A review of our January event by Mary Champion

On Sunday 29th January, Beryl Plent gave a presentation about the Gateacre Time Capsule to a packed audience in the Chapel Hall.

When the Gateacre Hall Hotel in Halewood Road was being demolished in the winter of 2003/04, a time capsule was found by one of the workers as he took down a stone doorway in one of the bars. The Gateacre Society had previously suggested that this doorway - dated 1652 on the lintel - should be saved in view of its age. Fortunately the developers agreed, which is why the sandstone door casing was being carefully dismantled before being sent away for cleaning. The 123-year-old capsule was picked out of the rubble, having probably been hidden behind the door. It consisted of a cylindrical wad of documents, about 8 inches long, sealed into a round container of some sort which unfortunately seems to have broken as it fell to the ground.

We only learned of the existence of the time capsule several months later, when the father-in-law of the finder emailed the Gateacre Society asking for more information about the building and its former occupants. Soon afterwards we were surprised and delighted to hear that he had decided to present the precious bundle of documents to the Society for safe keeping and study. They have given us a fascinating glimpse of life in Gateacre in Victorian times - which was the theme of Beryl's talk.

The contents of the time capsule were clean, dry and remarkably well preserved:

  • The Liverpool Daily Post for April 13th 1881.

  • The New York Weekly Herald (4 pages only).

  • Handwritten notes by George H Finlay Robertson, aged 15.

  • Handwritten notes by his brother James Robertson, aged 11.

  • An unsigned drawing of the 1652 stone doorway.

  • Advertisements for local businesses, and two calling cards.

  • A Cheshire Lines railway timetable and Index of Fares.

  • An invitation to a Town Hall reception from the Mayor of Liverpool.

  • An illustrated 4-page catalogue of Welsh Woollen Goods.

  • A contractor's estimate for redecorating the Dining Room.

Copies have been made of the originals, several of which are now protected in glass picture frames and kept out of the light.

Great interest was shown by Radio Lancashire, Radio Merseyside, Radio 5 and BBC TV's North West Tonight programme - though not, strangely enough, by the Liverpool Daily Post! Five minutes of film was shown on North West Tonight in November 2005, with pictures of The Nook and Gateacre Village used as background shots.

Beryl told us that George Finlay Robertson and James Robertson lived in 1881 at what was then called 'The Laurels', Nook Lane, off Halewood Road. The family had a cook, a waitress, a housemaid and a laundry-maid, according to the Census records. Their father, George Hunter Robertson, was a cotton broker and obviously well-to-do. He opened the first Sub Telephone Exchange in the area - at 1 Gateacre Brow - in 1882.

In his notes for posterity, James gave us information about local people, and the fact that 'Lord Beaconsfield died to-day, April 19th 1881'. George junior gave us the different dates when the house was altered: 1652, 1770, 1853, 1869 and 1881. The two boys must have put their time capsule together when those latest alterations were being carried out - 'the old doorway again being opened' as one of the notes recorded.

Beryl concluded her talk by thanking the two boys for their foresight, and speculating on where their descendants might live today. (We know that the family moved to Plas Newydd, in the Vale of Llangollen, in the 1890s).

Beryl then invited the audience to see for themselves the various items - both originals and copies - which she had put on display, and to view the North West Tonight feature which was being shown on video. Many of the 60 people present took her up on that invitation!

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