HOUSE buyers could get more than they bargained for when they visit a property with a historic past.

The picturesque exterior of the 18th Century Bath House, in Piercebridge, near Darlington, hides an archaeologist's dream of Roman and medieval remains.

Stepping into the backyard of the seemingly-modest, semi-detached cottage, would-be buyers are transported back in time, first to a medieval chapel and then to a Roman bath house.

A medieval arch, once part of a chantry chapel, leads people into what was once a third Century Roman bath house.

Jessica Trudgill, 77, who has lived in the house since 1986, is selling it so she can move closer to her family in Cheshire.

Mrs Trudgill's late husband, Derek, and mother-in-law were living in the house in 1978 when they were approached by an archaeologist and a group of university students who wanted to dig up their back garden, believing a Roman bath house was hidden underneath.

Led by the late Peter Scott, who wrote a book about the archaeology of Piercebridge, the Durham University students also excavated a site at the back of the property, revealing a Roman fort dating back to 270 AD.

Although Romans are believed to have lived there much earlier.

A section of the eastern elevation of the fort is still preserved and on permanent public display. However, a large proportion of the 11acre fort lies under later buildings.

Piercebridge Roman Fort, known as Vinovium, was the southernmost of four County Durham forts constructed along Roman Dere Street, which terminated at Hadrian's Wall.

The fort would have comprised of several barrack blocks, granaries, workshops, a headquarters and the commandant's house.

Mrs Trudgill said she had welcomed a lot of archaeology students over the years to her unusual historical site. She said: "We know it was mixed baths because they found hair pins made of deer horn worn by the women and also counters used by men who gambled, which I got to keep."

Because of its rich historical past, there may be some ghosts lurking in the back garden.

Mrs Trudgill said although she had not seen anything, she has smelled unexplained odours over the years.

"I've smelled lavender and rose, also tobacco and wood smoke, but the smell is not there for long and then its gone, " she said. "A history expert told me once that the Romans would have used the flowers as perfumes after using the baths."

The baths were a hub of social activity in Roman times, used by all members of the fort, including the poor, to gossip, play games and gamble.

The house is on the market for offers in the region of £195,000, with Smiths Gore.