Bathtime is an audio and visual installation we have created at Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum’s reconstructed Roman bathhouse in Wallsend. We conceived and created the installation together, with Jacob writing the poems can be heard in the in the bathhouse, and Imogen designing and creating the artwork, though we both interviewed the people whose stories informed the project.

There’s a well-known Wallsend photograph of the ESSO Northumbria under construction, its hull rising high above the terrace houses of Leslie Street. This awesome photo gave us the means to imagine what it might have been like to witness the arrival of the Roman Empire in Britain, bringing its own order and organisation as well as the technology to build great structures, like bathhouses, and heat them. And, just as Romans occupied the site of Wallsend and then abandoned it, so shipbuilding, which dominated life and work here for many decades, has gone. Speaking to local people who knew about Wallsend, now and in the recent industrial past, as well as to archaeologists, stable-hands, experts in Anglo-Saxon literature, and managers of modern Turkish baths, we realised that the stories, expertise and experiences of all these people was what we wanted to make central to Bathtime: we wanted to put these stories side by side, whether they were stories of welding and tacking, stories about Roman finds, tunnels under the Tyne or early medieval manuscripts. Side by side, we hope these stories ring with something of the richness of the place and the generosity of the people we met. For Wallsend is a ‘changing place’: a place the Venerable Bede walked, where many histories are layered and overlap, and where people have known great change, and can speak about such change with eloquence and power. By listening to what we were told, and drawing out echoes and resonances, we’ve tried to find a way to embody some of the many histories of Wallsend.

There are two soundtracks in the bathhouse: on one is a version of an Anglo-Saxon poem called The Ruin, originally written in the very different language of Old English. You’ll hear fragments of the original, too, and, on the other track, twelve fifteen-line poems, each representing and quoting someone we’ve spoken to. These poems are intended as a kind of ‘bearing witness’, just as the Anglo- Saxon poet who wrote The Ruin bore witness to the abandoned Roman buildings and baths through which he or she wandered, wondering at great change and at what might have brought it about. You can also hear these poems on the website, in the Audio section.

Jacob Polley and Imogen Cloët

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: