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A ‘Fine Specimen of Neronian Brickwork’ in Victorian London: How the STRAND Lane Cold Bath Became Roman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-174
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of the Classical Tradition
Volume24
Issue number2
Early online date12 Dec 2016
DOIs
Accepted/In press15 Sep 2016
E-pub ahead of print12 Dec 2016
PublishedJun 2017

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Abstract

This paper addresses the myth of the Strand Lane cold bath’s Roman origins: it explains how this dream of Rome first emerged in the 1830s and became consolidated in the 1840s, and documents the means by which it was propagated, and the extent to which it was debated, between then and the 1890s. It is suggested that the origins of the idea were heavily indebted to popular awareness of the baths of Pompeii, spread both by archaeological publication and by Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days and its offshoots; that the consolidation was the work of Charles Knight and Charles Dickens; and that the vigorous survival of the mirage for the remainder of the century was down in part to the absence of any other large-scale standing Roman structure in the capital, and in part to the lack of any plausible alternative story of the bath’s real origins. The auxiliary myth of the ‘Essex’ bath is also discussed, and the whole argument illuminates not only the history of the monument itself, but also Victorian engagement with the Roman past and the historical fabric of London more generally.

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