The Dividing of the The Ways

Peter Knight in 2014

Shown here is the Dividing of the Ways and the steps down ‘290’, which is slightly wider than the Great Antrum, although the height remains similar.

The Dividing of the Ways is perhaps the most perplexing part of the tunnel system. The Great Antrum arrives at a peculiarly-shaped area, where suddenly we have more roof space, because the ground has started to slope down. It is here, for the first time, that two people can pass each other.

When Doc Paget first arrived at this area in 1962, he did not suspect that there was anything more than an abrupt change in the passage’s direction of about 20º to the right, associated with traces of the steps below his feet, now covered in centuries of crystalline deposits, and a steeper descent. But on second glance some things here started to look a little strange.

The first thing we notice is that there is a row of tiles set at an angle in the tunnel roof. These tiles are Roman and similar to those seen elsewhere, both at the entrance area and deeper into the tunnels. To the right a shadow line indicates a recess about 20cms (7 ¾ inches) wide.


The Dividing of the Ways

Peter Knight, circa 1970 Members of a local NATO archaeological club and part of Doc Paget’s investigative team, circa 1970. The person with the beard is Peter Knight, who has done much to further research into the tunnels and supplied a great deal of material for this website. If the unidentified person in the foreground is you, then please get in touch via this website. Peter Knight & unidentified person

Doc’s Diagram

The wall on the left side of the tunnels was found to be hollow. After much further exploration and some months later, Doc Paget and his younger co-explorer Keith Jones discovered that there was a passage leading to the space behind this wall. The Romans had blocked it off and done their best to disguise it by blending the wall seamlessly into the continuing wall of 290. With time the surface appearance has almost completely blended in.

Two shallow recesses in either side wall appeared to Doc Paget to be to allow a door to sit into – a door that could close either one of two tunnels. It is for this reason Doc Paget called this area the Dividing of the Ways.

Doc claimed he saw a door ‘cardinal’, by which he meant a pivot, in the floor and that this cardinal disappeared some time later. This is perplexing because, as Doc himself said, there is a considerable amount of crystalline deposit on the floor and any pivot would be deeply embedded in it. 

Doc’s door idea


Sweep over the image above to reveal Doc’s idea for a door

Whatever was loose on the surface, it wasn’t Doc’s ‘cardinal’ pivot. Recent close examination reveals no trace of one. In any case, the floor has started to descend quite steeply at the entrance to the Dividing of the Ways, making any door swing impossible unless there were large gaps between the door and the floor.

There is indeed a passage behind the wall and this will be discussed in great detail when we get to look at North 120 and South 120, behind this wall.

The Curious Circle

In some of his diagrams, Doc Paget noted a curious black circle at the top of the cemented-over wall. Was this the result of some chemical leeching out as the cement dried, or was it something more intentional?

The slightly darker smaller dot within the circle was made by a site custodian who jabbed his penknife at it. This was observed by Peter Knight on an occasion in the early 1970s.

Paget’s Doorway proposition

It was not the lack of a pivot though that might make one start to wonder if Doc’s idea is correct. It is obvious that if his plan is accurate, it would have resulted in an extremely wide and heavy door.

A divergence of the tunnel creating an angle of 40º would have resulted in a more plausible door width. Doc’s continuation of the Great Antrum 270 admits to an angle of only 20º.

A top pivot point for the door is also a problem, as North 120 creates a void where the pivot should exist.

The Roman Roof Tiles

Looking back up from 290 to the Dividing of the Ways. The row of Roman tiles can clearly be seen cemented at an angle into the roof.

The obvious conclusion is that they are hiding something, closing something off, but what – and why? The short answer: nobody yet knows for certain. But we can make some educated guesses as to what is behind there.

This picture shows the last tiles in the row and how they are notched into the wall. What we do know is that North 120 runs behind here. It would be logical to assume there was once some slot, an aperture, between 290 here and North 120.

The reason why is less easy to fathom. If this is supposed to be a steam channel for Roman Baths, what was the slot doing there in the first place? Why lose all your precious heat to somewhere else? If, on the other hand this is a ritual site, then the slot could be used have been use for theatrical effects – sounds, smells and smoke. We might allow our imagination to run riot.

Doc Paget examines the line of Roman tiles in the early 1960s
Doc Paget examines the line of Roman tiles in the early 1960s

Traces of the original roof curvature can still be seen on the right wall, outlined here in white. 

Examination of the tunnel profile as it descends suggests that the tunnel roof was once rounded uniformly and that it was later cut into to accommodate a row of Roman tiles.

Robert Temple with night-lights lit in the lamp niches. It’s hard to see why these niches were dotted about so randomly if it wasn’t for some kind of theatrical effect. They certainly seem to serve no purpose in a steam channel for a Roman bath.

For maintenance you would carry a hand-held torch with you. But if humans could tolerate being in here, there would not be much heat left for the Roman baths a long way away at the surface, would there? If there was heavily saturated steam, would lamps ever light in the first place?

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