That, there above, is Tate Britain's rotunda and dome. The architectural ensemble is one of the under-appreciated baubles of London. Be sure to look up next time you're passing through.
This central tower was among the original features of the Millbank gallery, which opened to the public in 1897. Every so often, surveyors take a good look at the structure to check for damage. An inspection in 1985 discovered something remarkable: a hidden message scrawled onto the plaster of a skylight by Victorian workers.
The concealed note reads as follows:
This was placed here on the fourth of June, 1897 Jubilee year, by the Plasterers working on the job hoping when this is found that the Plasterers Association may still be flourishing. Please let us know in the Other World when got you get this, so as we can drink your Health. Signed W Gallop, F Wilkins, H Sainsbury, J Chester, A Pickernell Secretary.
The section of plaster was removed and can now be viewed in the gallery's Timeline room, located in the basement. This archive gallery sits within the foundation of the oldest part of the building’s structure and tells the story of Tate and its collection by drawing on the vast resources of its archive.
But who were these plasterers, and why did they leave such an enigmatic time capsule?
A number of plasterers associations operated at that time. The biggest, and most probable candidate is the National Association of Operative Plasterers. This organisation went through a sticky financial patch in the mid-1890s, which would help explain the concern for the association's future that is evident in the note. After changing name a couple of times, the association eventually joined the Transport & General Workers Union in 1967, which was itself swallowed up by Unite in 2007. So, while the Plasterers' Association is long defunct, its interests are still overseen by a trade union today.
If you bump into Messrs Gallop, Wilkins, Sainsbury, Chester and Pickernell in the Great Hereafter, be sure to pass on the message.