Strand Lane: Getting into the Bath

There’s good news for anyone who has been frustrated by having to peer into the Strand Lane ‘Roman’ Bath through its often misted-up and damp-infested window.  Thanks to two recent developments it is much easier than it used to be to get inside it, physically and virtually.

Besides the appointments to view that you can still make with Westminster Council’s Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces team, you can also get in – with the extra benefit of a knowledgeable guide – by joining Somerset House’s free Old Palace Tour, which runs on Tuesdays at 12.45 and 2.15. The Bath is included in this tour because historical investigation has suggested that its very first identity was as part of the cistern for a fountain in the grounds of the old Somerset House made for James I’s queen Anne of Denmark in 1612 .

Alternatively, if you can’t make a visit in person, you can now survey the interior on Google Street View — the photography was done in October of last year (just before Westminster had the interior completely repainted!) and went live in December.

On Google Maps

On Google Street View

If you’re navigating there from some way away, Street View doesn’t allow you to take the standard pedestrian route down Surrey Steps: you have to go the long way round via Temple Place and the King’s College services entrance. But that if anything allows you to take a better look at the way the Bath nestles at the top end of the lane along with the Old Watch House, and to admire the strangely projecting apse of King’s College Chapel on the way past.

But there’s another form of access too, which has just become available thanks to the digital wizardry of the 3D modelling expert Martin Blazeby and a project funded by the Cultural Institute at King’s. On both a real and a Google visit, you are limited to what the Mark 1 human eyeball or the camera can see now from a normal vantage point.  Martin’s models in contrast not only allow a ‘visitor’ to examine the current layout of the Bath from angles impossible in real life (as illustrated above); they also allow us to see back into the past and visit the Bath as it was in the mid-1890s, before the works of the 1920s and 40s that ‘restored’ it to its current state.

It’s hoped that it will in future be possible to develop these models further, so as to cover the still earlier (eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century) state of the Bath in which it consisted of not one but two cold plunges, and could be reached through No 33 Surrey Street as well as from Strand Lane, and so as to allow fully immersive VR visits. Watch this space!

The Virtual Bathing Project

About Michael Trapp

Michael’s research interests stretch from Greek literature under the Roman Empire to the history of the KCL Strand Campus, with special reference to statues, fountains, the remains of the old Somerset House, and all things to do with Strand Lane.

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