cold plunge bath,” said Mr Hodgson.

“It is a very significant find and from old maps it seems the baths were built on the side of a little valley with a stream providing the water supply.”

He said the Wallsend baths appear to conform to the standard template for such facilities at Hadrian’s Wall forts.

He said: “Thanks to the research work of WallQuest volunteers we have been able to pinpoint the site of the original Roman baths.

“We have struck gold and found the long lost baths at the first attempt.”

Iain Watson, director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, said: “Twenty eight years ago, when I worked in Wallsend I occasionally had a sandwich at lunchtime in the Ship in the Hole. Little did I think I was sitting on top of a Roman bath house.

“When we ask ‘what did the Romans ever do for us’, one of the first things we come up with is the introduction of baths and central heating.

“The bath house really was a central part of Roman society – both civil and military and this is a fantastic find - particularly given the coincidence that it is 200 years since the remains of the baths were last seen.

“It is particularly exciting that a community archaeology project has made this exceptional discovery and we are very grateful to North Tyneside Council for access to the site and to the Heritage Lottery Fund and our other funders for the financial support.”

North Tyneside Mayor Norma Redfearn said:“This is such exciting news - not only is it a great discovery for Wallsend, but the uncovering will have a considerable impact on helping us to understand the history of Roman life in the region.

“I would like to say a huge thank you to the volunteers who have made this all possible.”

Work will continue at the site over the summer as WallQuest volunteers make another push in investigating the site in the hopes more discoveries will be made.

Members of the local community are invited to get involved with the project, for more information please visit www.hadrianswallquest.co.uk

John Hodgson, known as the county historian for Northumberland who was also a pioneer in the study of Hadrian’s Wall, will feature in a new exhibition called Wall Face, which opens on August 22.

It will involve the display of portraits of the pioneers who protected, conserved or told the story of Hadrian’s Wall from the 17th to the 20th Century.

Eleven Roman attractions along Hadrian’s Wall will feature prints and photographs from the National Portrait Gallery collection, with John Hodgson on show at Segedunum.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer