All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


Speaking of Egypt and time travel and being rather long lived myself, I have long been fascinated by the notion of time capsules and in particular the one hidden in London's 'Cleopatra's needle' on the Victoria embankment. The needle itself is obvious but few people know about the time capsule.  It was placed there by the occultist Joseph Bonomi (see below) just before his death in an early attempt at Cryonics.  
Amongst the collection of typically odd time capsule items (including photographs of the good looking English women of the day, a box of hairpins (why?), tobacco pipes, a set of weights, a baby's bottle (why?!!), some toys, a razor, coins, a picture of Queen Victoria, a history of the strange tale of the monument, a translation of its inscriptions, a map of London and various daily newspapers), Bonomi included a vial of his blood and possibly and rather gruesomely, a piece of his flesh in a cigar box together with magical instructions written on vellum.  It didn't save him - in fact, the reputed curse of the needle may have precipitated his untimely end almost immediately afterwards but he firmly believed that beings would exist in the future who would be able to re-incarnate him from his tissue. This may seem ludicrous but many people who are not blessed with longevity are still doing this sort of thing.  You can visit the Cryonics society here

I like the needle - it is one of those London features that we pass many times without noticing.  I recently visited its twin in New York's Central Park.  When people talk about the special relationship between the USA and the UK, they rarely realise that if this exists, it is entirely because of the symbiosis between these two monuments.  There is a third - erected in Paris in order to foster further harmony -  but in fact it does not match - which perhaps explains the odd, slightly antagonistic relationship between our countries and France.  Of course all three were plundered from Alexandria where they had been buried in the sand for thousands of years.  The story of their transport is remarkable - the plaque on the London needle records the names of the six men whose lives the curse claimed on its journey here.  Bonomi's Clerkenwell colleague the psychic engineer Samuel Warner may also have been involved in the journey and the amazing mysterious means of movement of theses giant objects.

There is no prescribed date for the unlocking of the casket in the London needle.  How will we decide when it is time?  Perhaps we won't be here at all.  I would be interested to know it there is a similar casket in its New York counterpart.  Do let me know if you know.  And if you too are interested in time capsules, there is an entire society devoted to them at the Crypt of Civilisation.


spillyjane said...

I have always been both fascinated and terrified of time capsules. This might be an odd way to react to a collection of random oddities, but I suspect it began (as most things,) when I was a child. No one wants to contemplate their own mortality at age 6.

But thank you so much for this nugget of info - when I visited Cleopatra's needle this past March I had no idea that the time capsule even existed - at the time I was inspecting the shrapnel damage on the sphinxes. Now I have something else to ponder whilst walking the Embankment this December.

clerkenwell kid said...

There are a few in London Jane - I suppose I should write about them all but there is never enough, ahem, time.

It is funny with all this talk about commodities and stuff isn't it? Oil, gold, rare metals, food, the most valuable thing I have is time.

Anonymous said...

The house I live in is a time capsule. My grandparents never throw anything away, so I'm constantly finding amazing old things (most recently, an Eastman Kodak bellows camera from the 1920s). I'm kind of in love with the history that's preserved here.

My siblings and I always tried to make time capsules as kids (I think we heard about them on some PBS show), but never had the patience to leave them closed for any significant amount of time. It might be worth trying again.

spillyjane said...

I'm not surprised that there are so many in London - what with so many people living there for so long - or are these all relatively recent examples of time capsulery?

Time is, hands down, our most precious commidity. I could do with a lot more of it these days myself.

I've recently started wearing a watch again, and every so often the 'tick tick tick'ing works its way into my consciousness - somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. Ah well - keeps me moving.

clerkenwell kid said...

Well ditto - I think we buried one in the garden - but then dug it up again to see if it was still there about a week later..

I remember when my nephew was born, I wrote a letter to for him to open when he comes of age - with some cash in it too. I wonder if he has opened it already?

spillyjane said...

I think the trick with time capsules to just forget about them altogether - which is not always easy when you're wodnering/worrying if something has dug it up out of the garden.

And the letter to your nephew - what a curious thing - I do hope that if he does know about it he waits until the appropriate time to reas it.

clerkenwell kid said...

Yeah - I hope I didn't write anything embarassing or give him any advice or anything like that.

And I hope he doesn't spend it on anything sensible

spillyjane said...

I can't recall the last time I've spent money on anything sensible! I am sure there is hope for your nephew.

Perhaps a timely post-it note adhered to the envelope? "PS..."

Tamsin Wilson said...

After your last post mentioning Bonomi I was delighted to notice, on my London wanderings, Cleopatra's needle.!/tamsindraws/status/87872322266071040

Also a short twitter conversation resulted in my marvelling at the images of Temple Works in Leeds, shown to me by the kindly @artistsmakers

What a guy Bonomi must have been.

I'm not even sure that the contents would matter if I found a time capsule it's all about the anticipation and mystery. Perhaps I should start making my own riddles and burying my own treasure as Kit Williams once did.

clerkenwell kid said...


That is a an amazing building. Bonomi was on something - no doubt about it. Warner too

It is funny you should mention Kit Williams, I watched the documentary - an amazing story. It was a little shame how the treasure hunt ended but very moving when Kit was re-united with the hare!

Tamsin Wilson said...

That documentary was amazing. I already loved Masquerade -it was one of those beautiful books that you adore as a child and when you come back to it you still find it fascinating. And aside from the riddles, it's just so stunning, what a painter!

Yes, sad about the cheating with the treasure hunt but I guess it's not all that surprising, when the buried jewellery (can't believe he makes such intricate jewellery too) was so valuable.

It mentioned he only sells new work through inviting friends/buyers to an open evening at his house -I'd like in on that! Definitely worth saving for.

clerkenwell kid said...

Yes, I would love one for the drawings room wall myself. I really like the way he has just kept doing this very particular, english pagan thing in defiance of the internet and the art world. Lovely.
And those eyes!

It was quite moving to see the man who should have found the hare - the teacher, not the cheat - when he finally saw it in the flesh too. Great stuff