With the computer switched on, in a rare, idle moment, for some unknown reason I spontaneously logged on to a certain on-line auction site and randomly typed in the search word 'Maldon'.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I had done it on a few occasions before, but had usually been disappointed by the all too familiar array of relatively common postcards, books, cuttings and pieces of commemorative china.

However, on this occasion I did a bit of a double-take when I hit upon, of all things, a brass bell.

But it wasn’t just any old bell, it was a school bell engraved to Maldon Court School.

Being a school 'visitor' there (a sort of private school equivalent of a governor) I immediately tipped off present-day owners Steve and Loraine Guest, and the headteacher, Elaine Mason.

Although, like me, they were puzzled about how it happened to be on the open market (especially as it was located in Salisbury), they were very excited and really wanted to “bring it home”.

They placed their bid and waited anxiously for the end time. To their utter shock and surprise, right at the last moment, literally within seconds before the end, they were out-bid.

Devastated by the unfortunate turn of events they thought all was lost. A few days later, however, Maldon’s current mayor, Andrew Lay, knocked on their door – the same house where one of his predecessors had once lived (Mayor Krohn, in office 1902-03, 1906-07 and 1912-14).

To their utter surprise Andrew proudly presented them with the bell.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: The rediscovered bellThe rediscovered bell (Image: Stephen Nunn)

Unbeknown to him (and them) they had been bidding against each other! Despite hiking up the price, no matter, the bell had, indeed, “returned home”.

So what is its unusual story?

Unlike most playground bells, this example is small and not very robust.

It looks old, older than what it purports to represent – it could even possibly be Victorian.

It has a patinated ebonised handle, brass ferrule, chain and clapper.

It looks like it has been dropped at some point in its life, as it has a crack to the lip, which has been roughly soldered.

The damage certainly doesn’t detract from its display appearance and although you wouldn’t want to do it too often, it still proves to ring.

Most important of all is the inscription. Engraved around the waist is the school’s name and beneath it, rather intriguingly, it has two dates - “Jan 1956 – July 1972'.

Research revealed that Maldon Court School opened in January 1956 – the first date on the bell.

It began in the main house located in Silver Street and on the corner of Cromwell Hill and a contemporary photograph of the line-up at that stage shows just four members of staff and only 18 pupils (ten girls and eight boys).

Two of those members of staff were the owner/founders – Miss IG Carter and Mrs JN Robinson, and there we have a potential clue to the second date on the bell.

Records show that the school went from strength to strength. Just three years later, in 1959, the teaching staff had increased to seven, whilst 96 pupils were on roll.

The popular school continued to grow throughout the 1950s, 60s and into the 70s. Then in 1972 (the second date on the bell) there was a change of ownership, when Ann and Tony Sutton took over.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Maldon Court School todayMaldon Court School today (Image: Stephen Nunn)

I surmise (and until such time as further evidence comes to light, it is only a guess) that the bell was purchased (second-hand) and engraved as a leaving present for either Miss Carter or Mrs Robinson.

In an attempt to establish its provenance further, the seller was contacted. However, he said that he had purchased it at a car boot sale in Romsey, Hampshire.

At that point the trail goes cold. In any case, it is excellent that the bell has been returned and is now understandably revered and closely guarded by the present owners, Steve and Loraine.

It even has its own Perspex display case!

But then it is, after all, an important reminder of the school’s heritage, of its very beginnings.

Somehow it is also a nod to both its present and future – a kind of 'baton' to be passed on.

Perhaps Steve and Loraine will allow the current generation of pupils to hear it ring, so that they might listen to both echoes of the past, whilst also 'ringing in the changes'.