Innovative Suspended Walkway Adds New Dimension to Great Wonder of Roman Britain

The life-size, gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva looks out from the brand new lightweight steel walkway suspended over the Temple Precinct at the Roman Baths of Aquae Sulis, one of the great wonders of Roman Britain in Bath.

The walkway is part of a £500,000 project built by Swindon-based contractors Beard for Bath & North East Somerset Council, and is the main part of a phased programme of enhancement aimed at improving the visitor experience and access at the World Heritage site.

The Temple Precinct which lies 15 feet below the Grand Pump Room and modern street-level, houses the original remains of the temple steps, the great altar, and the Roman goddess of the Baths’ sacred spring, Sulis Minerva. Sixteen hundred years ago her gilded statue once stood within the temple, but is now displayed on the new walkway as the focal point of the new display. The new step-free, suspended walkway has significantly opened up the viewing area for visitors who now have a panoramic aerial view of the monument below. It is also an essential pre-requisite for opening up almost the entire site for wheelchair access later this year.

Challenging build

“It was a challenging construction because the Baths and the Pump Room restaurant, which was above the works, had to remain open throughout the construction so we had to be extremely quiet,” explains Doug Gray, Beard site manager for the project. “Before we could build the walkway we had to carefully remove the existing 1980s pathway which was sitting right on top of the Roman remains and prop-up the existing masonry. It all had to be done without disrupting visitors or disturbing the ancient monument and we did it using a very quiet cheese wire-cutting technique, a sand cushion and protective foam matting.”

The area was excavated in the 1980s by archaeologist Peter Davenport from Cotswold Archaeology who advised Beard during the project to ensure that any Roman artefacts uncovered in the works were preserved. Beard worked with Bath architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios on the walkway. The project team also included regional company TR Scaffolding, structural engineers Mann Williams and Taunton Fabrications who made the steel.

Councillor Ben Stevens (Lib Dem, Widcombe), Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, comments: “We are delighted with the outcome of this project which has improved the visitor experience enormously. Beard worked in very challenging and constrained circumstances and delivered the project to the very high standard the public now expects when works take place on this ancient monument at the heart of the World Heritage site.”

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