Calls for extra hands to help uncover history-defining Roman bathhouse

Cllr Sam Collins and Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews are calling on Hitchin to join their fieldwalk to uncover a Roman bath house

Cllr Sam S Collins and Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews are calling on Hitchin residents to join them in fieldwalking a field in Ninesprings, in a bid to uncover a Roman bath house - Credit: Sam Collins

Fancy unearthing some of Hitchin's history, which could re-write the history books?

A call has been put out to residents to help uncover the ruins of an important Roman building laying under a field on the outskirts of town this weekend.

Self-admitted "bored councillor" in the height of the pandemic, Sam Collins - a Lib Dem representative for Hitchin Highbury - stumbled across an inaccuracy on his map during his daily government-mandated lockdown exercise. This inaccuracy later snowballed into a ground-breaking discovery.

He explained: "If you look at an Ordinance Survey map of Hitchin, just by the Ninesprings estate, there's a little thing that says 'ROMAN VILLA (site of)'. That's wrong.

The site of the Roman bathhouse is near the Ninesprings estate, on the south west side of Hitchin

The site of the Roman bathhouse is near the Ninesprings estate, on the south side of Hitchin - Credit: Maya Derrick

"This was a little lockdown project of mine. Being able to only walk for 45 minutes a day in that period, I decided to scoot around the fields in this area, and that one caught my eye and thought I'd look into it.


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"To cut a long story short; I did some digging, and it's not a Roman villa. But, it's a Roman bath house, it's of very high status."

Sam went directly to the team behind the North Herts Museum, and, while working with curator and heritage access officer Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, the conclusion has been drawn that a Roman bathhouse sits in the bottom corner of the Heritage Foundation-owned field.

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"But, there are also some other Roman buildings in that field that no-one's ever discovered before," he added.

Sam explained that these once undercover buildings - and three potential undiscovered Roman roads alongside them - also leads the duo to believe that there's a possibility for another high-status Roman building in a neighbouring field.

Having to wait until this autumn for the field to be harvested, the Heritage Foundation gave Cllr Collins the green light to fieldwalk and subsequently dig up the land.

Fieldwalking is the term used when a team of archaeologists walk across open areas of recently ploughed fields in a methodical gridded manner, gathering artefacts - such as pottery or flint - from the surface.

"That observational stuff is really valuable archaeology," Cllr Collins continued. "And we want to do that!"

It would take both Keith and Sam weeks to analyse the field between the two of them, so Cllr Collins is calling on the good people of Hitchin to join them in potentially uncovering history-changing finds this weekend.

After being apart for so long, Sam stated that this is the perfect opportunity for the community to come together. He said: "We need a lot of people, we need the public to help!

"We want to engage people and get them to do this with us, and possibly even get as far as digging some trenches..."

Keith said: "The Roman bathhouse at Ninesprings was discovered in 1884 and thought to be part of a villa, but its location is unusual.

"Cllr Collins’ discovery of Roman finds not far away gives us the opportunity to explore the site further, first by fieldwalking and, perhaps, some trial excavations in the future, should the result prove to be intriguing enough."

Discussing how unbelievable it seems that no one has stumbled across such an important historic artefact until now, Sam joked: "It takes a lockdown and a bored councillor to go and have a look!"

To get involved in the fieldwalking this weekend, contact Cllr Collins at sam.collins@north-herts.gov.uk.

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