Bath's Victorian Time Capsule

on Thursday, 21 March 2013. Posted in Conservation

The Archives Conservation team are currently working with the Contracts Conservation team to conserve a glass bottle containing two 18th Century documents from a Victorian time capsule.
The time capsule was found during excavations carried out by AC Archaeology within the foundations of the Gainsborough Hotel, Beau Street in Bath. This was previously the original location of the Bath United Hospital and the time capsule was buried in 1864 to commemorate the building of a new part of the Hospital, The Albert Memorial Wing. Work is currently underway building a new hotel on the site.

The bottle contained a book of subscriptions to the Working Men’s fund and a parchment scroll.

The glass bottle was tightly sealed and the documents rolled inside the bottle, making it difficult to identify the contents. There was a green residue within the bottle, which suggested arsenic, which was used in a green pigment that was popular in the Victorian era, and the contents appeared to be damp. A test was carried out on a small sample from the parchment document to determine the presence of arsenic and the results came back clear, giving us the go-ahead to conserve the documents.

It only became evident when the documents were removed from the bottle that the scroll was parchment. The parchment scroll was tightly rolled, very damp and severely water damaged. Water ingress and subsequent drying out of the scroll had caused the parchment to shrink and harden, creating a solid block that will not unroll. A broad range of interventive techniques were used to attempt to unroll the parchment, however it was decided any measures would cause further damage, therefore the only option was to dry the parchment and pack in acid free materials. Fortunately, a newspaper article was published in The Bath Chronicle about the building of the new wing and the time capsule, which reveals what was written on the scroll; an account of the proceedings relating to the building of the Albert Memorial Wing. The scroll was x-rayed to investigate its contents, as manually unrolling the parchment was not an option. The images revealed an object within the scroll, which could be a seal or a coin.

The printed booklet was slightly damp and in fair condition, a stark contrast to the scroll. The parchment had absorbed almost all of the moisture. The stitching of the booklet was intact and there were minor tears to the cover. There was considerable staining on the cover from dirt and water and a hardened coating on some areas from the leaching of collagen and proteins in the parchment caused by water damage. Conservation treatment for the booklet involves surface cleaning, washing, repair with acid free paper and tissue and drying under weight.

It is hoped that the objects will be displayed in the foyer of the new hotel once building work is completed.


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