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Sunderland Message in a Bottle Update

Ohhhhh MAN!!! Do you remember when I posted about this 1970s message in a bottle from Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, in northeast England?

Clint Buffington with Sunderland message in a bottle on the beach.

Clint Buffington with Sunderland message in a bottle on the beach.

Well, I dug it up recently to take another crack at it. I just can’t give up on this battered old message in a bottle. It’s so fragile that it would literally explode into a cloud of dust if you sneezed on it. And yet, it’s someone’s dream…someone’s memory…And I mean to find them.

Happily, the Sunderland Echo published an article in hopes of finding the author!

But, after their article went live, I began to discover new details in the message that could help us finally solve it… But I do need help.

Clint Buffington with Sunderland message in a bottle.

Clint Buffington with Sunderland message in a bottle.

New Clues Emerge From Sunderland Message In A Bottle

I found this message in a bottle May 26th, 2013.  For years, I just held onto it, afraid I would destroy the message in the process of opening the bottle. But finally, after years of honing a technique to open and preserve fragile messages with minimal damage, I went for it.

Sunderland message in a bottle, unopened.

Sunderland message in a bottle, opened.

What came out was not super promising!

The writing is extremely degraded and difficult to make out. I labored over this message, squinting, for hours, days, years now…trying every lighting trick I know, and came up with very little. In fact, all I could make out was this:

Apparent letters on Sunderland message in a bottle

All I really knew was that the author hailed from Sunderland.

I thought “Bar…” represented a first name, and “Sy…” represented the beginning of the last name. This is what the Sunderland Echo article says, too, since it’s what I believed at the time.

But when I dug this message out again recently, everything changed. Suddenly, I was able to make out subtleties I couldn’t see before. It could be that the message had dried out more over time, revealing pen impressions better. It could just have been the clear morning sunlight hitting the paper just right this time around. Whatever it was caused the letters to transform, disappear, and reappear before my very eyes…

First, below the address, I found I could read: “from you”. Then, below “from you,” I made out the words “Name… Sex…”

The author appears to be saying something like, “I’d like to hear back from you. Please include your name, sex, age, etc.” Back when this message in a bottle was sent, sometime between the late 1960s and late 1980s, this kind of formal request for biographical details in a response was a little more common than it is among more recent messages in bottles (though many still do make this sort of request).

But the bombshell came when I re-examined the most legible part, consisting of the partial name and address. This writing is so faint, it’s nearly impossible to capture even with a decent camera. Even my wife accused me of “making up” the letters!

Again, look for the traces of green ink. This photo was manipulated when I first opened the bottle to highlight that green writing, and it was still difficult, nearly impossible to see:

But somehow, by a quirk of light, or an unusual bout of lucidity while my kids napped, I saw something…new…different than I’d ever noticed before. Can you see it? Zoom way in and look close:

Sunderland message in a bottle under morning light 1

This was when my head went “ba-BOOM” in a tiny mushroom cloud, like a cartoon character.

Because all at once, I realized “Bar… Sy…” IS NOT A PERSON’S NAME!

As I peered at the “Bar…” part, I started to suspect…then became totally convinced that after the “R” came the letter “K”! As in BARK! Then, what I thought was a “y” at the end of the word turned out to be a “g”. So this first word turned out to be “BARKING”, rather than “BARCLAY,” etc.

I began to hunt around Sunderland on Google Maps, typing in “Barking Sunderland”. Well, never have I been more thankful for Google’s auto-fill feature. All at once, I found out why the “y” in “Sy” never looked quite right to me.

Simply: It isn’t a “y” at all, but a “q”. As in: Barking Square.





Can you make it out? Check out these photos in slightly different lighting (click each to open in a new tab and zoom way in)…Morning light 2 Morning light 3 Sunderland message in a bottle under morning light 4

And the road? It wasn’t Townsend Road or Tower Road or anything like it! It wasn’t a road at all, but a neighborhood!

Town End Farm!

Taking it all together, I realized that the full address is:

“Barking Square

Town End Farm


Tyne & Wear


Do you see it?

Sunderland message in a bottle close up.

Furthermore, I discovered incredibly faint characters to the left of the word “Barking” which MUST be the house number. I used to think these characters might say “To” as in “To Barclay Sy…” or whatever. But no. It is 10 (or 20) Barking Square.

In fact, the whole address looks like:

“10 (or 20) Barking Square

Town End Farm


Tyne & Wear


Here’s how I see it:

Sunderland message in a bottle partially transcribed

My interpretation of the name and address on the Sunderland message in a bottle.

