Down a side road, through a tunnel, press a button for a light and you too can find the well-hidden Roman Baths in central London. This free unattended attraction is managed by Westminster Council on behalf of The National Trust and can be hard to find so I've put together these clear directions. You can click on all the pictures to see a larger image.
More About The Baths
The first thing to note is that these baths are actually very unlikely to be Roman. They most likely date back to the 16th or early 17th century, but it was genuinely believed they were much older when discovered in the late 18th century.
The 'Roman Baths' were most likely part of an outbuilding of Arundel House and probably a storage tank or washing place. Thomas, Second Earl of Arundel and Surrey was a known collector of antiquities and Arundel House is celebrated as the first place in the country where a collection of ancient sculpture and stonework was placed on semi-public display – what now survives in part in The Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, as the Arundel Marbles.
The earliest written reference to the baths is from a book published in 1784 which refers to a "fine antique bath" in the cellar of the house. The second reference in a book published in 1842 refers to an "old Roman Spring Bath" at 5 Strand Lane and suggests that it was fed by the local spring in Holywell Street.
The 'Roman Baths' were promoted to the Victorians for their health benefits and remained open until the end of the 19th century.
Strand Lane formed the boundary between the parishes of St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand and in 1922, the Rector of St. Clement Danes, purchased the baths to preserve them from demolition. The baths were put them on show until the outbreak of war in 1939 and donated to the National Trust in 1947.
Also, try A Walk Around Charles Dickens' London.
At the top of Surrey Street, on The Strand, is a bus stop for the Heritage bus routes (number 15) aboard an iconic Routemaster buses.
On Surrey Street, on your right, you'll pass the closed Piccadilly Line Aldwych Station. (You can see another closed entrance on The Strand.) The station opened in 1907 but was never as popular as predicted. During the Second World War, it was closed and used as underground storage for the British Museum to protect precious treasures.
The station closed for business in 1994 and is now used for testing trains as well as being a popular film location. If you'd like to see inside, check the listings for Open House London when it opens to the public.
You'll pass this rather grand looking building on your right, with 'Norfolk Hotel' above the door. This building is used by King's College London and there is no public access.
Just after the 'Norfolk Hotel', set back from the road, you'll see the entrance to this tunnel and the first sign for the Roman Baths. The small black sign on the wall says:
Down steps turn right."
It looks like a private area but this tunnel has full public access so head on through. The tunnel is called Surrey Steps.
There's a button on the wall which, when pressed, illuminates the inside of the basement of no.5 Strand Lane and the Roman Baths.
As mentioned at the start, there's no guarantee that this small bath is actually Roman as there is little or no evidence of Roman inhabitants on this street in London.
David Copperfield, a fictional character dreamt up by Charles Dickens, was said to regularly use this plunge bath.
Whatever is true we can't be sure but it is an interesting find and worth a visit if you are in the area.
If you enjoy London's waterways, you may well enjoy a visit to the London Canal Museum.