'Luxurious' Roman bath house discovered under city centre park

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An exclusive private Roman bath house which would have been owned and used by society's elite has been discovered under a public park.

Archaeologists made the "once-in-a-lifetime" discovery, which is made up of three buildings, underneath Priory Park in Chichester, West Sussex.

The remains were first identified using ground penetrating radar equipment and the find was confirmed through a small dig of the area followed by an excavation.

The historians discovered two Roman townhouses, one of which had its own private bath house, believed to have been owned by someone of "great wealth and importance".

James Kenny, Chichester District Council's archaeologist, said: "What's remarkable about this discovery is that it has survived over 1,000 years in an occupied city. This is because they are under a park that has never been built on.

"It's almost unique to see Roman remains survive in this type of setting and to be so complete.

"What we've found is a hot room from a very small, private bath suite that would have gone with an extremely well-appointed, luxurious town house. These properties would definitely have been owned by the richest people in the city.

"It would have been part of a series of rooms, including a changing room, a warm room, a hot room, possibly an even hotter room and then into a room with a cold plunge bath.

"All of these rooms would have been part of a very high status bath suite at the back of a very grand house."

He added the houses, which probably date to the third of fourth century AD, would be the equivalent to a property worth millions of pounds today.

"Only someone who was incredibly wealthy could have owned a bath house like this and paid for it to be maintained. They would have either made their money out of commerce and trading, or were a member of the local aristocracy."

Mr Kenny said he believed the houses were originally located on a street but this would have been lost when a reservoir was built in the park during the Second World War.

He added that once fully charted, the site will be returned to its current state with the evidence gained used to bid for funds for future excavations.

Cllr Susan Taylor, cabinet member for planning at Chichester District Council, said: "We know that this has created a lot of interest and local residents are intrigued by what has been discovered on their doorstep and so we have enjoyed giving people the opportunity to visit the site and see the discoveries."