175-year-old genie let out of bottle: Is it Gwyn’s will?

editorial image

Glasscutters have released a mystery manuscript from a glass bottle found bundled with the 175 year old Brooke Park time capsule in April, which some reckon may be the last will and testament of the civic-minded Londonderry philanthropist John Gwyn.

The manuscript is water-damaged, its ink has faded and it needs specialist cleaning before we are able to read it.

But records suggest it could be a copy of the will of Gwyn, who bequeathed a fortune of over £40,000 to the people of the city for the building of a facility to care for young male orphans in Brooke Park.

The document was folded and tightly rolled before being placed in the bottle, which was buried in the cornerstone of the Institute when it was built in 1839.

Archivist with Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Museums Services, Bernadette Walsh said: “There was much excitement when the bottle was opened last month and we were disappointed when we found the manuscript couldn’t be removed. So we were delighted to see the last of the contents finally being revealed.”

The development follows some painstaking attempts to remove the documents from the vessel, the glass cutting expertise of staff at City of Derry Crystal was called upon to cut the glass container in half, before the manuscript could be removed.

Document experts at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) will now assist in the final stages of preserving the manuscript which has been sent to their conservation studio at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

Said Ms Walsh: “Inside the capsule along with the coins of the realm we found a parchment manuscript document which unfortunately has been water damaged. The manuscript ink has faded to a rusty brown hue and there have been some tears in areas where the manuscript was folded, so it will need some cleaning to decipher the content.

“Over the weeks since its discovery I’ve worked on flattening the document and ensuring no mould was developing. But as it became apparent that the document needs more intensive conservation treatment we decided to work with conservation colleagues in PRONI to complete the conservation work.

“The document was delivered last week and the conservator immediately placed the item in isolation, with good ventilation, in preparation for further work including further flattening, surfacing cleaning, stabilizing and reinforcing where necessary. The item will then be prepared for exhibition.”

Michael and Kevin Bond from City of Derry Crystal who assisted the archive team said: “We were delighted to be asked to help. It’s not often that we get the opportunity to work on glass this old and it was a challenge to cut into the object without causing any damage which would impact on its conservation. It was great to be able to assist in the preservation of such a fascinating piece of the city’s history.”

The overall Brooke Park restoration project is supported by the Heritage Lottery fund and Paul Mullan, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland, said: “When we funded Brooke Park’s exciting restoration project little did we know what other heritage would come to light. The time capsule and its contents have really sparked the imagination of the local community as well as those from further afield.

“It is great to see all the various heritage skills and expertise coming together and working on the capsule and its contents. Along with everyone else, we can’t wait until they are on display so we can get a look at these fascinating treasures.”

The manuscript will need further cleaning before the content is fully legible,

The capsule was uncovered during a planned excavation of the site on the April 2, which is currently undergoing a major renovation as part of a multi-million pound regeneration project of Brooke Park.