Old houses hold many secrets which only emerge with chance and time. A Scottish plumber named Peter Allan was working on the heating pipes of just such a house when he encountered something strange: an antique bottle secreted beneath the floorboards. Opened by Eilidh Stimpson—the resident of the house—and her two children, the bottle was revealed to contain a fascinating note written in 1887. Long hidden under the floor, this message in a bottle is one of the oldest known to have been discovered.
Allan told BBC Scotland, “The room is 10ft by 15ft and I have cut exactly around the bottle without knowing it was there. I can't quite believe it. I was moving a radiator and cut a random hole to find pipework and there it was, I don't know what happened. I took it to the woman downstairs and said, ‘Look what I've found under your floor.'” Stimpson, who owns the Edinburgh house with her husband and children, decided to wait until the young ones came home from school to investigate the bottle. The children were delighted at the surprise, but, as the mother explains, “When I picked them up, I told them I had something really exciting to tell them and they said, ‘Is it that we are having hot dogs for tea?'”
The family tried to remove the curled up paper within the bottle with tweezers, but they found this tactic began to damage the fragile sheet. They eventually decided to break the bottle with a hammer, although they were sure to keep the pieces. “We were all crowding around and pointing torches at it and trying to read it, it was so exciting,” said Stimpson. The note turned out to be written by two workmen who built the floor. In 1887, the room had probably been meant for a maid.
The note reads: “James Ritchie and John Grieve laid this floor, but they did not drink the whisky. October 6th 1887. Who ever finds this bottle may think our dust is blowing along the road.” The 135-year-old note has since drawn historical inquiry. In the 1881 census, the men were shown to live just a few miles away from the house with the bottle, in the Newington area of Edinburgh. Stimpson plans to preserve the note in an acid-free pocket so it can be enjoyed for years to come. The family plans to frame the note with a piece of the glass bottle as a reminder of this fascinating encounter with the history of their home.