Roman Baths revisited
Despite the redevelopment at the Roman Baths having completed some time ago I only went there last week. Having gone there several times over the years, perhaps most memorably one Autumn evening when there were few people about, I was keen to see what had changed.
Braced with a large lunch my friend and I queued to get in enjoying the costumed people passing by. It turned out the people in Regency Costume were involved in a successful record attempt in the Assembly Rooms as part of the Jane Austen Festival.
Looking across the main bath
The visitor challenge
The Roman Baths are really popular which means visitors need to keep moving so as not to jam up the limited space. I thought the way this was managed from admissions to interpretation worked well. Admissions were done in batches to break up the crowd and the very busy desk staff were really welcoming.
I liked the way objects were displayed with enough interpretation to inform but not so much to keep you reading for ages. Rather than itemising each item objects were often in groups with a general description for each group. This kept dwell time down while still being informative. It meant less text and more space for the objects too. I also liked the way this kept more of a thematic feel to the object displays.
An example of the object cases with interpretation panel
Naturally being a digital museums chap I was interested to see how digital was used. Again the need to keep visitors moving was borne in mind so the usual touch screens were replaced with projectors and video players.
The video fly throughs and reconstructions are very cleanly and crisply done which gives them a feeling of immediacy. Having them populated gave a sense of scale to the reconstructed buildings and helped show the diversity of people using and working in and around the baths. I really liked these.
One of the videos in situ
I found the use of projectors well balanced and thoughtful. The gaps in projection meant you could view the remains as just that. A good example is the temple pediment where a projected image shows what it might have looked like when complete, and when the projection is off you clearly see the surviving fragments.
Pediment without projection
Pediment with projection
Projectors are also used to populate areas of the baths with Romans. I really enjoyed this for two reasons. One is it helped get across the place was busy and many different types of people used the baths. The second is the quality of light made the projected people have a faint ghostly feel to them which gave me a poignant peeping into the past feeling.
Echoes of Roman bathers
I admit I didn’t try the audio tour as I find they aggravate my hearing problems. However, I know a friend who has tried them and gave them the thumbs up!
One thing that makes this audio tour stand out is it isn’t one size fits all. There’s the standard tour, a kids tour and some commentary by Bill Bryson at selected spots. Plus a BSL guide and enhanced audio tour for people with visual problems. To make the hat trick you can even download the tour.
A final point on the audio tours is the way stops are handled. The different tours are colour coded and included on the same sign as other interpretation. I do like this economy of signage as you can probably tell!
Tour stops on a sign
Overall visit experience
Both of us really enjoyed the visit and recommend it if you’re in Bath. Whilst you can’t take the waters at the Roman Baths any more there is a package deal including the new spa in Bath.
More photos over my Flickr page
An annual treat in Exeter
This year’s show had a good cross section of gaming activities. Show games, competitions and trade stands all had a good presence.
Not to mention the old favourites of a bring and buy stand and a raffle! I sold a few bits but didn’t win any prizes.
None of the games on show really grabbed my imagination this year. Not because of a lack of quality as there were plenty of excellent models on fine terrain. Just nothing had that extra zing that stood out for me.
The competition games were well supported with ancients and medieval in evidence along with Warhammer.
With Magister Militum attending I seized the opportunity to stock up on fortifications, tents and baggage for my Roman armies. I’m looking forward to trying out some Early Germans I got from them too.
Alas, Warlord couldn’t keep up with demand so I didn’t get the Civil War engineers set I was after. Some book bargains made up for this along with a fine haul of second hand Slingshots from the bring and buy.
Keep eye on the club website for news of next year’s show. It’s a good show, in a good venue and good transport links.
Shiny and new!
My first impression of the museum is one of space, brightness and colour. The colour is used to code galleries and even carries through to the labels – reading white on a red background was not that easy! I went on a Saturday and the museum was very busy. This meant on some cases you read a caption for an object and then had to manoeuvre around another visitor to look at the object.
There are some nice touches throughout the museum. Being able to walk over a plesiosaur set in the floor with a glass cover was fun for children of all ages! Throughout the museum there are colour illustrations on backlit acrylic which help bridge the gap between the objects and their former users.
The room dedicated to the Monmouth Rebellion was good. It combines the history, objects and human stories. Including a small tableau of rebels in prison gives a reminder of the human cost of the trials after the rebellion.
Any favourite objects?
There are plenty to choose from! I went with friends from work and we all had different favourites. For me a fine collection of ancient British gold and a bronze scabbard in the antiquities section, and a section of Roman scale armour which I had not seen before. Elsewhere the cauldrons stood out and the geology is well displayed.
My favourite though is the Late Roman mosaic depicting the tale of Dido and Aeneas. This is on the ground floor with a wall behind it. A film of a Roman matron is projected on the wall and it brings a sense of life to the mosaic. When you go upstairs there is a void allowing you to look down on the mosaic in its entirety.
About the building
The museum building has had a chequered life from Norman castle to courts where Judge Jeffries presided. The museum has a contemporary feel to it and a welcoming atmosphere. Happily there are still plenty of original features to enjoy from stonework to the Adam plasterwork installed to encourage judges to keep using the dining room.
And what else?
There is a cafe which includes an outside seating area and a pot of tea is good value. I didn’t try the coffee as the coffee machine was in need of a good clean. We still had cakes left from our earlier picnic so were very bad people and ate those. The ones in the cafe did look good though!
There were plenty of activities going on. Archaeology and coin making for children in the castle yard. A group of English Civil War re-ennactors were demonstrating a camp, drill and musketry. Some of the members of this group had posed for the vignette of the prisoners referred to above.