BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Fine clothes and malevolent accusations — Most excellent ADVICE from the 1830s

Mrs Finnegan’s Chronicles: the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT

WITH two good dresses and a quantity of shawls and fine fichus given to me when I was a ladies’ maid in my last situation, I like to look my best when I step out on my half day off. Surely it is cannot be wrong to wish to dress nicely, but I have been scolded for it most harshly.
Miss Smart and Fashionably Attired of Patcham Village

Dear Miss Smart etc etc etc
If you outshine your companions in finery, you will inevitably excite their ENVY and make ENEMIES in the servants hall. You have also forgotten a golden rule of service: a dressy servant is a DISGRACE TO THE HOUSE & renders her employers as ridiculous as she does herself. This is especially true if you are well-proportioned and have a comely bearing – in a word Miss Smart etc etc beware if you look better in your dresses than the Mistress & her daughters do in theirs. I am sending you a recipe for moth balls. 

CAN you tell me the best way of handling a housekeeper who is naught but a meddlesome GOSSIP. She likes nothing better but to peddle a bag of moonshine on all matter of subjects about which she knows NOTHING. She is a great one for holding court in the servants’ hall telling tales no one wishes to hear about blameless young maids for the sheer ENTERTAINMENT of it.  
Miss Innocent From Oxfordshire

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

I recognise your handwriting Miss Jenny-not-so-innocent and glad I am that I have left that employ and am now settled in a fine new Establishment in West Brighton. I was the most tolerant of housekeepers and I told not a soul about the trouble caused by your two followers. (Not one but two! And in the end it came to blows and I know neither of them were fighting for your hand.)
Of course, I would have been failing in my duty if I hadn’t informed the Mistress.  And it would have been rude to leave the cook ignorant of what was happening. True, Mary Anne was cleaning silver in the kitchen at the same time as our conversation, but I’m not responsible for what she overheard or the fact that the stable boy came in for a drink of water and the footman was sitting by the fire polishing his boots.
I assure you no one has learned about your disgrace from my lips. However, the situation in general is a good example – indeed a warning – to other servants about their behaviour and I may have used it in that way when the occasion arises. But I never mention names. Or only once or twice.

Yours respectfully

MRS FINNEGAN

PS

I’ve watched beautiful houses spring up all over Brunswick Square. They are moons of architecture, shining with the borrowed light of antiquity. Columns and porticoes against the soft green unmown grass sweeping almost up to our front door. I observe early mists, and early Misses. I think in truth I may be a poet.

PPS

Can I remind servants in my charge that table linen MUST NOT BE USED FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE THAN IT IS INTENDED. Soiled linen is to be brought to my room each morning.

This is a regular feature created and written with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook

4 comments on “Fine clothes and malevolent accusations — Most excellent ADVICE from the 1830s

  1. beth
    April 2, 2020

    so good, nothing wrong with getting fancy on your half day off

  2. Rae Reads
    April 2, 2020

    What a delight. Thank you for a respite spot in a sea of paper grading!

  3. bridget whelan
    April 3, 2020

    That’s great to hear! I’m sure Mrs Finnegan would be delighted – you can also follow her on twitter at @_Mrs_Finnegan. She tweets a lot!

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2020 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , .
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