One hundred and fifty years ago, a family in the Tunbridge Wells Pantiles hid a time capsule containing items that give an insight into life in the 1860s. Fast-forward almost 130 years and the capsule was discovered whilst we carried out work on our homes in the Pantiles. We look back at the capsule and its contents.
A glimpse into the past
On Friday 20 March 1868, Alfred Nicholson, a chemist from 11 the Pantiles, wrote a letter explaining about his home and family and enclosed it together with a number of items, including coins, labels from his shop, a receipt and a postage stamp, to create a time capsule, which was buried under the new hearthstone.
The Nicholson family took the opportunity as work was being carried out by local builder John R Walker to improve the drainage and flooring in the kitchen.
Whilst the work was underway, two springs were found and the water was diverted away from under the house into drains.
The letter explains the work that was being done and introduces the members of the family as Alfred the writer and breadwinner; Rachel, wife and the head cooker; Katherine, Roger, memory of Martin and Gilbert, their four children and ‘bread eaters’. It also lists their assistant, nurse girl and general servant who lived with them and an errand boy.
Alfred ends his letter by saying: ‘In the belief that if turned up far enough in the future this record might perhaps say “one poor couple” of interest for any future dweller herein pend. Having this said, we conclude by writing the end.’
A second step back in time
The capsule was discovered by builders carrying out a £1.6m renovation project for High Weald Housing, the previous name of Town & Country, back in 1995.
It wasn’t the only capsule to be found. Initially builders stumbled across a capsule buried by Alfred in 1874. Wrapped in brown paper and lint, a bottle contained old coins, a newspaper, labels from the chemist shop and a letter. This letter was much longer and told of the family’s history, the birth of nine children and death of two from whooping cough. It also gave instructions on where to find the first capsule.
Our gift for the future
After the capsule was discovered and the renovation works completed we created a time capsule of our own with letters from children at Claremont Primary School, a toy, a section of newspaper and transcripts of letters from Mr Nicholson. It was buried in 1995 by the then Tunbridge Wells MP Archie Norman.
Who knows when it will be rediscovered and who will find its contents?