Working Roman baths in 7th C Northumbria?

At the beginning of the month I was amazed at fallen blossom on the road. Blossom, in the first week of February. And not new blossom, fallen blossom. I’d just finished writing a scene in Hild II set in Elmet, in which I dwell upon the sudden increase in light, the sense of change in the air, the sound of birds, the unfurling of tree blossom. It’s just like the stuff I was seeing outside here in Seattle. Only here it was February 9th. In the book, it was mid-March.

I’ve done my research: making careful charts of what blooms when and which species of bird nest in what week. That research is based on old books, the kind of thing written in Yorkshire in the late 19th century when a certain class of people had nothing better to do than obsessively note details of some aspect of the natural world. Trees, say, or birds, or rivers.

The discrepancy, then, is probably the result of one of two things: Seattle is more than 6 degrees south of West Yorkshire, and climate change. I’ve been fretting for years that I’m getting further and further out of touch with the natural world of Yorkshire. Research is not the same as living there and watching the seasons change. I haven’t lived there for a quarter of a century. Yet apparently I haven’t adjusted because I’m still surprised, every single year, by the arrival of spring.

Americans don’t call this spring, of course. To them it’s still winter; spring doesn’t start until the equinox. I’ve always found that, well, silly. Spring, to me, starts in the first week of February with the green shoots poking through the leftover snow, the robins looking a bit harried, and that first moment when, wow, that sunlight on my face is, if not exactly warm, then at least tangible…

There are some times when living in two places at once is distinctly disorienting. This is one of them. I look out of the window and expect to see the Aire with unmanicured banks. And then I remember—Seattle, 2015—and when I plunge into the manuscript for a moment I can only see Stellar’s Jays and juncos on fir trees or leafless red alders. Very odd. But refreshing, too, not unlike how I imagine it might have been to plunge into the tepidarium after the caldarium…

Hmmm. I’m now I’m wondering if Hild ever did that. Were there any working baths in seventh-century Northumbria? I’m guessing not, but perhaps some of those wall forts were in reasonable shape. Birdoswald? How about Arbeia? We know that Osric was born there…


When I started this post I had no idea I wanted to know this. I hope you’ll forgive me for simply changing the title to reflect the enquiry, rather than spending time reworking the whole post. I’d rather spend my energy making Hild II, not fiddling with WordPress!

10 thoughts on “Working Roman baths in 7th C Northumbria?

  1. I’m guessing no working baths (sadly). To be working, the furnace and associated flue/chimney would have to be intact, and thehypocauses and plumbing. From my experience, chimneys deteriorate pretty rapidly if not cared for. And the hypocausts and plumbing are ideal places for rodents and other small animals, so would also deteriorate.

    1. That was my thought, too. Sigh. But I live in hope that some archaeologist can say, “Well, we found evidence of soot carbon-dated dated to the early 7th C just where you’d expect to find it in the chimney…”

  2. People laughed at me when I posted on FB yesterday that it felt like spring (of course, it was about 8 degrees). But tomorrow is the first day of meteorological spring! Oh, and welcome to WordPress. I like the very clean look of your theme. Plus, I’m guessing this comment will come through just fine, as opposed to whatever problem I usually have with Blogspot/Blogger.

      1. Michigan. It’s been unusually cold, but the angle of the light, the chirping of the cardinals and sparrows, and the buds beginning to swell on the maples, all tell me it’s spring. No one believes me, however.

  3. If there was to be a working bath anywhere, how about Binchester? The bath buildings there are very well preserved (also very close to the early church at Escomb)

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