History of the Amersham Area

Monkey Tricks

Ted Fountain (right) and Reg Mason in about 1950

Ted Fountain (right) and Reg Mason in about 1950

The story below was written by Ted Fountain and printed in Amersham Society Newsletter in April 1984.  Read another story by Ted about Games before WW I.

This story refers to the time when I was employed at ‘The Firs’ (now Piers Place), Dr Gardner’s, as understudy to Harry Royal, the head gardener around 1917/18.  Dr Gardner had a nephew, a captain serving with a Highland Regiment in India, and this regiment was being recalled for duty on the Western Front, together with units of English infantry also from India. Before going to France, this captain returned to England and spent his short leave at Nairn, Inverness, his home.  This regiment had a Rhesus Monkey for their mascot and, as it had spent two and a half years with them in India in a warm climate, they didn’t want to take it to France and wanted to find a good home for it as the monkey was getting on a bit in years.

Dr Gardner agreed to accept the monkey and eventually it arrived and we housed it in the stable in a well prepared rabbit hutch.  The novelty of having a monkey about, a female by the way called Susie, brought quite a lot of visitors to see her and the maids at Dr Gardner’s would in turn bring the food for it.  But we soon found that Susie showed that she detested females and was very vicious towards them, even when they brought her grapes and bananas in plenty.  Susie would only allow us males to feed her.  I suppose this had something to do with her life of two and a half years in the service where she was in contact with soldiers all the time.  I found she had some rather vicious inclinations towards me at times, even though I regularly fed her and took her for walks around the garden under control on a long chain.

She still did not seem to have confidence in me, and I certainly did not trust her – so knowing of her army life I set out to control her my way and found that she was scared of fire-arms.  This gave me the idea of letting her know that she was not going to be the guvner as far as I was concerned. After she had bitten me several times I was going to see that this had to stop and I put my idea into practice without any idea of being cruel to her.

We had a sporting gun in the stable where Susie was housed and I would don one of the chauffeur’s old caps and, with the gun, I would parade in front of Susie, pointing the gun (unloaded of course) at her and clicking the triggers.  Susie would retreat to her hutch screeching and downright scared of me.  After several doses of this treatment I had her confidence and she accepted me as the master from then on.  After Susie’s regular army experience, I must have looked like one of Fred Karno’s army to her in the old chauffeur’s cap.

Dr Gardner had a large weeping willow tree on the lawn at the rear of his house and this tree had a large spread of branches supported by a circular metal railing some 6ft high.  Standing under the branches it was like a miniature circus tent.  I was given the job of fixing a large staple into the tree and the purpose of this was that Susie could be taken there secured on a long chain where she could clamber about the tree and enjoy a bit of open air life during suitable weather.  I had taken her out one day and had fixed her chain to the tree and everything seemed in order.  But, on checking later, I found that Susie was missing – the long chain was in position but she had gone.  We were soon to know where because trouble was brewing at ‘Liscar’ (now Hinton House), the house between Dr Gardner’s and Little Shardeloes.

Mr Hanbury lived there at that time and he came to tell us that the monkey had entered the maids’ attic windows, those facing Cuckoo Meadow side of the house, and Susie was smashing the wash-basins and jugs and apparently anything else she could lay her hands on.  The maids were scared, as I believe the Hanbury’s were, because Susie was having a real ‘bull in a china shop’ escapade.  Harry Royal and I went to see if we could catch the culprit but there was no hope of removing Susie from that roof.  A suggested ladder was hopeless.  With what little grey matter I possessed, I suggested that we go up to close all windows thus keeping Susie on the roof but there was a fear that she would then make for Little Shardeloes and give them what is called a ‘going-over’, when I suddenly thought of the old cap and gun.

Dr Gardner had by then returned from his visiting rounds and had been informed of the damage caused by Susie at ‘Liscar’.  I had rushed back to the yard and donned the old chauffeur’s cap and was about to get the gun when the Doctor met me and said “What is going on Michael?” (He always called me Michael after Michael O’Leary won the V.C.)  “Why are you wearing that cap?” – and other enquiries.  I told him that I hoped to catch Susie but I must take the gun.  The Doctor said “You are not going to shoot her?”  I replied “Just leave this to me”.  Away I went to the rear of ‘Liscar’ where I found Susie still on the roof; she had seen me and she made for the pear tree growing up the east wall of ‘Liscar’, the tree she had climbed on to get on the roof earlier on.

She leapt onto the high wall flanking Liscar’s drive and along the wall flanking the two properties opposite Turpins Row.  I was trailing her closely, gun at the ready, but Susie was in no mood to surrender.  She leapt from the wall onto the paving and ran along the front of ‘The Firs’.  She was a complete stranger outside the Doctor’s premises and this made one wonder where she was likely to go, but she turned into Cherry Lane, jumped onto the wall beside the cottages and continued on in the direction of Harry Selby’s paddock.  I was now some twenty yards from her.  She stopped, looked at me, and I called “Susie! Susie!” and raised the gun in a firing position clicking the triggers.

My earlier experiments with Susie paid off because she screeched and ran towards me and there jumped onto my shoulder, now safe behind the spouts of the gun.  I grabbed her leather waistband and, after all her escapade and damage, I had trapped her.

I had later to explain to the Doctor how I had used the old chauffeur’s cap and gun and that this incident had proved that the training had paid off.  The Doctor was so pleased with my performance that he gave me ten shillings.

May I say, without boast, that I really felt like someone who had achieved something – a kind of hero – and it was a talking point at the Doctor’s for some days, and I must say the ten shillings was acceptable.

What terms the Doctor came to for the damage at ‘Liscar’, I never heard.