Regeneration project in city centre unearths 175-year-old time capsule

Emma Barron, park manager, with Colin Kennedy, Parks development manager, with the 175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone  of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park
Emma Barron, park manager, with Colin Kennedy, Parks development manager, with the 175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park

A 175-year-old time capsule discovered in Londonderry will be opened in the coming days, the council has confirmed.

The article was found as work was being carried out on the regeneration of Brooke Park in the centre of the city.

175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone  of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park.'''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography

175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park.'''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography

A spokeswoman for Derry City and Strabane District Council confirmed that the capsule was discovered in the footings of the former Gwyn’s Institute building, which was once a home for orphan boys.

She said: “The capsule, dating back to 1840, was set in the foundation stone of the building and was discovered as part of a planned excavation to uncover it.

“It is unclear at present what the contents of the sealed lead container may be.”

It is thought that the capsule may contain old newspaper clippings dating from the early Victorian period as well as coins from the time, but its contents for now remain a mystery.

The ''175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone  of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park.'''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography

The ''175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park.'''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography

The council spokeswoman said: “Staff at the council’s museum and visitor service are currently carrying out a full examination of the capsule.

“As an artefact belonging to the city, it will be opened over the coming days with the appropriate care and attention before the contents are unveiled to the public.”

Brooke Park is currently undergoing a massive £5.6m regeneration, and many of the former Victorian features expected to be restored include Gwyn’s Pavilion and the ornate central Oval Pond which once existed there.

New facilities include a play garden, a new synthetic pitch, horticulture training centre and contact sports centre. The work is due to be completed by the summer of 2016.

The time capsule is the second discovered in Londonderry over recent years. In 2013 newspapers, documents, coins and fragments of glass were discovered in an 1887 time capsule by contractors working on the stonework as part of the recent Guildhall restoration project.

Brooke Park – regarded as Londonderry’s ‘green lung’ due to its proximity to the Walls and city centre – owes its existence to two local benefactors, John Gwyn and James Hood Brooke.

Gwyn was a linen merchant who was born at Drumskellan, near Muff, in Co Donegal in 1754. When Gwyn died a bachelor in 1829, he left the bulk of his wealth – amounting to over £40,000 – for ‘as many male children of the poor resident in, and belonging to, the city of Londonderry ... as the said funds will feed, clothe, and educate... orphans or such children always to be preferred’. The trustees of Gwyn’s will purchased the Brooke Park site for £200 and on September 9, 1839 the foundation stone of Gwyn’s Institute was laid by the Protestant bishop of the day, Richard Ponsonby. The building opened its doors in 1840. Although Gwyn’s Institute was demolished in 1986, the grounds survive and the lower part of the park retains much of the original path layout.