The room at Queens College once served as the dwelling place for the renowned 16th-century philosopher, ErasmusDr Krisztina Ilko with permission for Varsity

A Cambridge academic was locked in a medieval bathroom in Queens’ College for seven hours before freeing herself with eyeliner and a cotton bud.

The research fellow found herself stuck for hours in the same room that Dutch philosopher Erasmus had once resided in six hundred years ago.

Dr Krisztina Ilko, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, was locked inside the toilet of the historic tower, which has wooden doors and no windows.

Ilko informed the BBC that she was afraid she would be stuck for days as she became trapped on Thursday (29/02) and the cleaner was not due until the following Monday — five days later.

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

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

Dr Ilko initially tried to cry for help: “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.”

The academic was left with bruising on her shoulder after attempting to then force the door open.

Eventually Ilko was able to handpick the lock with eyeliner and a cotton bud. She used the eyeliner to put pressure on the latch and formed a hook with the earbud.

Dr Ilko said: “When I eventually got out and the door opened it was exhilarating because I didn’t think it would work.”

“I expected to be there for five days or longer, but I made it out,” she added.

After seven excruciating hours, the research fellow was freed from the bathroom.


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Since the incident, the lock in question has been removed from the door to prevent any repeat scenarios.

The fellow told Varsity that she is currently working on a book on medieval chess: “This is a par excellence game of intellect, so it is quite fitting that I got out by lock-picking the door thanks to my wits!”.

It is not the first time that Cambridge's toilets have become unlikely prisons. Last year, Varsity revealed that a fresher had become locked in their ensuite bathroom at King's College for 38 hours during Fresher's week.