Message in a Bottle

People Jul 13, 2022

In the early 1980s some work was being done on a building in North Street, though its not quite clear whether this was renovation or demolition. During which a glass bottle was discovered inside the brick wall of a Victorian extension. Inside the bottle was a handwritten note, seemingly left there by one of the workmen who had built the wall in 1856, specifically so that it could be discovered in the future.

The note and what remained of the bottle were deposited with the Oxfordshire Museum service in 1982, and they are now held in the archive at the Oxfordshire History Centre in Cowley.

The note reads as follows:

This place was erected by Thomas Grimsley to serve for a kitchen and a seedroom for William Horwood. These premises have been in the Horwood family many years and there was a large baking pear tree cut down which stood in the middle of the kitchen, very old.
But these things are of little importance to those who are journey to a better country, a better city who’s builder and maker is God. But let us remember that nothing that defileth or maketh abomination shall enter there.
If this should be found and fall into the hands of one who is a swearer or a drunkard or any unclean person. My friend, reason over these things. Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Or into the hands of a person young and foolish, perhaps laugh and sneer at their things, let me entreat him to give a second thought, before it is too late, and to remember though thy creator, in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come and the years draw nigh, when thou shall say I have no pleasure in them.
Or into the hand of one who love the Lord, let this remind him to hold fast that which thou hast that no man take thy crown, and daily seeking to know more of Jesus; and to be made like him. And then a few years at heart, we shall awake up into scenes of Glory which shall never end.
Which I trust that by God’s grace the writer at this time will be there. So goodbye.
This done by Thomas Grimsley. Not him that had the work, but helped build it. A relation in the 20th year of his age. June 30, 1856.

A Thomas Grimsley, son of Mary and Japhet, a mason, was baptised in St Edburg’s Church, Bicester, on 7th September 1836.

The message seems to have been planned out and written ahead of time, because there is a short note at the bottom of the last page, written in a more rushed hand, that reads:

I must tell you the news of the day. A man who lodged at Thomas Grimsley has hanged himself, named Felix Palmer.

Not much detail for such an interesting bit of gossip. But luckily we also have local newspapers to go on. On 5th July 1856, the Bicester Advertiser printed the following:

SUICIDE - On Monday last, quite a consternation prevailed in this town in consequence of the report that a respectable tradesman, Mr Felix Palmer, plumber and glazier, had put an end to his life by hanging himself in his workshop.
It appears he got up on Monday morning at half-past five, and proceeded to his shop at the usual hour. At breakfast time as he did not come in, a little boy, James Grimsley, went to call him, when he saw him hanging to the rafters of the shop. He ran home and told his father, Mr Thomas Grimsley, at whose house Palmer has for many years lodged.
Mr Grimsley and his sister instantly ran to the shop and with help that was quickly at hand got him down. He was quite dead, and apparently had been so some time. He had nailed a piece of sash cord in two places to a rafter; to that he had attached himself with a handkerchief in a loop, and had strangled himself by throwing the weight of his body on one side, his feet still touching the floor.
An inquest was held the same evening at the Rose and Crown public house, before W. Brunner, esqr., in the course of which it was given in evidence that the poor man had for some time been in a desponding state, and had some years ago attempted to destroy himself. The jury found “that the deceased killed himself when in an unsound state of mind”.

It makes me wonder how many other buildings in Bicester are hiding interesting secrets inside their walls. The Grimsleys worked on many projects around the town and there’s no reason why young Thomas couldn’t have left a little time capsule in each and every one.