Caesar, your bath’s ready

They say don’t meet your heroes as you’ll be disappointed and I reckon this applies to some ancient monuments too. I’ve always had a love of all things roman, an early memory is of going to the Lunt Roman Fort in Coventry as a child and being mesmerised watching roman soldiers marching on the parade ground, brandishing swords and looking menacing. Little did I know that they weren’t part of the roman army just Coventry council workers on overtime dressed up for the day.

For years I’ve been fascinated by the Roman Bath in Strand Lane. Roman? It’s probably not. It’s more than likely a cistern for a garden water feature of the original Somerset House dating from the 1600’s. In the 1770’s the cistern was reclaimed and advertised as a “cold bath” and it’s presumed in the 1830’s the owner thought if they gave it a roman angle more punters would use it and it’s stuck ever since. More on the bath’s history here and here.

On the numerous occasions I’ve visited I’ve only looked through the (if not dirty then steamed up) window seeing next to nothing but my own reflection and have always wanted to go inside. Thursday lunchtime I did just that after an email to dcreese@westminster.gov.uk It’s free to visit but they require at least one week’s notice.

Before last weekend it was easy to view the bath even though it’s off the beaten track. All you had to do was walk up Strand Lane to the building that has a National Trust sign outside (above) and if the gate was unlocked you could peer in through the window. It seems that all’s changed since the London Bridge terrorist attack as the passageway through Surrey Steps is locked and there’s now a security guard at the bottom of Strand Lane only letting Kings College employees in. I had trouble getting through even after showing him a email confirming the visit from Westminster Council so be warned.

I was met at the site by a Westminster council gardener from nearby Embankment Gardens who let me in and stood outside for the duration of my visit. If you intend to go do read up a bit about the place first as you won’t be getting tour of the guided variety.

The first thing I noticed as I entered the dark entrance hall was the acrid smell of damp and then the feeling of intense cold. The council worker didn’t mention it but there were a couple of switches inside you can flick on for the lights in the hall and one outside which seems to control the main light over the actual bath itself. In the hall there was a table with a couple of maps of Strand Lane and above that a few photocopied sheets about the history of the place. To the right was a bricked up tiled doorway to what once was a second bath (The Essex bath) which is now covered over.
Straight ahead through the hall was a small dark room with a couple of mis-matched chairs, a roman bath sign and a modern day fusebox (above). It made me think of the room in a prison in an old black and white film where they’d keep an electric chair in. Spooky!

To the left was the room with the plunge bath in (main picture at the top) which had a metal bar that stopped you going in any further to explore the room. To the side of the bath was a 60’s style serving hatch (above) that made me smile.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of anything remotely roman. It is said in the 1770’s the room was festooned with artefacts and in the picture above it suggests decoration in a roman style but there’s sadly nothing of the sort these days. Amongst the broken paving stones lying on the bare flooring I did see what I thought was a discarded statue of a roman deity (below) but on second glance it was probably a piece of twisted up copper pipe. 
After about 5 minutes I had had enough, there wasn’t much else to see and the damp and the cold were getting to my bones. My lust for the roman bath has now been satisfied and I doubt if I’ll be popping down there again. If only the council worker who came to meet me was dressed in a toga and sandals and there were fake antiquities dotted about the bath house; things would have been oh so different. P

Into the trees

Lincoln's inn netting

On a late lunchtime stroll the other day I saw these two massive trees being busily wrapped up by construction crews in Lincoln’s Inn and wondered what was going on. Was it some crazy art project? Protection against a forthcoming nuclear war perhaps?

I had to ask the uniformed gateman on my way out, “Why the plastic netting?” as I pointed to the trees. He replied “Well, they’re in the process of redeveloping the area and the trees are sadly coming down next month” “and we don’t want any rare whatisname’s nesting in the trees and delaying the chainsaws, do we?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. P

An aptly priced book bargain

London Free and Dirt Cheap

I found a great bargain in the Holborn Library 20p book sale this week, “London Free and Dirt Cheap” by Joe Fullman (Frommer’s.)

The copy I obtained was an edition from 2007 but I am sure you’ll be able to find an up-to-date version quite cheap (prices from £3 inc p+p on amazon!)

There’s some classic cheap London moments here and loads of stuff we didn’t know about, e.g. Best Free Hidden Gem: The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, lots of cheap eats ideas including somewhere with the great name of Porky’s Pantry (now sadly closed,) free oddities to visit like The London Stone, free music and concert ideas and free tickets to TV shows too.

Go out and get a copy and get ideas for having fun for (next to) nothing! P

I shall return

Here’s our first ever guest post, and it’s from our good friend Matt E. 

Lincolnc inn fields

It’s a blazing Sunday afternoon, and I’ve just bought an armful of books (Penguin Little Black Classics, 80p a pop) at the nearest open bookshop (Waterstones, along from Charing Cross Station.) Now all I need is somewhere to read them.

But where? The parks are packed and, anyway, I fancy a drink. I doubt the pubs are full, but who wants to sit in a boiling boozer on a day like this? Then, as I wander through St James’s Park, I suddenly think of another green space, and of a restaurant that nestles within.

Arriving at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a minute’s walk from the hell of Holborn Tube, I wince at the crowds spread thickly over the grass. Surely, some of the overspill have stumbled across Fields Bar & Kitchen (Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LJ) – an unassuming pizzeria that overlooks the park’s tennis courts. (It’s so unassuming, in fact, that until very recently I’d always thought it was an oddly opulent parkies’ hut.)

Stepping inside, I instead find glorious near-emptiness. Giddy with relief, I lavishly order a bottle of ice-cold house white (£20) and head outside to the part-covered terrace. There, at one of the distressed metal tables, I happily sit for the next few hours, reading Michel de Montaigne’s collection of short essays, How We Weep and Laugh at The Same Thing, while watching people play tennis to a standard that also makes me want to Weep and Laugh.

I eventually get up to leave, thinking I really should try the food the next time. Because there will most definitely be a next time, having already assigned Fields privileged ‘bolthole’ status – the kind of place you can count on when London’s burning and you’re in urgent need of shaded sanctuary. M

Sunny spots, park workouts and a talk

As the sun begins to consistently shine, I’ve been out and about a bit more. And as I’m always on the lookout for something interesting. So imagine my joy when I saw this fella practising his cocktail-making skills in St. James’ Park. It’s like free entertainment.

Wahay

Wahay

Whoop!

Whoop!

Easy now

Easy now

And on the way back along the Embankment I even noticed this excellent sun spot.

Nice place in the sun

Nice place in the sun

So get out while you can. W

PS. Following on from P‘s post about the Little Italy talk, if it all turns rainy and horrible again, you could always have a gander at what looks to be another great exhibition at Camden library.

You dirty rat

You dirty rat