WHEN a workman started knocking down part of a chimney in a museum he found a letter in a beer bottle that had lain hidden for 102 years.

Stonemason Joe Kipling discovered the bottle as he worked on a major alteration project at the Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle.

Museum officials were delighted yesterday when they read the letter, which had been handwritten in 1906 by Owen Stanley Scott, who was the curator and secretary of the museum at the time.

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It states that the flue was one of a number being blocked up in April 1906 when stoves used to heat the building were superseded by a hot water central heating system.

It goes on: “I wonder if this flue will ever be reopened? If it should be, and this bottle should still survive, the finder may be interested to find this brief record, which I now deposit.

“I, the writer, am the second curator of the museum, and have held the appointment for nearly 22 years. I am nearly fifty four years of age – a Churchman and Conservative, and a Past Master of the Barnard Lodge of Freemasons, No 1230.”

Mr Kipling, who is 18 and lives in Barnard Castle, said: “I was amazed to see the bottle.

Luckily, I managed to pull it clear before pieces of stone could fall on it.

“Once we got the letter out, everyone was thrilled to see that it was written more than 100 years ago. I’m going to get a photocopy of it framed to hang up at home.”

Peter Baker, site manager for the building scheme, said: “It was exciting for all the lads when this relic was found. It gives everyone a lift when an interesting artefact like this is discovered during any building operation.”

The chimney, which stretches from the ground floor to the roof of the building, is being removed to make way for a new archway near the main entrance.

Once the project is completed, the bottle, with its label stating that it once contained Usher’s beer, will be put on display with the letter and an explanation of how it was found.

Adrian Jenkins, presentday director of the museum, which was opened to the public in 1892, said: “It is fascinating to have come across this link to the past. In return, we are planning to put a time capsule somewhere in the walls before the project is completed. Hopefully, it too will be discovered some time in the future.”