Just after the Second World War and with rationing still firmly in place, trading any extra food you grew or caught was near necessity. A youth known in his Nottinghamshire village as Young Charlie understood this well. Young Charlie could often be found at the Burrell Arms trading the trout and eels he’d plucked from local streams for ration stamps.
‘I s’pose you know about Old Monastery Pool,’ one patron asked, as he exchanged a few stamps for one of Charlie’s slender trout.
Charlie shook his head. ‘Never heard of it, sir.’
‘Plenty of big fish in Old Monastery Pool, lad,’ the patron continued. ‘Used to be the monks’ carp pond. They reared ‘em for food hundreds of years ago, it’s up in Glover’s Wood. Trees moved in once the monastery was gone but the pond’s still there.’
Charlie’s interest was piqued. ‘Really? Have you ever fished there?’
‘Me? Nah. You need Allsopp’s permission else it’s poaching and me and him don’t get on.’
Mr Allsopp was a local landowner, Charlie knew. But, whilst Mr Allsopp apparently had grievance with this man, Charlie had never got on the wrong side of him. ‘How come you know there’s plenty of fish if you’ve never fished there?’
‘Must be,’ answered the patron, after a long swig of ale, ‘else why’d Allsopp have refused all the folk who have asked to fish it. He’s keepin’ all the carp for himself!’
The next Sunday morning there was only one thing on Young Charlie’s mind. Church was the only place he ever saw Mr Allsopp and so that was where he’d get his permission. Old Monastery Pool was full of ancient, monster carp and Charlie was desperate to catch one.
‘Mr Allsopp,’ Charlie asked, after the service, ‘is it true that there’s an old carp pond up in your woods?’
‘True enough, young man,’ Mr Allsopp answered, as they walked up the narrow church path. ‘It belonged to the old monastery before it was burned down. Why do you ask?’
‘I was wondering if I might have your permission to fish it, sir. I’d return any fish I caught of course, unless you wanted me to bring them down to the manor.’
‘I don’t think so,’ Mr Allsopp answered dismissively. ‘Now, I’d best be off, lots to do.’
Charlie was devastated. Fishing was his life, but he’d never had the chance to land anything truly remarkable before. A monster carp would be his crowning achievement and have the pub talking for years.
The next Sunday Charlie beseeched Mr Allsopp again, but got the same answer. So he tried again the following Sunday and was still refused. The Sunday after that he offered to do odd jobs around the manor to pay for his fishing. The Sunday after that he offered all the trout and eels he caught for a month. But, still, Mr Allsopp would not relent. Charlie tried and tried, Sunday after Sunday, never giving up.
Eventually, he started calling in on Mr Allsopp at the manor itself. ‘Lord, not you again,’ Mr Allsopp moaned, when Charlie visited the manor for the third time in as many days.
‘I’m just desperate to fish Old Monastery Pool,’ Charlie said, before Mr Allsopp had the chance to usher him away. ‘Please, just say yes and I’ll stop coming here. I’ll never ask anything of you again, I promise.’
‘The answer is no. I’ve told—’
‘Why won’t you let me?’ Charlie exclaimed. ‘Why are you being such a grouch?’
‘Because of the abbot,’ Mr Allsopp barked back. ‘When he refused starving villagers carp after a failed harvest they strangled him and burned down the monastery to try and cover up the murder. He still—’
‘I don’t care about some dead old abbot,’ Charlie interrupted. ‘I just want one chance to fish the pond. Please, Mr Allsopp, please.’
‘Fine,’ Mr Allsopp answered, throwing his hands in the air, ‘but don’t come crying to me when …’ But Charlie didn’t hear the end of what Mr Allsopp had to say because he was already running back towards his house.
As soon as he had his fishing tackle, Young Charlie raced across the local fields towards Glover’s Wood. What he found in the dying light disappointed him. The pond was easy enough to find but it was clogged with pond weed and full of dead branches. Only a few patches of clear water remained and Charlie thought he could see through them right to the bottom. It seemed that the water was only a few inches deep, hardly the sort of place that might harbour a monster.
But he had come this far. Charlie chucked out a little stick float and worm, hoping that there might still be a few minnows around, maybe even an eel or two. Almost as soon as his float stood straight in the water it was yanked under with all the ferocity of a colossal pike strike. Charlie’s line snapped instantly but he didn’t care, there was obviously something huge lurking in the pond! Maybe there was deeper water below the weed after all, the perfect hiding place for the giant carp he’d hoped would be there all along.
Charlie wound in his loose line, sank back against a tree, reached into his basket and began switching to his most robust tackle. But, in his eagerness, he couldn’t resist a glance back up at the pond.
Standing on the other side of the bank among the trees, the sinister shape of an old man dressed in tattered, soot-stained robes. He said nothing. He just stared at Charlie through unforgiving, bloodshot eyes.
Terrified, Young Charlie shot up from where he was sitting and slammed his head straight into a low branch, knocking himself out.
Night engulfed Young Charlie when he came around. He remembered where he was, what had happened and, his heart racing, sat straight to squint through the gloom. No sign of any old man but, to his horror, the fishing tackle by his side was smashed to pieces.
Young Charlie stood and ran without retrieving so much as a broken float.
This story is based on local Nottinghamshire hearsay! Most of my local ponds are inhabited by mirror carp and, apparently, they’re all descended from the carp a group of monks used to rear in their monastery pond hundreds of years ago. According to local legend, the monastery was burned down when a cruel abbot refused fish to hungry villagers after a failed harvest. In doing so he bought death and a terrible curse upon himself. Now he’s doomed to patrol Old Monastery Pool day and night, making sure no villagers try and take his precious fish. It’s said Young Charlie found himself on the wrong side of the abbot’s wrathful apparition!
The picture is of the Burrell Arms back in its heyday and me with a local monastery-descended mirror carp. I have visited Old Monastery Pool (in the daytime) and I can report that it is weedy, murky and surrounded by twisted trees and thorny undergrowth. It is certainly an unwelcoming, eerie place. However, I’ve never visited at dusk/night or thrown in a fishing line like Young Charlie did. I must admit, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I did!
Jack Croxall is an author and blogger living in Nottinghamshire.
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