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Dampener put on capsule opening

Published 23/04/2015

Conservator Stefanie White opening the lead time capsule (Martin McKeown/Inpresspics/PA)
Conservator Stefanie White opening the lead time capsule (Martin McKeown/Inpresspics/PA)

Excitement was tinged with frustration today as a 176-year-old time capsule was opened to reveal a rolled parchment too wet to unfurl.

The 1839 lead container unearthed in the foundations of a long-gone orphanage in Londonderry earlier this month was prised open with painstaking precision in front of a captivated audience in the city's Tower Museum.

Mystery deepened when the lid was peeled back to show a bottle plugged with a red wax seal.

Inside were a number of coins and a discoloured roll of parchment.

But mounting anticipation was punctured when professional conservator Stefanie White broke the news that the paper was too wet and swollen to remove from the bottle.

The expert said it would have to undergo a drying process before it could be taken out and unrolled.

Tower Museum curator Roisin Doherty said the wait would have to go on to read the parchment.

"If we had proceeded with that it would have meant it would have been damaged," she said.

"It's a bit frustrating but because it is part of the process of conservation we need to take our time."

The coins were removed from the bottle. One was dated 1817.

The capsule was discovered by council staff involved in redevelopment work in Derry's Brooke Park, where the Gwyn Institute orphanage once stood. The children's home was built with part of a £40,000 endowment from wealthy city businessman John Gwyn.

The old building was fire bombed during the Northern Ireland Troubles and demolished in 1986.

There are plans for a new building on the site as a feature of the restored Victorian Park.

Ms Doherty said it was not uncommon for such time capsules to be buried with the foundation stone of old buildings in Ireland.

"This tradition that is observed - and it's been going on since medieval times - when building work starts on a building, what happens is they lay the time capsule within the foundation stone," she said.

"They would usually do this in the north eastern part of the building. This is well documented."

According to an article in the Derry Journal in 1839 the bottle is thought to contain a list of signatures made by local dignitaries, a copy of the Act of Parliament and a copy of the will left by Mr Gwyn.

"There was huge excitement today because it was history in the making," said Ms Doherty.

Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor Elisha McCallion, who watched the capsule being opened, said it would be a valuable piece in the council's archive collection.

"It was fascinating to finally see the capsule yield up its contents, and to see the conservation process first hand," she said.

The redevelopment of the park is part-funded by Derry City and Strabane District Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Stormont's Department for Social Development,

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