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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2017  /  November 2017  /  Unearthing Time Capsules of Temperance

Unearthing Time Capsules of Temperance

James helps MOLA identify documents buried for over 130 years

Unearthing Time Capsules of Temperance

Dr James Kneale has been attracting the attention of both BBC 1 Inside Out London and the Times by helping the Museum of London Archaeology Service (MOLA) to identify the contents of time capsules discovered in glass jars during the demolition of the National Temperance Hospital on Hampstead Road, London, as part of the High Speed Rail link (HS2) project.

The Hospital, originally opened at 112 Gower Street in 1873 as the London Temperance Hospital, was dedicated to the treatment of the sick without the medical use of alcohol.

Alcohol was widely used as a stimulant, as food for fever patients, or to dissolve powdered drugs, and many hospitals spent more on alcohol for these purposes than they did on their patients’ bread and milk!

Many greeted the opening of the hospital with alarm, including doctors who saw it as a dangerously unorthodox experiment, but by the start of the twentieth century most British hospitals had followed suit.

The jars, sealed and buried when work for the original wings of the hospital began in 1879 and 1883, contained a number of documents relating to the work of the hospital, to some of its individual patrons and directors, and to the wider temperance movement.

Some of the material can already be found in the hospital’s archives, but some has not been seen before, and reminds us that the temperance movement was very diverse, drawing in a wide range of political, medical and religious actors, from Radical MPs from working-class backgrounds to conservative evangelical ministers.

MOLA expect to find a third time capsule when the final part of the Hospital, the Insull Wing, is demolished next year, and James hopes to be able to help them identify its contents too.

The BBC report can be watched here (the final third of the programme) until the 29th of November:

The Times story can be found here:


The Temperance time capsule (MOLA Headland Infrastructure)