25 April 2017 | 5 °C

London 2022, As Foreseen In 1922

M@
By M@
London 2022, As Foreseen In 1922

Somewhere beneath this building on Regent Street may lie a century-old time capsule, due to be opened in 2022.

It was buried in 1922 beneath 153 Regent Street, a newly built shop for drinks company Hedges & Butler. In what was described as “a queer little ceremony”, the box was placed beneath the foundation stone. It contained copies of The Times and Daily Mail, gold coins and notes, books and a few other undisclosed mementoes. The container was not to be opened until the far-off year of 2022, a hundred years hence.

At the time of the ceremony, futurologist Professor Archibald Low was asked by the press to imagine what the reopening ceremony would look like. He paints an intriguing picture of our era.

Regent Street in 2022

Picture them, first of all, coming up Regent Street. Should they drive, they will drive in soundless and scentless electric broughams, on a street made of some resilient material, such as rubber compound. If it be night, the edges of all the pavements will be lighted in order to facilitate swift nocturnal driving. The street as a whole will no longer be lit in patches, but will be illuminated by a diffused light spreading a soft radius from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly. Compared with to-day there will be a great silence over the city. Motor cars will speed up and down with scarcely a murmur from their powerful engines.

Wouldn’t that be something? Perhaps by 2022, we’ll have welcomed far more electric cars to the roads. Indeed, a recent exhibition at London Transport Museum offers this very picture of driverless electric cars whizzing along Regent Street.

Image: London Transport Museum/RCA.

He next goes on to speculate about retail developments along Regent Street.

In the entrance to every large shop will be a moving stairway always in motion. Shoppers will no longer have to walk through clumsy doors and wait for slow lifts. They will step from the street on to the stairway. They will be whirled inside and transported all round the store, with the whole merchandise of the world passing swiftly before their eyes.

This, of course, is not so very far from the modern department store, with escalators conveying shoppers from floor to floor. Low’s prediction here is a simple case of taking a rare but existing technology and extrapolating it to ubiquity. London’s first moving staircase — or ‘facilis ascensus’ as the over-educated dubbed it —  had opened in Harrods in 1898, more than 20 years before.

Men in onesies, women in trousers

Low goes on to discuss how the deputation might be dressed.

Romance will largely have departed from dress, and in place of the modern jumble of waistcoats, jackets, ties, &c., the male members of the deputation will be wearing one-piece suits. Men have less and less time to devote to dress to-day. Every year brings a new simplification. Your business man of AD 2022 will have his under-wear made of a single piece of artificial silk, somewhat after the fashion of a modern boiler suit. And over that he will don a similar garment prepared against cold.

Basically, the men will all be wearing onesies in the year 2022.

Onesies: all the rage in the London of 2022. Image by Michael Goldrei in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Our prophet continues, describing broad-brimmed hats (“to afford greater protection to his ever-weakening eyes and skull”), and one-piece shoes molded from rubber (Crocs?). He kind-of foresees smartphones. “In their pockets, apart from the inevitable wireless receiving set, will be a tiny pocket dictaphone, ready to take down at any moment a sound record of their thoughts.” He concludes: “Some of the women of the deputation are almost certain to be wearing trousers.”

WTF?

Finally, he imagines the ceremony itself, in which the time capsule from 1922 is at last opened.

“And when they come to take away the stone, perhaps a member of our deputation will make a speech... It will be delivered in a soft voice, very quickly, with many abbreviations in place of the long phrases that we know to-day.”

OMG, the Prof 4saw txtspk.

Can the capsule be found?

So what of this time capsule? Will there, in fact, be a delegation to Regent Street on the expected date of 29 August 2022?

Probably not. We contacted the Crown Estate, whose property portfolio includes most of Regent Street. It seems that the building, ‘Block W4’, was recently remodelled, with no sign of the forgotten time capsule. A spokesperson for Crown Estate elaborated:

Unfortunately we have no further records of the time capsule being buried in 1922, and after following up with our developers and construction managers who worked on the recent redevelopment of the plot, can confirm that nothing was excavated during the construction works. The original buildings that were behind the listed façade were completely demolished and all materials were sorted and recycled thoroughly, so we are confident that nothing ‘slipped through the net’ and was sent away. It may well be that the capsule, should it exist, remains safely buried underneath one of the new Regent Street stores.

Unless further information comes to light in the next few years, Low’s depiction of a onesie- and croc-wearing delegation (with some women in trousers) seems destined never to be. This time capsule must wait for the chance turn of a spade in some far-off excavation.

Last Updated 12 April 2017