Lying hidden beneath the A1(M) motorway just off the Welwyn by-pass, Welwyn Roman Baths are the fascinating 3rd century remains of the bathing complex that once formed part of the Dicket Mead Roman villa. The villa has not been fully excavated, however it is believed to have been occupied for 150 years during which time it was a self-sufficient farm that included a main residence, bath house, outbuildings and minor dwellings. The remains of the baths lie encased and protected in a steel vault that was constructed 9 metres underground, an ingenious structure that can be reached through a steel tunnel that guides visitors on their journey through time to the Roman past below.
Whilst bathing was a social pastime in Roman Britain, with many people visiting the local bath house to wash, gossip and complete business transactions, private baths were still coveted by the elite. They may have been smaller than public baths, however in a society where power and hierarchy was everything, private baths allowed their owners to bathe with only those they deemed to be suitable.
Architecturally, private baths were very similar to their larger counterparts and included the requisite warm room (tepidarium), hot room (caldarium) and cold room (frigidarium). Remarkably well-preserved examples of all three rooms can be viewed at Welwyn, along with a hypocaust (underfloor heating) system which was used to circulate hot air around the complex.
Accompanying the remains of the baths are numerous Roman finds from the site and local area, including building materials, painted panels, ceramic figures and a 1st century skeleton of a woman who is believed to have been a victim of ritual human sacrifice. Additionally, a permanent exhibition tells the story of the site including its excavation in the 1960s and 70s by the Welwyn Archaeological Society.
The site is managed by Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service and is open weekends, bank holidays and school holidays between January and November. There is a fee to visit the site (Adult £3.50, Child 50p), however they do offer a 50% discount for a second adult living at the same address. Free parking is available on site, as well as visitor toilets and a picnic area and refreshments can be bought from nearby Welwyn Village.
De la Bedoyere, G. (2013) Roman Britain: A New History, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.
Historic England (n.d.) ‘Welwyn Roman Baths’, Pastscape, online https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=364864
Ross, D. (n.d.) ‘Welwyn Roman Baths’, Britain Express, online https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/herts/roman/welwyn-roman-baths.htm
Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service (n.d.) Roman Baths Welwyn, online https://www.welhat.gov.uk/media/5248/Welwyn-Roman-Baths-Guide-English-/pdf/wrb_english_guide.pdf?m=634786535820000000