Message in a bottle found after 82 years in the sea

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AN 82-year-old message in a bottle has been found washed up on the beach at Bel Royal – sparking a hunt to find relatives of the writer.

The message Picture: DAVID FERGUSON (27208060)

Islander Nigel Hill (55), who found the message on Tuesday morning while walking his red fox labrador Reggie, has now turned detective in an effort to find out more about the sender – John Stapleford.

The note, dated 5 September 1938, is written on the back of an old cake box from Cawley Bros Ltd, which was once based on Halkett Street, and was placed in a Smith’s bottle. The local bottling plant closed in 2003.

The message in a bottle Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (27208066)

It read: ‘Will the finder of this bottle please communicate with: John Stapleford, 18 Fitzjohn Avenue, Barnet, Herts, England. With a photograph.’

Mr Hill, who has worked in the finance industry, said that thanks to the help of fellow Islanders on the Facebook group Jersey Ask!Advise!Advertise! he had been able to track down the current resident of 18 Fitzjohn Avenue.

‘I thought at first this might be a hoax but it’s definitely not,’ he said. ‘As is the way with Jersey, I had lots of people contact me to help and I have been able to track down the lady who currently lives in the property. She says she does not recall a John Stapleford and she has lived there for 30 years.

‘But she has looked into the deeds of her home and found that a John Stapleford did buy the place in 1921. If he bought it then and was presumably in Jersey in 1938 it’s likely that he may have passed away. It would be really nice if I could give the bottle and the note back to members of his family. It could be an heirloom for them.’

Nigel Hill with his dog Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (27208055)


The St Helier parishioner is calling for the public’s help to track down Mr Stapleford’s descendants.

According to the Jersey Financial Services Commission’s public registry, Cawley Brothers Limited was first registered as a company in 1931. It ceased to be registered on 3 August 1976. Another firm called Cawley Bros Bakery was registered in 1956 and was dissolved in 1993.

Mr Hill, who found the bottle while walking on the beach near The Kiosk at Bel Royal, said: ‘I was just walking along and saw it and thought it looked interesting. Then I saw the note inside. Unfortunately, I had to break it to get the note out. The lady in Barnet has told me she will keep in touch if she finds out any more.’

Islanders with access to birth and death records in the UK say Mr Stapleford was born on 4 August 1889 and had worked as a civil servant as well as chief accountant with Customs and Excise. It is believed he had a wife called Nellie and that he died on 2 December 1980, aged 91. His address then was St George House, 11 London Road, Norfolk.


How Jersey looked at the time the message was written

It is not known why the bottle suddenly appeared after so many years, but one theory is that it may have been unearthed from the sand or dislodged from a rock by the recent storms.

IN 1938...

*Alexander Coutanche is the Island’s Bailiff. He served through the Second World War before standing down in 1962 as Lord Coutanche.

*On 4 November, the Jersey Airways de Havilland D.H.86 airliner St Catherine’s Bay crashes near the Airport, killing the pilot and all 12 passengers as well as farm hand Edmund Le Cornu.

*The average house price in the south west of the UK was £525 (£32,340 in today’s money) and the average salary was £162 (£9,971)

*Neville Chamberlain is the UK prime minister. On 15 September Mr Chamberlain meets German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden in an attempt to negotiate an end to German expansionist policies.

*Everton win Division 1 (the top league in English football), Grimsby Town, who are now in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, are also in the top flight. Portsmouth win the FA Cup and Leicester City and Birmingham got relegated.

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire

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