Mans finds message in bottle from 1938 buried in sand, returns it to family

A message in a bottle, written on the back of a cake box in 1938, washed up on a U.K. beach on Tuesday.

Nigel Hill, 55, was walking his dog on the Channel Island of Jersey, near the coast of Normandy, France, when he stumbled upon the old glass bottle. Inside was a note by a John Stapleford, dated Sept. 5, 1938 — 82 years ago.

The handwritten note asked the finder to send a photograph to Barnet, Hertfordshire in England, almost 400 kilometres away.

“As we were coming back … I saw the bottle lying in the sand, half-submerged,” Hill told Global News. “I noticed there was a piece of rolled-up paper in it.”

It was a heavy, glass Smith’s bottle that had some Jersey language on it. Hill said he took the bottle home and ended up having to smash part of it to get to the note.

Wondering if the note was actually written over 80 years ago, Hill looked up the company listed on the cardboard the letter was written on — Cawley Bros Ltd.

Using trusty Google Earth, Hill was able to find the property, and later confirmed its existence on the Jersey Financial Services Commission’s public registry, which said it was first registered as a business in 1931.

Instead of keeping the note as a memento from the past, Hill set out to find relatives of Stapleford. With the help of social media, he was able to find the person who currently lives at the address, where Stapleford lived all those years ago in Hertfordshire.

“I managed to track down the current owner of the property … They did not buy the property from the Staplefords,” he said, but later received a call that confirmed Stapleford bought the property in 1941.

The mystery that remains is what Stapleford was doing in Jersey.

It was initially believed that the letter was written by John De Weldycz Stapleford, known as Jack, who was born in 1890 and died in 1980, Hill said.

He added that he thinks Stapleford was in Jersey to celebrate the wedding of his wife’s brother, Frederick Cecil Hatter, to Muriel Kathleen Larabalestier at St. Luke’s Church on the island.

It’s now believed that Stapleford’s son, John, who also attended the wedding and would have been 14 at the time, wrote the message in a bottle.

The family likely came to Jersey by sea from Weymouth on either the St. Julien or St. Helier, steamships that were running the route to the Channel Islands in the 1930s.

John Stapleford’s handwriting has been confirmed by his daughter, and her own lineage confirmed by a genealogist, but why he wrote the letter will remain a mystery.

“Possibly John ate his cake from Cawleys in Halkette Street, and then wondered what to do with the box and the bottle,” Hill said.

“I guess we’ll never know.”

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