Check out those “W” and “D” shapes. Those are pretty distinctive, though I couldn’t exactly capture it with my tracing. The Ws all have tiny loops in the middle, and the Ds are all capitalized and the “backbone” slants down to the right in basically every D. The mix of capital and lowercase letters suggests to me that a child wrote this. Also, the fact that this appears to have been a soda bottle points toward a young author.

What’s In A Name?

When it comes to messages in bottles, names are pure gold! An address is good. But we almost always need a name to verify the authenticity of a message in a bottle.

I returned to the brittle top edge of the paper, above the address, and squinted at the faint squiggles of green there.

As I toyed with the lighting, I began to make out letters! This very well could be the name. As of now, I can make out the following:

“…DDY (T / P)HYL”

So the first name could be something like, say, Addy, Maddy, Eddy, Teddy, or Paddy, etc. The surname appears to be something like Thyl… /Phyl… Since I only see one apparent character after the “L,” I believe the surname could be something like Thyle, Thyla, Phyle, Phyla, etc. Does anyone recognize those surnames? Or partial surnames?

Of course it’s also possible that these letters are NOT part of a name – they could be anything, I guess. But my hope is that, since they sit directly above the address, they could be part of the author’s name.

Sunderland Message in a Bottle Author’s Partial Name and Address

In total, here is everything I can make out with some confidence on this battered old slip of paper, from top to bottom:


10 (or 20) Barking Square

Town End Farm


Tyne & Wear




When Was The Bottle Sent?

This is another huge question. Who knows how many people have lived at 10 / 20 Barking square over the years?

I have speculated, based on the style of bottle, that it most likely was sent in the 1970s.

Sunderland bottle on the left; a 1977 message in a bottle I found on the right.

But bottles of this general shape were made from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. Luckily, Facebook reader Paul Stevens pointed out that Tyne and Wear didn’t officially exist as a metropolitan county until 1974. That gives us a rough date range of 1974 – 1990 (as bottles like these became increasingly less common in the 1990s).

Somehow, I’ve lost track of the pieces of the bottle – I may even have recycled them… That’s a shame, because there could be a date stamp on the glass.

Detail of bottle closure / cap.

Detail of bottle closure / cap.

However, I revisited my message in a bottle journal where I record dates and details of each find, and was intrigued by the following passage:

“It is a clear bottle with a metal cap–I think a soda bottle. I can see impressions in the paper, but it is older, and a bit jacked up. The bottle looks like the style typical in the 1970s and 1980s, so I’m hoping it’s an old one. Worried about finding a name and contact info. The date stamp on the glass may be 1989.

“MAY” BE?! Gah! That drives me crazy! When I read this, I recalled that the bottom of the bottle was stamped with something that could have said “89” or, possibly, “B9”. If it is the number 89, then I would lean toward thinking that 1989 was when the bottle was made. That’s certainly possible, but it really does look older than that to me. If the stamp in fact says “B9” then it could simply designate the factory where the bottle was made, or a particular machine that made the bottle. Actually, glass markings are so notoriously confusing that even if it IS a number, like 89, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a date stamp.

Just something to think about.

Regardless, the date range of this message in a bottle starts, most likely, at 1974 and ends most likely, in the early 1990s.

Alas, I didn’t get a photo of the potential date stamp. But I did find this shot with an “8” embossed near the bottom of the bottle.

Number 8 stamped near bottom of bottle.

The number “8” is stamped near the bottom of the bottle (separate from the “89” or “B9” I noted elsewhere).

Possible Path From Tyne / Wear Rivers To Atlantic and Caribbean

So that’s everything I have figured out! Whoever sent this probably lived at 10 or 20 Barking Square in the Town End Farm neighborhood of Sunderland when they sent the message in a bottle. And that was probably between 1974 and, say, 1995.

I mentioned before that they may have been on a cruise or something when they sent the bottled note. But I can’t shake the crazy idea that they could have actually sent this message in a bottle in either the river Tyne or the river Wear, between which lies Sunderland. It is incredibly unlikely, but just barely possible that they could have dropped their message in a bottle into one of those rivers. Both empty east into the North Sea.

The currents of the North Sea and the English Channel are quite confusing to me. Both are subject to the “inflow” and “outflow” of the Atlantic, and subject to tidal changes. To me, it looks like a bottle released in the Tyne or Wear rivers would most likely end up beaching back on British shores or somewhere along western / northern Europe. But I do believe it is possible – just barely flipping possible – that such a bottle could find its way to the Atlantic, and eventually to the Caribbean.

And you know what? However unlikely that may seem, that is exactly what I believe happened.

Of course, we won’t know until we find this message’s author 🙂

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