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Archaeological dig uncovers evidence of Roman bathhouse and spa in Faversham

By Joe Wright

The Romans certainly knew how to live. Ships crews would pull into the large tidal inlet serving Faversham and then browse an emporium before sliding off to a luxury bathhouse complete with plunge pools, hot rooms and steam rooms.

There was also a place for a nice relaxing massage after a few days at sea.

This fascinating insight into life of the town in Roman times has been uncovered in an archaelogical dig that has revealed new secrets about Faversham’s heritage.

The archaeological dig has been fronted by Dr Paul Wilkinson.

Excavations at Abbey Farm where there are previously unrecorded Roman barns have uncovered evidence of an emporium serving the port at Faversham.

Discovered by Dr Paul Wilkinson from the Kent Archaeological Field School, recent work has shown that the waters of the Swale estuary lapped the buildings, which during the Roman period sat beside a large tidal inlet deep enough to harbour ships.

The project has focused on the timeline of the complex’s huge bathhouse where silver jewellery, exotic glass vessels and coloured wall plaster are among the small finds.

Dr Wilkinson says the baths would have catered for ship crews mooring up in the town.

Ongoing excavation have uncovered evidence of an emporium serving the port at Faversham.

“The building was originally built in the 2nd century AD as a barn with a concrete and chalk floor - we have found the remains of stalls used to house farm animals in the Roman estate.

“But very soon afterwards, the building was rebuilt as a huge bathhouse, with plunge pools, hot rooms, steam rooms, and warm rooms for massage.

“The decoration has the feel of a municipal baths with none of the luxurious features one would expect of a private enterprise bathhouse.

“Given the size of the bathhouse it is far too large for a Roman villa estate.

Could Faversham have been home to a bathhouse such as this?

“It is probably too far from Watling Street to have been an imperial posting house with hotel but it may have catered for the crews of visiting ships.”

A silver finger ring found in rubble at the site has been dated to the Anglo-Saxon period. The ring, which is only large enough for a child’s hand, suggests the building was demolished in the late 6th century to make a platform for a timber hall found in last year’s excavation.

Dr Wilkinson says the major investigation at the site will continue.

“The latest investigations have unravelled some of the mystery of the building’s function but this work is still ongoing,” he said.

“Field walking has indicated there are other Roman buildings alongside the inlet and future investigation – including geophysical survey – will focus on their chronology and function.”

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