the little girl and the Capting

The house was 120 years old, with 120 years old timbers and 120 years old joists. It creaked a bit and wind blew down chimneys and through ill-fitting windows. The little girl, unnerved by the noises, was reassured that it was only ’the Capting’.

“The Capting” - Captain Charles Patrick - was a previous owner of the house. The little girl amused herself with stories of the dashing army captain, her war hero. Later she passed them down to her daughter. So it came as a bit of a disappointment to the little girl when she discovered that the Capting was actually a sub-inspector of factories.

The Capting did not build the house. That was there before, built some 30 or so years before the Capting by a colliery proprietor who wanted a residence commensurate which his wealth and status. Rather the Capting married well, marrying the spinster daughter of the late collier who was ‘living off her own means’. He soon exerted his presence, extending the house and employing 2 extra house servants plus a gardener and a groom. The little girl often told her daughter that she thought the Capting lived well off his wife’s money.

He was not a local man, suddenly appearing in a nearby town apparently from nowhere.Yet he became a figure in the local community. A prominent Churchman, Conservative, Freemason and Local Government Board member he chaired meetings, gave speeches and made donations. His poultry, horses and pigs won prizes and the Capting would proclaim toasts at the after-fair dinner. He could turn a phrase which could turn a debate or convince a judge. But perhaps a bit devil-may-care; despite knowing a landowner banned huntsmen from his land, the Capting would hunt first and pay damages later. Perhaps the dashing image of the little girl wasn’t too far out. But she was beginning to believe that perhaps the Capting had not been above embellishing his army record to enhance his social standing and details of the ‘considerable active service abroad to which his obituary refers have proved stubbornly elusive. Was his army record really limited to his being a Captain in the yeomanary reserves?

The Capting and his wife were philanthropic, giving land and money to endow a school and a church. He could also be more quietly generous, paying the poor rate for his tenants in a year of bad harvests. And there is something attractive about a man working to uphold the law and prevent exploitation. He led investigations outside his own areas, including one in Strangeways prison. He even went as far as disguising himself as a tramp, so as not to be recognised by the mill owners. Yet on at least one occasion a mill owner was acquitted because the Capting had set his watch by the incorrect clock.

He brought land and property, ultimately owning much of the village and a fair bit of the next one as well. There was no issue from the marriage and on his death the estate was divided between his wife’s two nieces. The village square was renamed in his memory. The church and school he endowed still thrive.

The house was divided too, first into two then into three, with various outbuildings being converted into dwellings. One portion was bought by the little girl’s father. Five generations of the family have lived there, listening to the timber creak and remembering the Capting.

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