Under an undistinguished office block in Lower Thames Street, opposite the Custom House and below St Dunstan-in-the-East lies a hidden gem of Roman London: a Roman house and bathhouse.
It lies some way back from the river but in its heyday this building complex would have overlooked the River Thames from its hillside location. It may have been a ‘mansio’, which offered comfortable accommodation to officials - a bit like the nearby Premier Inn!
When you venture down there’s a surprising amount to see. What survives are the north and east wings of the L-shaped house but there’s no trace of the west wing. The east side was kept warm with underfloor heating (most welcome during those cold and damp British winters), which is well preserved.
The house is believed to have been built in the late 2nd century AD. In the following century a bathhouse was added in the courtyard. Bathers entered it from the north side, where there were two small rooms either side - a tepidarium (warm room) and caldarium (hot room) - before they finished cooling off in the frigidarium (cold room).
It seems the northern wing was abandoned before the rest of the building complex. A hoard of over 270 coins, dated to after 395AD, was found in the furnace wall, which suggests it was still in use well into the 400s. A mid-5th century Saxon brooch was also unearthed, which may have been dropped by an early tourist.