Victorian-Era Time Capsules Discovered In Scotland

Roundup: Talking About History

Angie Brown, The Scotsman, 06 Oct. 2004

Three Victorian time capsules holding secrets about John Knox's House in Edinburgh were found yesterday in the foundations of a neighbouring church.

The bottles, which have been sealed since the 1850s and hold dozens of scrolls, were discovered in a stone chamber by workmen building in the foundations of Murray Knox Church at the site of the former Netherbow Centre in the Royal Mile.

Although the large glass jars are yet to be opened, historians understand the rolls of paper, which are bound in ribbon and handwritten, contain information as well as lists of names of donors who saved John Knox's House from being demolished more than 150 years ago.

During the late 1840s protesters, who started one of Scotland's first conservation campaigns, were successful in rescuing Edinburgh's oldest building by collecting sufficient money to build a church in the adjacent derelict gap site, which was used to hold up the precarious structure that was threatening to fall down. Many famous people, including the lord provost, artists of the day and ordinary locals, made donations to save the site before their names were locked inside the time capsules.

Donald Smith, the director of the Netherbow Centre and a cultural historian, said he was excited by the discovery.

"It will be a huge thrill to open them up, but I have to wait until we can bring in a specialist to prevent damage," he said.

The bottles were found during a GBP 3.5 million revamp of the Netherbow Centre, the home of the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Mr Smith, who is also the author of John Knox House - Gateway To Edinburgh's Old Town, said the find was history repeating itself.

"We have been gathering all the names of people who have given money towards the project we are presently carrying out, because we wanted to honour those who have donated to make it possible to complete all this work.

"It is unbelievable timing to find they had exactly the same idea all these decades ago," said Mr Smith."What I hope to do is add our recent time capsule with all the names of the donors now, and add them to the place I am going to bury the original capsules.

Steve Cardownie, the city's deputy lord provost, said it was a"fabulous" find.

"It will be very intriguing to find out what our ancestors have put inside the bottles, which will tell us more about the times they were living in," he commented.

"I am sure not only will the discovery enthral historians, but also the citizens of Edinburgh will be enchanted by the idea of such an old time capsule."

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