It was long suspected that there had been a considerable Roman presence in the Prestatyn area. Roman finds had regularly been discovered at the complex of lead mines in the area and a Roman road linking Prestatyn with the road south through St Asaph (the probable site of the lost Roman city of Varis) was known to exist. So, when excavations of 1934-37 discovered a ditch, followed by stamped tiles of Legio XX, fired at the Holt workshops outside of Wrexham, some masonry and a bathhouse, no one was particularly surprised. What remained a mystery was the context, especially surrounding the timber buildings outside the bathhouse. The area around Melyd Avenue was, and is a residential area, and efforts to create a plan of whatever complex the bathhouse was part of were frustrating. There were suggestions that a fort had been found.
After the Second World War, a series of new excavations were undertaken to answer some of the questions raised by the earlier works. Using the bathhouse as its centre, the 1950s excavations discovered a number of interesting finds, including a quantity of building rubble from around AD 150. But, what they also showed was that the site was unlikely to have been a fort, but rather a vicus, a settlement of sorts, but a settlement raised for what purpose?
A cursory knowledge of the Prestatyn-Meliden-Dyserth area illustrates the importance of the mineral and lead mining industries. Mining in this area might well have taken place on a small scale, before the Roman arrival. Indeed, some evidence of earlier peoples were found – traces of an infant’s burial alongside evidence of a roundhouse. But with the presence of the Romans in North Wales it became a huge industry. Excavations of the bathhouse area in the 1980s began to make clear that Prestatyn was likely as not a vicus built to service an industrial site. Indeed, some of the puzzlement of the original archaeologist, F. Gilbert as to a series of timber buildings beyond the bathhouse was answered by the later works which clearly identified them as workshops, and a civilian settlement about those workshops. It is now believed that Prestatyn used be a port, through which large quantities of lead were shipped to distant parts of the Empire.
What remains of the bathhouse is extremely interesting. Built in two stages; the first raised in around AD 120, while a cold room and plunge room were added later. It gives a wonderful plan of the layout of the building, and does not require much imagination to gain a sense of the experience of attending a bathhouse. It has been beautifully restored in the heart of a residential area, and remains a great credit to the authorities that choose to make a feature of this little slice of Prestatyn’s Roman past.