Cotswold Outdoor is an outdoor supplies store in Brighton, England, nestled between women’s clothing stores. Before this building housed Cotswold’s, it was home to Bradley Gowns – one of the top tailors and furriers in Britain. Winston Churchill and his wife, Clementine, were among their clientele as were Hollywood stars like Brigitte Bardot.
While working on the building recently, construction workers found thirty stacks of World War II-era banknotes under the floorboards. The notes add up to £30,000 (about $40,000) Using the Bank of England’s inflation rates, that money is worth £1.5 million (just over $2 million) today.
Russ Davis is the shopfitter who discovered the cache of cash. The notes were stuck together and covered with dirt. He thought that he had found some moldy wood. Only after he broke one of the stacks in half did he realize what he had found.
Inside the block of paper was a £1 note. The money is a unique shade of blue which indicates that it is the emergency currency that was issued by the Bank of England during the war.
No one is certain why the money was stashed under the floorboards. Davis has wondered if the money had been stolen in a bank robbery. Howard Bradley, the last heir of the Bradley name and business, which is now a specialist dry cleaner, feels that the money may have been hidden out of caution.
The Bradley family has Jewish roots. Both of their sons had signed up to serve in the Royal Air Force. The family would have been aware of what was happening in Germany and would have had concerns. He said that he could understand if the family decided to take some precautions.
During the war, the family’s home was destroyed by a German V-1 rocket – Howard’s grandmother had to be dug out from the wreckage. Both of the family’s sons were fighting in the war and the Dunkirk evacuation was not progressing well. Howard thinks that his grandparents likely took some precautions in case no one came back from the war.
The money in the store may have been kept there in order to fund an escape attempt since the family would have been “on Hitler’s kill list,” according to Howard. It also could have been hidden as a resource to help family and friends.
Whatever the reason for hiding the money, no one ever came back for it.
It is unclear what should happen with the money now. Technically, it is possible to exchange the old notes for new ones by contacting the Bank of England either in person or by mail. What is not certain is who actually has a claim to the money.
For now, the money is being held by the Sussex police. After hiding for almost eighty years, the authorities are being careful with the millions these old notes represent.
Howard’s father, Eric, was one of the first to sign up to fight in the war, according to Howard. Eric enlisted in the RAF on the day Britain declared war, September 3, 1939. That day is also Eric’s 18th birthday. Eric’s brother Victor also signed up for the RAF.