Key 'borrowed' from a tower 50 years ago is mysteriously returned

Brass key that was ‘borrowed’ from an 11th-century Kent tower 50 years ago is mysteriously returned – with a note saying sorry for the delay

  • Sender returned key by post to English Heritage, saying it was ‘borrowed’ in 1973
  • Object still fits in keyhole of doors to St Leonard’s Tower, but it no longer rotates
  • The anonymous note read: ‘Borrowed 1973. Returned 2020. Sorry for the delay.’
  • English Heritage said it is a ‘modern mystery’ and key was ‘inexplicably returned’

A brass key that was ‘borrowed’ from an 11th-century tower in Kent almost 50 years ago has been mysteriously returned – with a note saying sorry for the delay. 

The anonymous sender sent the large object by post to English Heritage and admitted in the letter that it had been ‘borrowed’ in 1973. 

The key still fits in the keyhole of the doors to St Leonard’s Tower, a Norman tower in West Malling, although it no longer rotates.

New locks were built into the Tower, constructed between 1077 and 1108, some time after the key’s disappearance.

The key, thought to be around 100 years old, which opened the doors to St Leonard’s Tower in West Malling, Kent, that was mysteriously returned by post to English Heritage 

A handout photo issued by English Heritage of the anonymous note that came with the key that has been returned almost 50 years after it disappeared

English Heritage said the key, thought to be around 100 years old, was ‘inexplicably’ returned ‘with a tantalising note’.

The note read: ‘Dear English Heritage. Please find enclosed, large key to…

‘St Leonard’s Tower, West Malling, Kent.’

It added: ‘Borrowed 1973. Returned 2020. Sorry for the delay. Regards.’

Roy Porter, English Heritage’s senior properties curator, said: ‘It’s certainly one of the most puzzling packages we’ve ever received and just in time for Christmas!

‘It’s a modern mystery to add to the historical questions posed by the tower.’

St Leonard’s, above, stands on a natural sandstone ledge near the head of a narrow valley and was named after a chapel which once stood nearby. Little is known about the building’s history

St Leonard’s is said to be an early and well-preserved example of a small, free-standing Norman tower keep.

It stands on a natural sandstone ledge near the head of a narrow valley and was named after a chapel which once stood nearby.

Some believe the tower was once part of a castle, constructed by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, while others say the builder was Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror.

But very little is known about the history of the building or its original purpose.

The key (pictured above) still fits in the keyhole of the doors to St Leonard’s Tower, although it no longer rotates. New locks were built into the Tower some time after the key’s disappearance

English Heritage wants to ‘reward the honesty of whoever returned the key with a gift of membership’.

A spokeswoman said: ‘We don’t know how it went missing. We have no idea who would have taken it.

‘We are hoping this person comes forward and helps us connect the dots.’

She added: ‘It was sent to the customer services team. Everyone was incredibly surprised about receiving this key and excited about it being returned after so long.’

English Heritage is asking the sender of the note to get in touch with its Customer Services team on 0370 333 1181 or email [email protected], saying that unlike library books, there is no fine for a late return.

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