BRIGHTON — Construction workers in the UK have found wads of cash dating back to World War II at a shop that once belonged to a tailor beloved by Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine.
Stunned renovators pulled bundles of decaying, dirt-encrusted banknotes from their clandestine spot under a shop floor in the seaside city of Brighton in May.
The face value of the wartime pot totaled around £30,000 — the equivalent of about £1.5 million (just over $2 million) today, once the Bank of England’s official inflation rates have been factored in.
Sussex police have since taken the moldy £1 and £5 notes for “safekeeping,” a spokesperson told CNN. It wasn’t immediately clear who owns the premises where the money was found.
The site has since become a Cotswold Outdoor clothing retailer, but back between 1936 and 1963, it was a Bradleys Gowns store. Bradleys was a top London furrier and couturier set up in the 1860s.
Howard Bradley is now the last remaining heir of the family name and the business, which has continued as a specialist dry cleaners in Milton Keynes, north of London.
He told CNN he was “shocked” but “very excited” when first contacted by a local reporter and informed of the historic discovery.
Bradley said he thought the Brighton store would have been part of his family’s company. “It seems likely. We had a few sub branches (outside London) back in the day,” he said.
He said his father, Eric, was one of the first to sign up to fight in the war — enlisting for the British Royal Air Force the very day WWII was declared: September 3, 1939. It was also his 18th birthday.
“He heard (the news) on the radio alone in the kitchen … and thought, ‘Right, I’m going to enlist.’ ”
And while Eric was fighting in the deserts of North Africa, his brother Victor enlisted as a pilot.
Bradley said he hasn’t any ancestral tales alluding to the stashed cash but added that he wouldn’t be surprised if someone had hidden some money away during the war.
“We can trace our British family history back to the 1300s and we had Jewish roots as well,” Bradley explained. “Obviously during the Second World War, during the ’30s, with what was happening in Germany, they would have been concerned.
“And the Dunkirk evacuation was going badly, sons were out fighting … I would imagine they were thinking the worst — that nobody would come back. I don’t blame anyone for taking precautions.”
He added that during the war the family home in London was struck by a V-1 flying bomb — or “doodlebug” — and his grandmother had to be “dug out of the wreckage.”
With such a close call, Bradley thinks his part-Jewish ancestors may have wanted a rainy-day fund in case they needed to escape Nazi persecution.
“They would have had to have something to help family and friends, I suspect,” he added, continuing that the money would likely have funded an escape as “they would have been on Hitler’s kill list.”
Bradley’s father and uncle returned home toward the end of the war in 1944, he said. But it’s unclear why no one from the family returned to the store to reclaim the money.
By the 1930s, Bradleys customers were known to have included Churchill and his wife, the British royal family and Hollywood stars such as Brigitte Bardot, according to local Brighton paper, The Argus.
According to the Bank of England, banknotes that have been withdrawn from circulation can be exchanged in person or by mail.