Wall, near Lichfield,
OSMap: LR139 - Ref: SK099064
Amongst the cottages and small houses of the village of Wall, Staffordshire, England, squat the remains of Letocetum, a Roman settlement. Letocetum was once an important staging post on Watling Street, the Roman military road from London (Londinium) to the city of Wroxeter (Viroconium), near present day Shrewsbury.
In an area already fairly well populated by the native British, the Roman Fourteenth Legion (Legio XIV Gemina) established a fortress on the hill beyond the present church around AD50. This was later replaced by a succession of smaller forts which were themselves abandoned by AD130. Meanwhile, during the later part of the 1st century AD, the small town of Letocetum had grown up along the road below the forts. At its height the straggling Roman town spread for over a mile along Watling Street. By the 4th century, however, it had contracted to a smaller defended area. Letocetum seems to have declined rapidly after this period and the focus of settlement shifted to Lichfield.
Graham Webster notes that it was listed in the Historia Brittonum writing "Wall, appearing as Cair Luitcoyt, and undoubtedly correctly ascribed, appears rather incongruously among such major towns and military depots as York, London, Chester, Wroxcter, Caerleon, and Caer-went, but nevertheless must have been a place of important consequence because of its inclusion as a strategic city." Other versions of the Historia Brittonum refer instead to Cair Loit Coit (Lincoln) and Geoffrey of Monmouth identified it (with the spelling Kaerluideoit) with Lincoln as did his contemporary Henry of Huntingdon.
The name Letocetum eventually became associated with the current city of Lichfield Letocetum being the Latinised version of the Old British "Letoceton"; leto- — grey, ceton — 'wooded area'; cf. modern Welsh llwyd and coed with the same meanings respectively; cf. also Middle Welsh Caer Lwytgoed — Lichfield; caer — fortification.
Today the visible remains of Letocetum include a mansio that provided overnight accommodation for travelling Roman officials and imperial messengers. The foundations of an inn and bathhouse can also be seen and many of the excavated finds are displayed in the small on-site museum.
The Heated Rooms
These buildings once contained a tepidarium, a warm room, and a Caldarium, a hot room rather like a Turkish bath that was provided with basins of water which bathers could splash about to create steam.
The floors were raised on columns of tiles (pilae) which allowed the hot air from the furnace to circulate beneath and up through flues in the walls. This kind of underfloor heating system is known as a hypercaust.
There were stoking yards and furnaces at both ends of this suite of heated rooms. The tile columns of the hypercaust below these two rooms have been covered over to protect them fromweathering.
The Changing Rooms
This unheated room (frigidarium) was probably a changing room for part of its life, as well as forming the start and finish of the bathing sequence.
bathers entered this first room of the main bath suite from the exercise hall next door. From here they moved through the warm rooms (tepidaria) and on to the hot room (caldarium).
They returned in reverse order, finishing with a dip in the cold bath here. As an alternative to the damp heat of the main range bathers also had the option of the hot dry room (laconicum).
The Exercise Hall
The baths were the focus of social life in a Roman town: a place for exercise, relaxation and meeting friends as well as for bathing.
In Mediterranean countries the exercise hall was usually an open courtyard (palaestra) but here it was likely to have been a covered hall. We know from excavation that the room had simple painted wall decoration and central columns. Ball games, wrestling and weight training helped to work up a healthy sweat before bathing. The less energetic might simply go straight to the changing room (apodyterium).
The massive stone foundations suggests that the mansio was a two-storey building. It was probably constrycted with a timber frame which would have rested on top of the stone foundations. The walls were possibly plastered.
The building had an official function: to provide lodgings and fresh horses for officials travelling on government business together with accommodation for important visitors.
A small provincial town, like Letocetum, would also have needed a centre for administration of local government business and some of the rooms in this building may have accommodated this function. The Mansio at Letocetum may have had an open courtyard (atrium) with a formal garden and a gallery on the first floor. It is also possible that the central area might have been roofed over. As an informal meeting place, it would have provided a pleasant area for visitors to and townspeople to mix and exchange news.