Opening of Nuffield Building time capsule, (from left to right) Bernie Topham, Nathan Byng, Professor Graham Galbraith CBE, Professor Paul Hayes, Sarah Arnold, Anna Delaney, Stacey Langford , Jonathan Craner © University of Portsmouth

Contractors demolishing the Nuffield Centre have found a 1940s-time capsule behind the date stone of the building

10 July 2023


A time capsule prepared 74 years ago has been opened, after it was discovered during the demolition of a University of Portsmouth building.

Contractors dismantling the Nuffield Centre on St Michael’s Road uncovered a sealed lead pipe at the weekend behind the date stone of the building, marked May 9th 1949. They believed it could have been a treasure trove because of its weight and location.

The building was originally constructed as the Nuffield United Services Officers’ Club to provide sports, recreation, accommodation and catering facilities to officers of the three services and their families in the city. 

The laying of the foundation stone took place on Monday May 9th 1949 at 2.30pm at an event hosted by the then Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Frank Miles.

Nuffield Building Foundation Stone

Nuffield Building Foundation Stone © University of Portsmouth

It’s thought the capsule was placed within the building as part of the proceedings. It was opened this morning (Monday 10 July) to reveal several historic items marking the occasion. 

Treasures included a copy of The Times and The Graphic newspapers, a King George VI Half Crown coin with in a bag stamped by the Secretary U.S (United Services) Officers’ Grounds, an ‘Order of Proceedings’ from the laying of the stone event, a list of the grounds staff with signatures and headed notepaper from the construction company, John Hunt LTD in Gosport.

Coin discovered in Nuffield Building time capsule

Coin discovered in Nuffield Building time capsule, © University of Portsmouth

Demolition Site Manager, Nathan Byng, discovered the capsule. He said: “It's very rare to come across time capsules. Sometimes we get told that they're there, but this was a complete surprise.

“When I found the lead pipe I could picture the guys who put it in place, and as a Portsmouth boy myself it felt like it was meant to be."

Demolition Site Manager Nathan Byng opening the time capsule

Demolition Site Manager Nathan Byng opening the time capsule, © University of Portsmouth

In July 1951, HRH Princess Elizabeth opened the new U.S Officers’ Club at an official ceremony. It was paid for by Lord Nuffield and cost £170,000 pounds. 

Ernest Berry Webber was the English architect behind the design of the building. His other work included the Southampton Civic Centre, King Edward VI School, Dagenham Civic Centre, and Hammersmith Town Hall as well as rebuilding Portsmouth Guildhall.

After the club finally closed it was purchased in 1978 by the University of Portsmouth who used the site for administration offices and a Student Services hub.

“When the pipe was placed the University wasn’t even a University”, explained University of Portsmouth archivist, Anna Delaney.

“In 1949 we were Portsmouth Municipal College and based in what we now call Park Building. We had no idea that this capsule had been placed in Nuffield, which makes finding it even more special.

“The contents of the capsule are still in fantastic condition and are now here in the University Archive for safekeeping."

The contents of the capsule are still in fantastic condition and are now here in the University Archive for safekeeping.

Anna Delaney, University of Portsmouth archivist

The Nuffield Centre is being demolished to make way for a proposed new teaching and learning facility as part of the University’s estate masterplan to provide modern buildings and facilities for students and teaching. 

University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Graham Galbraith CBE, attended the capsule opening earlier today. He said: “This is a fantastic find and we are very grateful to the construction team for recognising they had stumbled across something special, and handling it with such care.  

“What struck me most was the headlines on the Daily Graphic newspaper from 1949, which include strike action and issues around dentistry. It’s not too dissimilar from what we’d be reading today!

Daily Graphic newspaper discovered in the time capsule

Daily Graphic newspaper discovered in the time capsule, © University of Portsmouth

“While the University wasn’t involved with the initial placement of the capsule, it was a proud moment to be able to see something that hasn’t seen the light of day in more than 70 years. We will ensure that its treasures are preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

The University of Portsmouth archive would like to hear from you if you have any items from our history. Please contact