During the holidays, when I was home from uni, I had a job in a nursing home, to help fund my busy student lifestyle. My mum worked there. It didn’t sound very macho telling my mates I worked with old people, they had all got jobs in the fishing industry. My mother was very protective of me, being her only child, as she had lost her older brother at sea, washed overboard from a fishing boat during a violent storm. The one thing that she clung to, to give her solace, was an odd sighting she claimed to have had, a day after the accident. She was at the sink, washing tears from her eyes, when she is adamant, she saw him standing on the balcony waving at her and smiling. She rushed to open the door to the veranda, but there was no one there. She had always taken that as a sign that he was ok, and for her not to worry about him.
I was working shifts at my mum’s nursing home, when one day I was asked if I would take Rosie to view Monkerton House, up on the hill, as she might be moving there. Now, Monkerton House was the scary house. Now it was a nursing home, and still as foreboding. We always thought the name made it sound like it was full of tons of monks...how little did we know how right we were...
I fetched Rosie, strapped her in the passenger seat and off we went. Dementia, sadly, had taken its toll, but she always had a beaming smile whenever you approached her. We drove up the hill and into the tree-lined driveway, through the impressive black wrought iron gates, tipped with gold arrow heads.
I got Rosie out and went to knock on the double wooden entry doors. The knocker was a lion’s head with its tongue sticking out. Two nurses rushed out, greeting Rosie, rushing her off on the grand tour. I was shown into the visitor’s waiting room. I surveyed the room, trying to imagine what the rest of the place must look like. For starters it was quite dark and depressing, sunlight hardly penetrated the thick stone framed windows. The only seating seemed to be old-fashioned wooden pews. The whole room felt like a private chapel, with a stone flagged floor and little shelves and niches on the walls that once might have held candles and other religious icons. As my vision improved, I suddenly became aware of two figures kneeling on the floor by the door, their heads bowed, as if in prayer, but most gruesomely of all they seemed to have large butcher’s hooks protruding from their necks!
Next minute, the door was flung open and two men burst in wearing what looked like armour and brandishing swords. They grabbed the other figures by the hooks and dragged them out, it was then I could see they were wearing monk’s habits.
With the door now open, I became aware of the strong smell of wood smoke wafting into the room. It was then that my sense of self preservation kicked in and I bolted to the door. The housekeeper was crossing the hall, and asked me what was wrong. I glanced back and what I now saw left me even more lost for words. For inside a bright and airy sunlit room, was carpet, curtains at the windows and tables and chairs for visitors to sit at...the smell of wood smoke was gone!
As me and Rosie drove away in silence, all I could offer, after finally trying and failing to make sense of my experience, was a warning for Rosie not to go there. “You saw them too?” asked Rosie.
She then told me about her father, how he was the gardener at Monkerton and how she was often allowed to play in the gardens, sometimes sneaking inside the old house. She confirmed that the now visitor’s room had once been a chapel. And yes, she had often seen monks, including ones with hooks in their necks! Her father explained that the building was originally a monastery. When old King Henry fell out with the church, he sent his soldiers in to punish them, many were strung up on hooks and then burnt to death at the stake...
That was the most I’d ever heard Rosie say, and never again, as she was indeed taken off by her family to live at Monkerton.
Torbay Weekly Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.