Five Arrows Hotel discover old letters in the chimney stack

Old black and white image of the Five Arrows Hotel c1887

On 24 January 2016 an electrician was working in the roof space at the Five Arrows Hotel, Waddesdon and made an exciting discovery - a bundle of 100 folded letters from 1917 to 1918.

Formerly a Victorian coaching inn, the Five Arrows Hotel stands just off the A41 near the gates of Waddesdon Manor. The building is a Victorian mix of authentic English style - half timbering, elaborate Elizabethan chinneys and wrought ironwork - built in the late 1870s.

An amazing discovery

A local electrician discovered a bundle of folded letters tucked behind the chimney stack in a roof space at the Five Arrows Hotel. When he took a closer look at the letters he discovered they were dated from 1917 to 1918 and were from 'Jack' to his sweetheart 'Elsie'.

Old letters discovered at the Five Arrows Hotel
Old letters found at the Five Arrows Hotel from 1917 to 1918
Old letters discovered at the Five Arrows Hotel

Staff at the Five Arrows were really excited by the discovery and passed the letters to the Waddesdon Archive for further investigation.

Who wrote the letters?

Catherine Taylor, Head Archivist, put on her detective hat and discovered the letters were from Jack Wilson Cox, born 20 July 1898 in Devizes, Wiltshire. His father James Cox appears to have been working for Miss Alice and was listed in 1922 as her Chauffeur. Indeed Jack also went on to be Chauffeur to Mr & Mrs James de Rothschild and by 1937 he was Head Chauffeur.

The letters were sent to Elsie, who Catherine Taylor believes was Miss Eliza 'Elsie' Maude Turnham, the eldest daughter and child of Henry Turnham who was landlord of the Five Arrows Hotel in Waddesdon from 1887 to 1924. She came to this conclusion after piecing together clues in the letters in which Jack mentions Eve, Snow, Tom and Ferd as well as Mr & Mrs T frequently - it seems likely that this is Mr Henry Turnham, his wife Eliza, second daugher Evelyn and sons Snow Henry, Henry Thomas and Percival Ferdinand.

Letters written from Jack Cox to Elise Turnham from 1917 to 1918
Letters from Jack to Elsie 1917 to 1918 found at the Five Arrows Hotel Buckinghamshire
Letters written from Jack Cox to Elise Turnham from 1917 to 1918

Sweethearts or not?

Originally it was thought that Jack and Elsie were writing to each other as sweethearts, but it's now believed that they were very close friends. Elsie was 13 years older than Jack and possibly more of a big sister.

" I obtained a pass yesterday for all day and went and found Tom. HE is only about an hour's ride/bike. I stayed and had dinner with Tom and I tell you it seemed like old times at the Arrows...after dinner he took me and found Ferdy. By gum, he was pleased to see me. Tom went and routed (Snow) out....I never spent such a happy day in France. "
- June, 18 1917. Snow, Tom and Ferdy were Elsie's younger brothers, serving together with the Canadian Overseas Forces.

What happened to Jack and Elsie?


Jack served in the army during the first World War, having lied to the British Army about his age to enlist. By 1917 he had an HQ post as a telephone signaller and motor dispatch rider and in 1918 he was transferred to the Royal Engineers. In October 1923 he married Olive H Cooper in Luton and at some stage returned to Waddesdon to take up his post as Chauffeur to Mr & Mrs James de Rothschild.


During 1917 Elsie learnt how to make bobbin lace from the women in Waddesdon Village. Pillow lace was a significant cottage industry in much of Buckinghamshire in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the autumn of 1918 she appears to have caught Spanish flu but recovered well. She was one of the Hon. Secretaries for the Waddesdon War Charities Sale Committee who organised an annual sale in 1917 and 1918. In May and June 1918 she organised a tombola for the sale selling tickets and dressing dolls etc. Elsie never married.

" My dearest Elsie, Many many thanks for the photos my duck, I think they are just splendid don't you. I am pleased Mum likes them. Am keeping two for myself and I want 4 to give away. Are you keeping them or Dad. Am longing to see the group (shot). Do hope tis OK. All the boys like them very much. If I had a hundred I could give them away easily..."
- 3am, Wednesday 31 October 1917
" Many, many thanks for your loving letter written from Town, I received a packet of cigarettes from Waddesdon at the same time...My new number has come through at last (495785 Pioneer J W Cox) that is the first line on the envelope, the rest remains good. Am sorry to hear about Cyril I hope poor old EVE will hear from him before long."
- 9 June 1918