A Monkey’s Puzzle
By Georgia Wild, Buxton Museum & Art Gallery
On first moving to Buxton I would walk out to explore the footpaths behind Fairfield or take off along the lanes and bridleways by bike. After one such excursion I was describing to a colleague a particular short but severe, lung busting hill on the road from Peak Dale. ‘You mean Monkey Brew!’ was the response. I was intrigued.
I asked around but the most I got by way of explanation was that the name derived from the little monkey carved into a cornerstone high up on the end of Forest View Cottages part way up the bank on Batham Gate Road. I suspected there was more to the story.
Old Ordnance Survey maps suggest the row of cottages were built around the 1890’s, but why the monkey carving? Was it added for hill’s namesake or did the hill gain its name after the monkey was added? And what about the word ‘brew’? I had wondered if ‘brew’ had derived from ‘brow’ or even a mispronounced ‘Brough’, as much of Batham Gate Road follows the Roman route to Templeborough via Brough. A little enquiry revealed ‘brew’ or ‘bru’ to be a northern dialect term for hill. This explanation seemed to fit the bill but the monkey continued to niggle. Every time I dropped my bike into its lowest gear to trawl myself up that hill I would look up at that mischievous, curly tailed beast and curse … and wonder.
After a few years of not knowing I threw the question out there on social media and later the same day I got a response. Curiously, a fellow cyclist said that as a boy he used to live in ‘the house with the monkey’.
So thank you Jamie Stafford for your story, I do hope it is true because I love it. And here it is;
“Growing up in that house, we used to tire of the ramblers and passers-by that would knock at the door asking about the monkey. For years we had little idea why it was there. One day an elderly walker called by who used to live in the area and proceeded to recount a tale. He said that the chap who built the cottages was a raving alcoholic and ran out of money to finish the job to the tune of five hundred pound (a monkey). Back then it was shameful to borrow money so to ward off potential investors and employers the stone mason carved the monkey on the house to state that the owner couldn’t be trusted. ‘Brew’ could simply relate to ale: ‘Monkey Brew’ a bad debtor due to alcohol.”
Maybe someone out there lives in a house with a carving of another monkey, maybe a pony, a bag of sand or even a Lady Godiver! Do shout up if you do.