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Cambridge academic trapped in medieval tower uses eyeliner pencil and cotton bud to escape

Dr Krisztina Ilko lives in the tower which was once the home of Desiderius Erasmus, the 16th-century Dutch theologian and philosopher
Dr Krisztina Ilko lives in the tower which was once the home of Desiderius Erasmus, the 16th-century Dutch theologian and philosopher

A Cambridge academic used an eyeliner pencil and a cotton bud to escape a medieval tower after getting trapped in its bathroom.

Dr Krisztina Ilko, a junior research fellow and director of studies at Queens’ College, lives in the tower in rooms which were once the home of Desiderius Erasmus, the 16th-century Dutch theologian and philosopher.

The 33-year-old said she feared she could die when she was unable to release the lock on the bathroom’s heavy wooden door on Thursday.

But after seven hours inside the windowless lavatory without her phone, she picked the lock from the inside using the two everyday items.

“I was really happy and also quite proud that I could use my wit to get out,” she told the Telegraph. “I felt relief, absolutely.”

She believes the bathroom’s lock had been broken by a plumber who mended her shower earlier that week, trapping her inside when she went in.

Dr Ilko with the eyeline and cotton bud that proved the means of her salvation
Dr Ilko with the eyeline and cotton bud that proved the means of her salvation

The rooms were not due to be cleaned until Monday, meaning she was facing an ordeal that could have lasted for almost 100 hours.

“I was trying to remember how long a person can survive on just water and hoping that I wouldn’t die there,” she said.

“If people came looking for me would they check the bathroom, or would I have to wait for Monday?

“I tried to bang the shower head on the door, break it with brute force, and shout for help but nothing worked and no one could hear me.”

With her shoulder bruised from the attempts to break down the door, Dr Ilko turned to an eyeliner pencil and a cotton bud.

She poked the former through the keyhole to push down the latch on the other side of the door and the cotton bud as a hook, freeing herself after seven hours inside the bathroom.

“Sometimes when I hear sounds around here I joke that it is the ghost of Erasmus, then I thought I was going to join him and become a Cambridge legend,” she said.

The college has since removed the lock from the bathroom door.

Dr Ilko did her master’s in medieval studies at the Central European University before studying for a PhD in the history of art at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

She is also a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford’s history faculty and is writing a book about chess in the Middle Ages.