(Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 6) ( Bk. Index )

Highdown Roman Bath House

Many people are aware of Angmering's Roman Villa and its substantial and elaborate excavated bath house complex, situated in the south west of the parish close to the Poling parish boundary. However, fewer are aware that another Roman bath house was discovered in Angmering in the late 1930's, it being located on the western slopes of Highdown, only about 60 metres in from the boundary with Ferring at OS Map Ref: TQ 087 044. Indeed it is often referred to, quite incorrectly, as the Ferring bathhouse. (see location on Angmering archaeological map ).

It was in 1936 that Mr WHC Frend discovered foundations of a building during some trial cuttings. In April and May the following year, Worthing Archaeological Society carried out excavations of the site believing it to be a barn or similar building. Permission to dig was obtained from the owner of the land, Cecil Somerset, and his tenant farmer, Jorian Jenks, the latter limiting the excavation area.

What was discovered was a Roman bath house that appears to have been used between the 1st and 4th Centuries. The 1937 excavations found a rather modest complex consisting of a small semi-circular cold bath with a 5' diameter, a hot room of 14' x 9' aspidal at its eastern end, and two sumps - one to the east and one to the west of the complex. Ploughing had disturbed some of the remains but not significantly so.

The cold bath had two 1' 8" steps down into it which left quite a small bath area, possibly a 3' 6" square usable space at maximum. The floor consisted of red tiles set in mortar. The walls were covered in red plaster that were well preserved. The outer apsidal shaped wall was of mortared flint. Between the tiled base and the walls was a moulded fillet containing plaster which was presumably there to prevent water loss. At the bottom of the steps, a lead pipe was found which must have led to an outlet to the sump on the west of the complex.

The hot room, quite naturally, was more involved. The main part of the room appears to have been about 9' square but with a 5' apsidal extension on its east side. The main room had a hypocaust floor of which some 20 brick pillars survived, many at their original height. The walls of the main room were 2' thick mortared flint with a double layer of brick running through them. The wall thickness decreased slightly on the apsidal extension. A furnace and stokehole were situated on the south side of the hot room, the furnace flue to the hypocaust floor being approx 6' x 2'. Water to produce steam came from the sump on the higher ground to the east.

The west sump was 4' 6" deep, irregular in shape but, at its base, was about 3' square. This presumably would have been the receptacle for waste water from the bathhouse. The east sump was much deeper, 6' 10"; this would have been the main reservoir for serving the bathhouse.

There were a significant number of finds during the excavations, the pottery being the most useful as it is a principal means of dating the ruins, especially from the pottery found when the bedding trenching was carried out. Nearly 900 pottery sherds were found coming from dozens of vessels. Several pieces were found to be Iron Age, but the majority was manufactured between the 1st and 4th Centuries. There was some grey paste local pottery, but the majority was 'imported', being Samian (South Gaul), Rhenish, and British Castor and New Forest ware.

Metal objects found comprised a bronze coin of Antoninus Pius (Roman emperor from 138 to 161), two bronze spoons from the cold bath, an iron ladle near the entrance to the furnace flue, 19 iron sandal nails from the east sump, numerous bolts and door fittings, and part of an iron sickle blade.

Fragments of window glass were found in both the cold bath and on the hypocaust floor of the hot room. Animal bones and oyster shells were also discovered.

The conclusions of the authors of the excavation report, GP Burstow and AE Wilson, were that this was a bathhouse built in late 1st or early 2nd Century of a well-known design but lacking in a tepid room. Later farmers probably used some materials for their own buildings and the ruins were eventually ploughed over.

But that is not where the excavation story ends. In the following year, 1938, a Mr & Mrs Roper, who had worked on the excavations the previous year, along with other helpers, carried out trial digs to the west and south-west of the bath house. There they discovered the ruins of a further hot room measuring 21' 0" x 19' 6". The walls of this were of similar construction and thickness to the hot room to the north-east, being 2' and of mortared flint, again with a bonding course of brick. The stokehole and furnace flue entrance were at the west of the building but where it differed was the flue system under the hypocaust floor which was constructed in an 'H' shape.

Full investigation of the hot room never seems to have been finished and there are no reports of pillar finds within the building itself. However, in excavating the hypocaust flue system, finds of pottery type were made which were similar to those found in 1937. Additionally, a conical spindle-whorl was found, half a whetstone, and some Iron Age implements.

Mr & Mrs Roper also dug trial trenches to the south of the bath house. At a point 28' from the NE corner of the second hot room, a bath-shaped pit was located containing pottery fragments. At 48' and 92', small post-holes were found. At 132', a small area of laid flints was uncovered. Unfortunately, this was the limit of excavations allowed by farmer Jenks. The conclusion was that it was likely the main buildings were probably to be found to the west of of the excavated area. Unfortunately, war clouds gathered and no further excavation has been undertaken on this particular site after 1938 although digs have since been carried out at the summit of Highdown where evidence of occupation through many ages has been found, including some small Roman finds.

If there was a villa or other building in the close vicinity of the bath house complex, and the likelihood is that there was, we can only speculate as to its purpose. It seems unlikely that it was the residence of a high ranking Roman or Romano-British owner, such as the villa and bath house site towards Poling, but more likely the home of a farmer. Roman field systems extended along the Sussex coastal plain and such field systems are in evidence in Worthing, Durrington and Ferring. It is also believed that Roman field systems were identified during excavations on Bramley Green, the new housing development (completed 2005) where a number of Roman finds were made, the field systems extending eastwards, across the new by-pass, and up the bottom slopes of Highdown. Many Roman dwellings were close to the spring line (as a water source), and the one on Highdown may have been no exception.

Neil Rogers-Davis
January 2006

Source Information:
(1) Sussex Archaeological Collection: SAC 80
(2) Ferring Past: Ronald Kerridge & Michael Standing, 1993

(Illustrations by courtesy and kind permission of the Sussex Archaeological Society - website: www.sussexpast.co.uk )
(Photo from the collection of the late Mrs Celia Hammond)

First uploaded: 8 January 2006