This area was excavated in 1936 to 1939 because the Leicester Corporation wanted to build a new municipal baths on the site. The archaeologists were hoping to find the Roman forum, but instead they realised what they had found was a Roman public bath house.
This was the first large scale excavation of any part of the Roman city. Nearly 6ft of topsoil had to be removed before the archaeologists could get down to the Roman level.
The baths were built in the mid second century AD. There is very little evidence that the baths changed much over the time period they were used. There was only one structural addition, although the floors of the Baths courtyard were regularly repaired over time.
For the Romans, bathing was not just about getting clean, it was a social activity. It did not matter who you were, male or female, old or young, rich or poor (but not too poor), everyone visited the baths, often on a daily basis. Everyone was welcome – if they could afford a small entrance fee.
Along with the ritual of bathing that they went through, people chatted and gossiped with friends, conducted business, played games. In some bath sites, archaeologists have found rows of shops along the bath house so its users could buy themselves food and drink.
Changing Rooms & Toilet facilities - Apodyterium
Here bathers could leave their belongings to be looked after by a private or hired servant.
Toilets were latrine areas where, instead of toilet paper, bathers would use a communal sponge on a stick rinsed in a bucket between uses.
Cold Room - Frigidarium
There would have been a cold plunge pool in here for bathers to cleanse and refresh their bodies after bathing in the hot rooms. The cold water would have helped to close the pores.
Warm rooms - Tepidarium
The tepidarium was an area for relaxing and gentle exercise. It was the central room of the baths where bathers would probably assemble first before moving to the warm or cold baths. The bathers would cover themselves with oil and use a tool called a strigil to scrape the dirt and oil off their bodies. This combination of oil and scraping was what the Romans used for soap.
Hot rooms – Caldarium
This room was heated to around 40’C and contained a hot pool. The water in the pool and in a tank over the furnace would make the room very humid.
Apses containing plunge baths
The apses were the semi-circular rooms at either side of the hot rooms in the bath complex. These apses are thought to have contained plunge baths. These may have been filled with refreshing cold water, or they may have been heated, which would make them ‘labrums’. This is likely as they are situated so close to the furnaces, now under the paving in front of the museum.
The hypocaust was an underfloor heating system. Unfortunately, very little of the hypocaust has survived, but it consisted of spaces under the floor supported by piles of tiles and hollows in the walls which allowed hot air from the furnaces to circulate.
These apses were robbed in the later centuries, by people digging trenches to get at the material beneath. We think that there was something of value in the interior and that it was probably the brick lining of the bath, stolen in Medieval times.