Matthew and the monkeys from Hull

I spent a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon recently dipping into someone else’s life. By that, I mean I have been immersed in a personal collection of monkeys. I have found myself in postcode areas from the East Riding of Yorkshire, the area around Hull – which are mostly in the postcode area of HU – and into the neighbouring postcode of York (YO) and a couple in nearby Leeds (LS). Further afield – on holidays I think – to the Isle of Man (IM), the Lake District (LA and CA), and Cornwall (PL). And other various postcodes too – CV, DE, DN, HD…

How so? Well, I have received this delightful book from a Twitter contact, Matthew Pottage.

Matthew's book

Matthew’s book

Yes, it’s a delight. A personal collection of Matthew’s monkeys. These are photographs – and by ‘photographs’ I mean 10x15cm prints – of a personal collection of monkey puzzle trees, and other ephemera related to monkeys, collected (by the dates that are marked) from the very late 90s to early 2000s. Matthew tells me the album has a heavy emphasis on East Yorkshire as he grew up there. And, because it is a personal collection it also becomes like a diary, I feel almost guilty that I am snooping into someone else’s life and memories. But then, I reflect, that is what I do in my professional life, as a funeral celebrant, I spend my time exploring memories, asking questions, remembering the past. I am often entrusted with the most precious things we possess – our memories.

Matt's book

And so here is a collection of memories. Initially I simply flick through the album, but realise that in order to do this lovely archive justice, I need to individually scan each photo – which are all labelled, and most with their location. It’s only when I take each photo out, and see the back of the photos, that I feel I am almost looking through a diary, as many of the photos have a handwritten note on them. I laughed out loud when I turned over a picture of a monkey puzzle tree in the Lake District, and young Matthew had written ‘stately home garden’ as the location – the exact location wasn’t important, it was simply in a stately home, the main importance being that it was a monkey puzzle. Another Lake District monkey is listed as ‘on the way to Scotland’, and then there is ‘My current Monkey Puzzle’ from 2003. Which appeared earlier this year on Twitter:

Matthew's monkey

Matthew has also included the photograph (shown above, bottom right) of two ‘Monkey Puzzles for sale’, and on the back writes, ‘I bought the monkey on the left and it died.’ A keen horticulturalist even then – Matthew now works at RHS Wisley where he is the Deputy Curator. Fortunately Matthew’s next monkey was obviously more successful – pictured above. (There is a price label stuck in the back of Matthew’s book from Sandhill Garden Centre for a ‘Monkey Puzzle’. It cost £9.99.)

There’s one photo which is a cutting from a newspaper (I’m guessing the Yorkshire Post), and the article on the back (unrelated to monkeys) is written by journalist Lucy Smith about Yorkshire Day, and recalls how her dad – a reasonable man – wouldn’t let her mum during her two pregnancies go outside of Yorkshire, so that she would give birth to Yorkshire offspring, who would then be eligible to play cricket for Yorkshire. Anyway she had two daughters – neither who are interested in cricket… and it reminded me of how passionately we feel for ‘our’ places.

In another section of Matthew’s book called ‘Monkey Puzzles in the news’, there’s a newspaper clipping from 2001 about a man who planted a monkey in his front garden 20 years previously when it was 18inches high, and now it’s 35ft and he wants to cut it down but it is protected by a preservation order.

There’s even monkey puzzle seeds. I wondered what Matthew’s parents might have thought about him dissecting a cone on the living room floor?


In total there are 98 monkeys in Matthew’s collection – and 23 are in HU, with a further eight that have been felled in HU. So here are the HU monkeys:

HU monkeys

And here are their locations, including the ones in HU which have been felled (eight in total, including two fabulous specimens at Halsham Mausoleum):

14.11 HU map

You can also find the HU trees on the interactive catalogue – here – these are labelled as ‘HU’, and as ‘Matthew’s monkeys’. I will of course be adding the rest of the collection.

Of the 98 monkeys in Matthew’s collection, 11 of them have died or been felled, just three are duplicates from the catalogue already (if you’re interested they are the ‘rather nice pair‘ DE1 and DE2 in Matlock Bath, and DE8 the 100 steps monkey at Chatsworth), and there are five trees labelled as ‘unknown location’. Which means that 79 monkeys have been added to the catalogue, which is now at 654. Good work!

Those of us who like monkey puzzles tend to really like them, as in really and devotedly like them, so Matthew’s book is clearly a work of intense love and devotion. This is a lovely personal collection and I felt deeply honoured, touched and deeply grateful to have been lent it. Thank you Matthew.


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