Watch as 19th century time capsule discovered in Leith Robert Burns statue is opened

It was discovered when the statue was moved for tram works.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 5:08 pm
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 5:10 pm

A time capsule discovered in the base of the Robert Burns statue on Constitution Street has been opened to reveal contents placed there more than a century ago.

The time capsule, which was sealed into the base of the statue when it was built in 1898, contained a note written by its creators to whoever might open it in future

It revealed newspapers from 1898 including the Scotsman, a pamphlet on the history of the Robert Burns Club, and newly minted silver and gold coins.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mr Boyes used a saw to open the capsule.

The capsule also contained newspapers including both the Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News from 1961, showing that it had been discovered and opened when the statue was moved then.

The original items from 1898 are undamaged, including the handwritten note, which records the process of commissioning and building the statue.

The document, which lists stakeholders and subscribers and is signed by the stakeholders, is the ‘most important’ item in the capsule, according to conservation consultant Nic Boyes ACR, who led the opening of the bottle.

“I’m really happy with the way it went,” he said.

Conservator Nic Boyes ACR opens the capsule. Picture: Neil Hanna

“The hairs on the back of my neck stood up because I realised, suddenly, that I was standing in the footsteps of the people who were putting the things in and sealing it.

“The care that we were taking to open it, they were taking similar care to weld it in situ without burning it.”

Mr Boyes opened the capsule not knowing whether or not he would be the first person to see inside since 1898.

He initially sawed off the bottle top, and then using his limited view of the inside began to drill holes in the bottle wall without damaging its contents.

The first task was to saw the top off the lead bottle. Picture: Neil Hanna.

Then aided by Ylva Dahnsjo ACR, a consultant conservator who specialises in paper, he sawed through a portion of the bottle wall in order to open it up and remove the contents.

“I don’t think any of us here would have known what to expect, said Moira Burke, Secretary of Edinburgh Burns Club.

“It’s just fascinating, I’m amazed. We all have the innocence of schoolchildren about us because we’re so excited.”

The contents of the capsule will now be examined by Mr Boyes, before it is eventually reconstructed and put back into the statue.

The capsule contained several newspapers.

Unlike those who discovered it in 1961, Mr Boyes will make no addition from the present day.

John Lawson, Edinburgh City Council Archaeologist, said: “We didn’t know what we were going to find, it’s been a complete mystery to us. It could have been absolutely nothing and empty, or, as it’s turned out to be, a really exciting discovery where we’ve got messages from 1898 and from 1961, so we’ve got the voices from two different communities.”

He added: “It’s a rare thing, we don’t get to deal with paper records enough, and the newspapers are something people can probably identify with, from just a few generations ago.”

The time capsule was discovered during the move of the Constitution Street statue to make way for tram extension work.

The capsule contained a document from 1898 signed by the stakeholders who built the statue.
The time capsule was discovered in the plinth of the Constitution Street Robert Burns statue.