Setting it in stone: time capsule to bridge the ages at ancient monument

“I suppose everyone was talking about the historic Platinum Jubilee and my husband, Adrian, was saying how interesting it would be if an artefact was found in the bridge..."

Pictured on the slipway beside the ancient bridge are (from left) Michael Taylor, the County Council’s Engineering Project Manager, business owner Helen Johnson with the capsule, and Richard Finn, Director of Principal Contractor Landbuild

Release date: 24 June 2022

A time capsule has been sealed into the Old Swan Bridge in Pulborough – one of ten Scheduled Ancient Monuments owned and maintained by West Sussex County Council.

The idea came from businesswoman Helen Johnson and found support from Michael Taylor, the County Council Engineering Project Manager overseeing essential maintenance at the footbridge.

Helen, who owns The Cornstore Emporium antiques, gifts and tearoom business nearby, explained: “I suppose everyone was talking about the historic Platinum Jubilee and my husband, Adrian, was saying how interesting it would be if an artefact was found in the bridge. We’re surrounded by antiques at the emporium, which must have triggered us to think a time capsule would be something nice for people to open in years to come.

“I spoke to Michael and asked if there was any chance of putting a small capsule into the bridge’s structure. I heard about the opening of a Blue Peter time capsule, the contents of which did not survive well, so I bought a purpose-built capsule online.”

Michael said: “We are strengthening the northernmost arch and Helen approached us to ask if she could place a time capsule within the fill over the arch for somebody to find in many years to come.

“We saw this as a good opportunity for community engagement and gave her the go-ahead to start putting things together. The timing worked well because Helen had time to gather the items that she wanted to put in the capsule before we needed to fill the excavation of the arch."

Contents of the stainless steel cylinder time capsule include a Platinum Jubilee souvenir newspaper, some coins from an earlier jubilee, plus a note with current local information.

Work on the footbridge, which spans the River Arun and links Pulborough and Coldwaltham, started in April after Historic England gave the go-ahead.

Michael explained: “Following the strengthening works we will be undertaking masonry repair and replacement works to the whole structure to ensure that this impressive structure lasts for years to come.

“The footbridge is currently closed to the public while the strengthening works take place but is scheduled to reopen in approximately two weeks as the mason does not require the bridge to be closed to complete his work.”

The project is due to finish in August, subject to unknown factors, such as severe weather.

Richard Finn, Director of Principal Contractor Landbuild, said: “ We are always more than happy to support local ventures such as these and were happy to assist Helen with the installation of the capsule.”

Most of Old Swan Bridge was built in the 18th century, replacing an old wooden structure. The fourth arch span (southernmost arch) was added in 1834.

The nine other Scheduled Ancient Monuments owned and maintained by the County Council are:

  1. Woolbeding Bridge, Woolbeding with Redford
  2. Trotton Bridge, Trotton with Chithurst
  3. Iping Bridge, Stedham with Iping
  4. Habin Bridge, Rogate
  5. Durford Bridge, Rogate/Harting (river is boundary)
  6. Fittleworth Mill Bridge, Fittleworth
  7. Fittleworth River Bridge, Fittleworth
  8. Stopham Bridge, Stopham/Pulborough (river is boundary)
  9. Greatham Bridge, Parham
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