Chichester Roman baths unearthed for new museum project

From the 24 Hour Museum

By Richard Moss 28/05/2008

an aerial view of an excavation showing a circular structure with the remains of pillars

The Roman baths were originally excavated in the 1970s and re-excavated in the 1990s. Courtesy Chichester District Council

Work has begun in Chichester to temporarily uncover the remains of the city’s Roman baths, which are currently buried under a car park.

The baths are to form a key feature of the new Chichester District Museum, which is to move from its current location in a former corn mill in the Little London area of the town.

The remains were discovered in the 1970s by Chichester archaeologist Alec Down and his team of volunteers, who carefully backfilled the site for future study. Now plans for the new museum, which are part of the larger Tower Street residential development plans, include the re-excavation of the baths to allow their impressive remains to go on permanent display.

Archaeology South East is carrying out the exploratory work on the site in Tower Street over a four-week period. Archaeologists are now digging trenches to check on the condition of the remains.

Their findings will be used to recommend the type of foundation to be used to preserve some of the archaeology in situ and to look at the major part of the bathhouse, which consists of an impressive series of brick pillars, a brick floor and part of a circular wall.

“It’s an important site,” said Chris Pine of Archaeology South East. “Without doubt it is the best standing archaeology that has been unearthed in Chichester. The survey will confirm the quality of the archaeology on the site and confirm the archaeology was fully excavated and properly recorded in the 1970s.”

Courtesy Chichester District Council.

Shows a photo of Roman remains consisting of a curved wall in which there are various stubs of pillars.

“What we are doing is opening up again to look and to see and to sample,” added Chris, “and to check that the bricks are firm and able to be consolidated and displayed as part of a permanent display in a museum. We also want to confirm their exact location so the foundation design can be sympathetic.”

Chichester, or Noviomagus Regni as it was know in Roman times, was one the most important settlements in Roman Britain and the only walled Roman town in Sussex.

Few of the remains of the Roman city can be seen today and the addition of the bathhouse to the museum’s display would make it one of the few places in Chichester where you can actually see part of a Roman building.

“While the District Museum will tell the story of the whole district and be a hub for the areas heritage, having these remains is a great bonus,” said Councillor Nick Thomas, portfolio holder for Culture and Sport at Chichester District Council.

“The whole team is looking forward to seeing the remains and checking their condition so that we can safeguard them in the new building.”

During the current work, the car park will be closed although members of the public will be able to see work in progress from footpaths around the car park edge. After the excavations are complete, the lower, larger part of the car park will be re-opened, but to protect the bath house remains, the upper area will remain closed to car parking.

It is thought the new Chichester District Museum, which will boast one of the finest collections of archaeology in the country, is currently scheduled for completion around 2010.

Chichester District Museum
Chichester District Museum, 29 Little London, Chichester, PO19 1PB, West Sussex, England
T: 01243 784683
Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 to 17.30
Closed: Sundays, Mondays and all public holidays