Tucked away in a hidden lane around the back of the Strand lies the National Trust’s most central London property – and also its least accessible and least explained.
The Strand Lane ‘Roman Bath’ has been a long-running puzzle for historians and architects. Its identity and origins are clouded by the fact that, in its current layout, it is severed from the neighbouring structures with which it once belonged and that make its history more intelligible.
PIcture: The 'Roman Bath' today and its surroundings
Physical reconnection of the separated elements of the older structure is not at present possible, but digital representation offers the possibility of reconstructing the earlier 17th, 18th and 19th-century states of the Bath and of exploring its relationship with the surrounding area.
By exploring a range of forms of digital representation, the programme offered the National Trust possible way to make the site more accessible and understandable to its public as well as exploring new ways of interacting with that public more generally.
During the project the team undertook two exercises exploring the potential of 3D digital modelling to aid both the reconstruction of earlier historic phases of the Bath and the formulation of research questions about those phases.
Working from partial materials begun by King's students on the MA in Digital Humanities but heavily supplemented by further measurement and photography of his own, Martin Blazeby, Research Fellow in the Department of Digital Humanities, completed two highly-finished 3D models of the Bath: one as it is now (and has been since the 1950s) and one of the more ornate forms in which it existed between 1894 and the early 1920s.
Pictured below: digital models of the Bath in its present state and as it was between 1894 and the early 1920s.
Independently of this, the King's MA Digital Humanities student Emma King wrote her 2016 dissertation on the potential of digital modelling to explore and illuminate the Bath’s earlier, eighteenth-century form, at a point in its history when it comprised two basins rather than just one and was connected to No 33 Surrey Street as its basement annexe.
Pictured below: Emma King's exploratory model
Currently, materials and research from Virtual bathing are being used in the construction of an even more ambitious project, aimed at clarifying the place and history of the Bath in the context of its immediate surroundings in Strand Lane and Surrey Street.
Following a series of workshops and meetings held in late 2014 and early 2015, three micro-projects were initiated as part of Virtual bathing to explore innovations in the use of digital technologies to enhance access to heritage sites.
The idea of water in the mind of the bather
The idea of water was a collaboration between Alex Butterworth at Amblr and Professor Laura Gowing, Department of History, King's College London.
This project investigated the many meanings of water throughout the centuries that the Strand Lane 'Roman Bath' has existed, with particular reference to water and the human body, in an attempt to tease out aspects of the different mentalities of possible users and visitors across multiple historical periods.
The meaning of water in and around the Bath was considered from a range of perspectives: as a therapeutic or hygenic, social, cultural, and political or propagandist resource. Alongside the discussions, research was carried out into the most suitable methods and tools to represent this history of ideas in a graphical and interactive form.
During the project, Alex and Laura created a structured, relation model of the meanings and ideas explored in the research, as well as a summary text for them and a digital form in which these could be represented and navigated.
A web of unexpected connections
A web of unexpected connections was a collaboration between Alex Butterworth at Amblr, and Valeria Vitale, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London.
The project explored how the 'Roman Baths' might be situated in the context of their urban environments. This involved a process of identifying potential digital and other resources, using these to research salient buildings and life stories, and investigating software that could be used to represent this information.
The governing principle was that invisible connections may be visualised: buildings connected to other buildings, objects travelling from one building to another, people connecting buildings to each other, different people connected to the same building, etc. You can see a pdf of the final presentation about the micro-project here.
The virtual Georgian interior
The virtual Georgian interior project was a collaboration between Márcia Balisciano at Benjamin Franklin House, Jan Lower at Elbow Productions, and Geoff Browell, Archives and Special Collections, King's College London.
The project aimed to explore the possibility of a virtual fly through of the Georgian interior, building on Benjamin Franklin House’s unique approach to museum interpretation whereby the physical rooms are empty but time, place and story are evoked through performance and technology. It tested a digital concept for filling the empty spaces – exploring the juxtaposition of period and personal: all 18th century houses vs what this one might have looked like during the tenure of one, albeit important, individual in its history.
The project aimed both to pave the way for a larger funding application, and to provide a reference model for other historic places that purposely prioritise stories over collections. Read the final project report here.
Final reports on all three were presented at a workshop hosted in the National Trust’s Grosvenor Gardens offices along with the outcome of Emma King's dissertation project on the Strand Lane 'Roman Bath'.
National Trust London
The National Trust London Project exists to enhance the Trust’s profile as the custodian of metropolitan properties, and to forge links with London partner institutions.
Professor Michael Trapp
Michael Trapp is a Professor of Greek Literature & Thought in the Department of Classics at King's. Michael's main areas of research are Greek literature and thought of the first two centuries CE, and the reception of the ancient world, with special reference to the figure of Socrates, and to the local history of classical studies at King's College London.
He has been researching the history of the Bath for the last eight years, and has begun to clarify its history as successively Jacobean fountain-cistern, working Georgian/Regency cold bath, and supposedly Roman antiquarian curiosity. Read more about Michael's research in the following articles:
Drew is currently a Research Fellow in the Department of Digital Humanities at King's. One of the founding members of the King's Visualisation Lab he has worked in the field of 3D visualisation and interpretation of archaeology and history since 1997. He has specialised in the area of 3D modelling specifically using interactive VRML and virtual world technologies. Drew teaches the module applied visualisation in the arts, humanities and cultural sector on the MA Digital Humanities programme.
Martin is also a Research Fellow in the Department of Digital Humanities. His main area of research focuses on architectural and archaeological visualisations of heritage sites as well as being interested in the application of advanced 3D technologies for the study and communication of cultural heritage domains. Martin also has experience in 2D graphical design work and has a great deal of expertise in the virtual reconstruction of Roman fresco paintings.
Along with Drew, Martin has extensive experience in digital visualization in both academic and heritage contexts. Their Department is the originator of the London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage.
King's Visualisation Lab
King's Visualisation Lab (KVL) is part of the Department of Digital Humanities (DDH), an international leader in the application of digital technologies to research in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Beginning in 1996, under the direction of Professor Richard Beacham, KVL members have worked on a series of research projects and heritage visualisation commissions, modelling historic spaces; collecting, collating and presenting associated datasets; and developing sophisticated user-interfaces for accessing, manipulating, and investigating research results.