Time capsules are a fascinating part of London’s underground world – one which is often forgotten about! In fact, research suggests that we’ve actually lost most of the time capsules we’ve buried. Oops. Despite that, I love the idea that there are countless vessels of mystery buried deep under London, just waiting to be discovered.
Are there any London time capsules that you know of?
This is Part 2 of my adventure through time (capsules). You can find Part 1 here:
Great Ormond Street Hospital
I’m not sure where, but somewhere under Great Ormond Street Hospital, there is a time capsule buried by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1991. I’ve also not been able to find any reference to what’s inside beyond this New Scientist article, but apparently there are ten items within.
True to time capsule form, they are wonderfully eclectic. In addition to a copy of The Times, a photo of the Princess of Wales, and some coins, there is also a hologram of a snowflake, a CD, a sample of recycled paper, some tree seeds, a mini-TV, a calculator, and a “European Community” passport (hopefully the owner of the passport in question was aware of where it ended up).
As I’ve previously implied, while a time capsule is meant to present a certain image of the past, sometimes the past assumes the future is going to be speaking the same cultural language. Unless you include an itemised list of why each object has been chosen, sometimes the meaning is going to be lost in translation. The fact that we’re bemused in the present about items included in our time capsules, what hope does the future have?? In a Times article written the day after the Great Ormond Street time capsule was buried, the journalist wrote that the future discoverer of the capsule might be confused by what it contained. Helpfully, they suggested some alternatives – some art or a banana-flavoured condom. You know, to imply contemporary “tastes”.
This is probably one of my favourite time capsules on the list just for sheer quantity. Underneath the Globe Theatre are as many as 550 time capsules. At least, that was how many empty capsules were donated – I don’t know if they were all filled and buried, but definitely a good chunk of them were.
Some people are surprised to learn that the thatched, half-timbered theatre in the centre of London isn’t, in fact, straight out of the sixteenth-century and is actually less than 25 years old. It was opened in 1997 and championed by actor and director Sam Wanamaker. While the Globe was being built, Wanamaker also launched Globelink, an international fundraising campaign at schools and universities to raise the £100,000 needed for the Globe stage roof. In the end, an amazing 323 educational institutions from over 20 countries got involved and for every £200 they raised, they received a time capsule.
The time capsules have been left to rest in a sealed steel vault directly underneath the centre of the Globe, stored beneath a magical Forest of Arden, as featured in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The effect of the forest has been imagined by a huge artificial tree which stands guard over the capsules. The students were asked when they wanted the time capsules opened – many said they themselves wanted to be there, along with their children and, in some cases, grandchildren. One student wrote that he didn’t really mind when… as long as his Head Teacher was dead. Nice. Rather than bank on conditionals like these, they settled for the 50th anniversary: 8th June 2047. On a Saturday with a full moon.
The actual contents of the time capsules is unknown, which I think is great. It means, hopefully, the reveal will be even more exciting and until then, the resulting rumours can build the suspense. Apparently, the contents may possibly include a piece of the Berlin Wall, a stone from the Rocky Mountains, and a condom in a capsule from a Catholic school. This is the most that condoms have ever come up in one of my blog posts.
The Design Museum sits alongside Holland Park on High Street Kensington in the former Commonwealth Institute. During the construction of the museum, a time capsule was buried in front of it in 2012 with the intention of uncovering it in 100 years time.
As it was buried in front of a design museum, the parameters for what could be included was pretty vast. Here are some of the highlights.
- As 2012 was the year of the London Olympics, there are plenty of London 2012 pieces, including a Team GB cycling helmet and a London 2012 Olympic torch (chosen by Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum), as well as Isle of Man London 2012 Olympic stamps (designed and chosen by Paul Smith).
- Vivienne Westwood chose some of the memorabilia from her London 2012 Fashion Week
- I like that a standard light bulb also made it onto the list (chosen by designers Thomas Heatherwick and Ingo Maurer)
- But my absolute favourites come from the founder of the Design Museum, Terence Conran. A bottle of Burgundy – standard. The workers will probably be thirsty after digging up the capsule in 100 years time… An iPhone 4s, because Conran wants to play with perspective, so to speak. What was once considered such an impressive piece of tech will seem like a clunky antique to the eyes of the future. And, last but not least, a tin of anchovies to prove “how silly sell-by dates are”. He’s convinced that in 100 years time “those anchovies are going to taste as good as they do today”. What a way to prove a point.
The remaining objects:
- Tube maps designed by artist Tracey Emin (chosen by Boris Johnson)
- An image of Battersea Power Station (chosen by fashion designer Margaret Howell)
- An EU flag, one euro coin, 2p stamp, USB containing images of jazz and blues album covers including John Coltrane and Bing Crosby (chosen by structural engineer Cecil Balmond)
- A Badoiiing game – the 2012 winner of the museum’s design competition for 13- to 16-year-olds (chosen by Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum)
- Designer Hans Wegner’s 1949 Wish Bone Chair (miniature model), created for Carl Hansen and Son (chosen by John Pawson)
- A Cylinda Line coffee pot designed by Arne Jacobsen (chosen by Kenneth Grange)
- A Lockheed Lounge (miniature model) designed by Marc Newson (chosen by Marc Newson)
- A model of MAXXI museum in Rome, designed by Zaha Hadid and The Autopoiesis of Architecture, col.1: A New Framework for Architecture by Patrik Schumacher (chosen by Zaha Hadid)
Time capsules are often prompted to commemorate significant moments in time: a huge festival, a new building. Arguably, the last two years have been some of the most monumental in many of our lives, and several time capsules have been triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. In London, these include the KidZania time capsule sealed in 2020 “behind the cogs of the Clock Tower” in the children’s entertainment wonderland. They invited children to send in photos and drawings and write letters, reflecting on the lockdown and the pandemic and encouraging them to think about the skills they’d learnt and the future. It will be opened in 10 years. Company Three in Islington, in collaboration with hundreds of other youth theatres and schools across the world, has produced a video Coronavirus Time Capsule – a weekly vlog by young people across the country, recording their activities and emotions in response to the pandemic and political events of the past two years. They have produced an archive of 1,735 videos. Tideway, more commonly known as London’s Super Sewer, has been at it too! In the time capsule buried 60m deep, beneath the deep shaft in Blackfriars, along with a smart phone, maps, photos, a Tideway-branded hardhat, hand tools, a cube of concrete, and a Thames water sample, there’s also a Covid-19 mask. An evocative symbol of 2020 and 2021, but what will it mean to the future?
Great Ormond Street Hospital
- ‘The capsules that time forgot’, New Scientist, (accessed 06/08/2021)
- ‘Bid time return: the time capsules buried under the Globe Theatre’, Shakespeare’s Globe, (accessed 05/08/2021)
- ‘Time capsule buried under new Design Museum site’, The Telegraph, (accessed 05/08/2021)
- ‘Time capsule buried as work starts on new Design Museum’, BBC News, (accessed 07/08/2021)
- ‘What is our Time Capsule?’, KidZania, (accessed 06/08/2021)
- ‘The Coronavirus Time Capsule’, Company Three, (accessed 06/08/2021)
- ‘Tideway buries ‘time capsule’ beneath deep shaft in Blackfriars’, Tideway, (accessed 06/08/2021)