BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Mind-reading and social-isolation for housekeepers — Most admirable ADVICE from the 1830s

Mrs Finnegan’s Chronicles: the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT from The Regency Town House

How can you tell what someone thinks? I am walking out with the under butler at Number 10 Brunswick Square and I do not know how much he cares for me for he is I think someone who is not naturally demonstrative . I can see no way of broaching upon the subject.
Miss Uncertain Parlour Maid, West Brighton

Birmingham Museum Trust

There are three things that will allow you to observe the workings of this young man’s mind and allow you to assess his seriousness about your courtship (and it is good advice that applies to any station of life no matter how high).

  • Do people he holds in ESTEEM know about your existence? Has he written home about a young parlour maid of his acquaintance? Find out. Better yet, ask to see his mother’s reply. Do other servants know you are walking out? (I knew, but that doesn’t signify as my great insight into the human heart allows me to spy a romantic attachment even before the two people concerned are aware themselves.) You must discover if he has TOLD others about you.
  • Does he converse about the FUTURE and are you included in his plans even if they are of a fantastical nature? Be heartened if a conversation ever starts with: when you and I have our own hotel on the seafront…
  • Does he admire your neat darning or remark on your table laying abilities? Does he praise the way you speak? Your appearance? Does he listen when you make comments about matters within your sphere or does he always know best.

Think well on these points and you will have your answer. However, I admit that the last is not an infallible guide as there are a good many husbands who are critical about everything their partner in life does and will VOICE AN OPINION about the most trivial matter about which they know NOTHING. It might, however, assist you in deciding whether the under butler is suitable marriage material.

Oh, I feel quite out of countenance as the family have departed with most of the servants and will be gone for an indeterminate time. I have strict instructions to mind the house and keep within its limits. I feel quite HOUSEBOUND. What to do?
Fellow Housekeeper, Eastbourne

My dear lady I am currently in a similar situation myself and understand your FRUSTRATION.
I have found my own salvation in self-improvement. By that I mean in the normal course we are too busy to benefit from all the amenities that a grand house offers and it is only proper to become better acquainted with all its facets now we have the time. I trust the butler has left his set of keys? You can also carry out those tasks that perhaps in more ordinary circumstances you only perform for the ladies of the house.
Here, for example, is a most excellent way to perfume clothes.
Take of oven-dried best cloves, cedar & rhubarb wood, each one ounce, beat them to a powder, & sprinkle them in a box or chest, where they will create the MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENT. And they will preserve the apparel against MOTHS.
A bonnet should be dusted with a light feather plume, in order to remove EVERY ARTICLE OF DUST; it ought to be done the night before you intend to wear it (or in out situation ever other day for who knows when we will be wearing bonnets again.) Any flowers on the bonnet can be readjusted to a more pleasing angle by means of FLOWER PLIERS if your mistress has not taken then away with her.

Yours respectfully

MRS FINNEGAN

PS
Now I am alone in the house and have much time to think about my temper, mindful that fretfulness, lack of good judgment, & unreasonable demands will alienate the servants from me. And I advise you to do the same for none of us are above this kind of self-regard. I am glad to report that I have a clear CONSCIENCE on all these points as I am known for my reliability and consistent good nature. In my time I have been called a verifiable sage, a wonder of womanhood and other such epithets that I would not wish to share less I become CONCEITED and immodest.
PPS
I extend an invitation to join my correspondence circle on TWITTER where I am able to be more forthcoming on my views given it’s semi-private nature and knowing that I am among friends (or followers as they like to call themselves). Fancy! I have at the time of writing quite some 730 followers. Do say you will join this merry band. Visit me at @_Mrs_Finnegan and I might even be able to assist you in your own pressing problems.

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

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