Explore a 150-year-old time capsule found in the walls of Manchester Jewish Museum

The sealed capsule was discovered during construction work of the museum’s newest building back in 2020.

By Emma Davidson | 13 June 2023

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The time capsule that was recovered from the museum. Image: Chris Payne

Finding a time capsule buried in the walls has got to be one of the most exciting discoveries made during any renovation. This is exactly what builders were faced with back in 2020 when working on Manchester Jewish Museum’s newest building, as they stumbled across a glass jar with its seal intact buried within the walls of the historic Sephardi synagogue.

The time capsule was hidden deep in a wall cavern next to the Ark (the holy cupboard which houses the Torah Scrolls) inside the beautifully restored synagogue. Early synagogue minutes show records of the capsule being laid behind the cornerstone of the original building on 11 June 1873, making it 150 years old. 

In 2024, Manchester Jewish Museum will celebrate its 150th anniversary, and, as part of the preparations for this significant moment, the museum’s curator and Deputy Chief, Alexandra Cropper, together with Conservation Officer from Manchester Central Library, Eugenie Karen, decided to open the time capsule revealing a number of items and documents. 

Alex Cropper and Eugenie Karen exploring the capsule. Image: Chris Payne

It was filled with old coins, synagogue documents and newspapers dating from the week of the capsule’s burial. It contained copies of prominent titles, including The Times, Jewish Chronicle, which was founded in 1841 and remains the oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper in the world and The Manchester Guardian, now more commonly known as The Guardian. Other newspapers included Manchester Daily Examiner and Times, The Manchester Courier and The Jewish World, which later merged with Jewish Chronicle.

Despite its age, the capsule and the documents inside were in extremely good condition and required little restoration. The museum’s curator and Deputy Chief, Alexandra Cropper, commented: “It was so thrilling opening the capsule and discovering what our synagogue founders decided to bury 150 years ago. The next year is going to be so exciting as we delve further into the synagogue’s historic minute books. I look forward to unearthing more of the story of this remarkable building to share with our audiences.”

The objects found will influence Manchester Jewish Museum’s plans for its anniversary next year, as guests will get the chance to dive into the artefacts uncovered in the capsule. Visitors can also expect immersive live shows and events inside the synagogue, as well as a new menu inspired by stories from the museum’s vast collection and by recipes from the contemporary Sephardi community from the venue’s fully vegetarian kitchen.

One of the synagogues at Manchester Jewish Museum. Image: Chris Payne

A new exhibition will also explore the history of the synagogue, allowing visitors to learn more about those who worshipped there in the past. Finally, the museum wants to invite its communities to help design a new time capsule to mark the synagogue’s 150th anniversary. Programmes manager, Gemma Meek, says:

“Whether you’ve visited the museum, cooked in our kitchen with us, ate in our café, watched a performance, or got creative in one of our workshops, we want you to help us shape Manchester Jewish Museum’s 2024 time capsule. If you’d like to be involved, please get in touch!”

Two workshops will be held on 9th and 13th July 2023, where participants will work together to design a new time capsule that reflects what Manchester Jewish Museum means to its communities today.  

Visit the link below for more information about the time capsule workshops and the museum’s 2024 programme of events.