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Team of experts working on mystery time capsule document

25 June 2015

The mystery document found in the Brooke Park Time Capsule has finally been retrieved from the glass bottle which held its secret in the foundations of Gwyn’s Institute in Derry for 175 years.

Following some painstaking attempts to remove the documents from the vessel, the glass cutting expertise of staff at City of Derry Crystal was called upon to cut the glass container in half, before the manuscript could be removed.

The capsule was unearthed in April during a planned excavation by Derry City and Strabane District Council. Document experts at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) will now assist in the final stages of preserving the manuscript which has been sent to their conservation studio at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.  

Archivist with Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Museums Services, Bernadette Walsh, revealed what was discovered when the bottle was finally cut open.

“There was much excitement when the bottle was opened last month and we were disappointed when we found the manuscript couldn’t be removed. So we were delighted to see the last of the contents finally being revealed.

“Inside the capsule along with the coins of the realm we found a parchment manuscript document which unfortunately has been water damaged. The manuscript ink has faded to a rusty brown hue and there have been some tears in areas where the manuscript was folded, so it will need some cleaning to decipher the content.

“Over the weeks since its discovery I’ve worked on flattening the document and ensuring no mould was developing. But as it became apparent that the document needs more intensive conservation treatment we decided to work with conservation colleagues in PRONI to complete the conservation work.  

“The document was delivered last week and the conservator immediately placed the item in isolation, with good ventilation, in preparation for further work including further flattening, surfacing cleaning, stabilizing and reinforcing where necessary. The item will then be prepared for exhibition.”

Michael and Kevin Bond from City of Derry Crystal who assisted the archive team said: “We were delighted to be asked to help. It’s not often that we get the opportunity to work on glass this old and it was a challenge to cut into the object without causing any damage which would impact on its conservation. It was great to be able to assist in the preservation of such a fascinating piece of the city’s history.”

The overall Brooke Park restoration project is supported by the Heritage Lottery fund and Paul Mullan, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland, said: “When we funded Brooke Park’s exciting restoration project little did we know what other heritage would come to light. The time capsule and its contents have really sparked the imagination of the local community as well as those from further afield.  
“It is great to see all the various heritage skills and expertise coming together and working on the capsule and its contents. Along with everyone else, we can’t wait until they are on display so we can get a look at these fascinating treasures.”

The manuscript will need further cleaning before the content is fully legible, but records suggest it could be a copy of the will of John Gwyn, who bequeathed a fortune of over £40,000 to the people of the city for the building of a facility to care for young male orphans. The document was folded and tightly rolled before being placed in the bottle, which was buried in the cornerstone of the Institute when it was built in 1839.

The capsule was uncovered during a planned excavation of the site on the 2nd April, which is currently undergoing a major renovation as part of a multi-million pound regeneration project of Brooke Park.
 
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Further press information can be obtained by contacting Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Marketing and Communications Section on 02871 376504