Early C17 cistern to Old Somerset House (aka The Roman Bath)


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
The Roman Bath, 5, Strand Lane, London WC2


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
The Roman Bath, 5, Strand Lane, London WC2
Greater London Authority
City of Westminster (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Cistern of early C17 date and later C17 vaults. Opened as a bathhouse in late C18.

Reasons for Designation

The early C17 cistern to Old Somerset House (also known as The Roman Bath) at 5 Strand Lane is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic and architectural interest: as a rare surviving example of a Jacobean cistern, providing archaeological evidence for the gardens of Old Somerset House. It also provides insights into the commercial development of bath houses in the C18 and antiquarian interests and attitudes of the period; * Group value: with the adjoining listed buildings St Clements Watch House, and Nos. 33 and 34 Surrey Street to which it was once linked via existing C17 vaults.


The origins of the Roman Bath have long been a matter of conjecture. However, an article by Professor Michael Trapp in 2012 shows that the bath almost certainly originated as a cistern supplying water to a grotto fountain representing Mount Parnassus, constructed in 1612 in the Privy Garden of Old Somerset House. The fountain was built for Anne of Denmark, the queen of James I and was the work of the French hydraulic engineer and garden designer, Salomon de Caus (1576-1626). It was demolished by the 1640s. Analysis of the bricks lining the cistern suggested a date range of between 1550 and 1650. It was supplied with water by a pump located at the end of the terrace in the garden.

In the C18, the cistern was opened as a commercial plunge bath. In 1776 it was advertised in the 2 November edition of the Daily Advertiser as a ‘Cold Bath at No. 33 Surry-street now open’. Exact attribution is confused by the presence of another bath located just to the south, at the rear of 32 Surrey Street, known as Essex baths. By now the bath was fed, unintentionally, by an underground spring. The first mention of a Roman origin for the baths is probably in Robson’s London Directory for 1838 which refers to a ‘Roman Spring Bths’ on Strand Lane. The Roman attribution no doubt added to the commercial attraction of the bath and in 1865 it was announced in The Lancet that ‘The Old Roman bath is Reopened with great Improvements’. The site remained in use as a baths until it was purchased in 1922 by Reverend William Pennington-Bickford who removed the marble and tiles decorating the main chamber and carried out some small scale archaeological excavations. In 1945-7 ownership of the bath passed to the National Trust on condition that it was administered by the Greater London Council (succeeded by LB Westminster on the abolition of the GLC).

The bath has literary connections to Charles Dickens being mentioned in David Copperfield (1849-50).


The cistern is set into the floor of a vaulted brick chamber, probably of late-C17 date, under a late-C19 extension to 33 Surrey Street. (No. 5 Strand Lane is single storey, with the extension to No. 33 Surrey Street above it; this extension is not included in the listing). It is entered via an arched entrance on Strand Lane and the vault is lit by a large arched window.

The cistern is 4.7m long by 1.9m wide with a semi-circular south-west end and straight north-eastern end and is constructed of wide and shallow red bricks laid in English bond.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Bradley, S, The Buildings of England: London 6 Westminster, (2003), 371
Pre-Construct Archaeology, , 'Report No: R11125' in Strand Lane 'Roman Bath: The Results from the Sampling and Analysis of the Building Material from the Bath and Associated Structures, (November 2011)
Trapp, M, 'Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes Vol. 32, Issue 4' in The Denmark House Helicon: Iconography and Surviving Traces, (2012)
Trapp, M, 'National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual' in New Light on the Strand Lane 'Bath', (2012)
Roger Bowdler, The 'Roman Bath' at 5 Strand Lane, City of Westminster, April 1993,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map which refers solely to the vaults containing the C17 cistern) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 05 Apr 2006
Reference: IOE01/15397/33
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Anthony Rau. Source Historic England Archive
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