Jacks – small window on a big bath house

Dig it! exhibition  –  Daily bulletin five of ten 


Digging in a shaft one person at a time hooked up to a harness…

The discovery of part of a Roman public bath house under Jacks is an important step forward in the exploration of Roman Colchester. All major Roman towns had at least one public bath house. Thanks to Jacks, we now know where Colchester’s version stood, but we don’t know a great deal more about it than that.

How do we know it was a bath house?

A wide and deep stone foundation under Jacks combined with earlier records of similar foundations in the vicinity reveals the site of a Roman public building, and the discovery there of hundreds of fragments of red ceramic tiles tells us that this particular one had been a bath house.

These tiles, now broken, are characteristic of heated rooms in such places. They were in the shape of hollow boxes laid one on top of another to make vertical flues set in the walls. Underfloor heating was an essential ingredient and made possible by suspending the floors on a grid of brick stacks to create a void under each of the floors to be heated. The whole lot was designed so that hot air and smoke from a nearby furnace would be drawn into and around the cavities under the floors so as to make hot to the touch and then up the vertical flues to do the same for the walls. All clever stuff!

Shaft C reborn in the Roman Circus Centre.




















Want to find out more?

We excavated six ‘shafts’ under Jacks which were in effect deep pits which were subsequently filled by the builders with concrete to create foundations to secure the long-term safety of the 17th-century building. Our excavation of these ‘shafts’ with the help and support of the builders enabled us to reach depths of over 3.5 m below floor level. The circumstances surrounding the investigation made safe public viewing impossible so, once the excavation was finished, we decided to attempt to recreate one of the shafts at actual size but above ground. Sounds weird but hopefully the result gives visitors a feel for what it was like digging in the shafts and what we found down down one them (Shaft C). The result along with some of the finds forms an important part of our current ‘Dig it!‘ exhibition at the Roman Circus Centre. We’re open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11.00 am to 4.00 pm. Admission free.