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Mutton Fat (again!), Servants and Chaperones ADVICE FROM THE 1830s BRIGHTON HOUSEKEEPER AND AGONY AUNT

Mrs Finnegan’s Chronicles: the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT living in her own bubble where the land meets the sea, while also looking after  The Regency Town House when time permits

Mimsi Slopcorner says I told her mutton fat would do her hair a world of good. I did not. I only told her you said so. Furthermore I deny that I told her to wipe her nose on her sleeve, wear the same dirty apron 4 days running or to stop washing behind her ears. All these things she is guilty of and these slanderous statements are due to naught but jealousy on account of her being very plain indeed.
The mistress is now very sore with both of us which I do maintain is unfair. Yours indignantly
Miss Pretty Clean and Tidy

YOURS is the third letter I have received regarding mutton fat and I have been accosted on the street TWICE by persons I did not know could READ, let alone follow my advice with obsessional attention.
This is all I have to say on the SUBJECT.
Do not rub mutton fat on your hair, on your face, on your neck, on your legs and the parts the GOOD LORD has chosen to put between your neck and your legs.
Do not eat it.
Do not smell it. Do not sniff it.
Do not melt it down and gargle with it.
DO NOT write to me about it again.
In fact do not write to me EVER again. (But you can tell poor Mimsi that she CAN.)


Woefully inexperienced in household management, I fear I shall make a terrible muddle of hiring servants when my husband and I set up home in Brighton in the autumn. How shall I judge who is suitable and who is not? Please advise at your earliest possible convenience.
Mrs Newly-Wed of East Grinstead

ANYONE applying for a position must present you with a character reference from a past employer. If such words as SOBER, diligent, good-enough appear you may look on them favourably. But if the praise seems too high ask yourself if the last Mistress was a little too EAGER to see the back of her servant. I myself have hired after breakfast and sacked before TEA TIME, but those reluctant to do so may rid themselves of an UNSATISFACTORY maid or cook with fulsome tributes.

Be mindful of your budget and do not expect to hire a ladies maid on the wage of a scullery maid or a butler for the same money as an long-in-the-tooth gardener. Mis-matched expectations will cause strife and unhappiness all round.

When interviewing look for clean nails and neatly darned clothes, but I also place WEIGHT on faces, not for their beauty, but for what they reveal of the inner person.

Crosspatch is the word that springs to mind.
A maid with a happy disposition is an asset to any household
But you may have to be realistic….
…if your household budget is not as large as your aspirations

Yours with the utmost respect

Mrs Finnegan

PS It is here, the day I dreaded. Miss Martha HAS ARRIVED. I’ve been tormented all week after reading a message that gave the expected date (still 7 days hence) followed by the two most awful words in the English language: or sooner. It is hard to describe how I felt. It is a bit like being homesick when you’re still in your home.
I woke up this morning as insecure as a new kitchen maid. Then I say, ‘MADAM, you are Mrs Finnegan’ so I got up and walked the walk and broke my fast on a substantial breakfast.
Horse hooves, neighing, shouts, the grind of wheel on road stone. Loud banging on the front door (you can always count on the gentry to bang loudly). And Miss Martha in a halo of fashionable emerald.

This is not Miss Martha, nor was she carrying a bow and arrow (although she has tried her hand at archery she tells me). And the collar of her dress was different and I do not remember so many buttons, but it is something like

We have not met before. Until the rest of the household returns, I am to be her only maid. Standing in the hall, we looked each other in the eye. She’s not as young as I expected. Upward of 28 or 29 I should say which explains the Mistress’ fluster. This girl is in want of a marriage proposal, in want of a house and husband of her own, but in the early morning light she didn’t seem to be in want of anything.

You’re Finnegan,‘ she said, as if telling me something I wouldn’t be able to work out for myself. ‘Mama says I must have a chaperone, and you are it.’
I nodded. Lord help us, I thought, but did NOT SAY.
I hardly know Brighton but I want to experience it all. The lending libraries, the afternoon teas, the dances! Can you dance Finnegan?’
I smiled. It is of no account whether I can or not, I thought and DID NOT say. Housekeeper-chaperones do not dance where the likes of Miss Martha dances.
‘You and I shall get on very well together, I’m sure of it.’ I liked her optimism even if I didn’t share it. ‘As long as you don’t chaperone too often or too carefully!’ And with that she was bounding upstairs to her room – thankfully well-aired and prepared – with a request for hot buttered toast and honey and the news that she planned to sleep for hours and hours to recover from the journey.

She leaned over the bannister for one final epistle.’Sea bathing! I forgot the sea. I simply must go in. Now that is something we can do together, dear Finnegan.’

O Lordy!

In the space of 10 minutes I have lost my title and gained the soubriquet of DEAR.

I need hot buttered toast and honey too. And the refuge of my bed. If only I had a maid…

Follow @_Mrs_Finnegan on twitter. She writes daily and is VERY EAGER to make new friends of good character and amiable disposition. She has now more than 1000 FOLLOWERS and wonders if any other Brighton housekeeper in the 1830s or any other decade can make the same boast.
This is a regular feature created and written with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook

3 comments on “Mutton Fat (again!), Servants and Chaperones ADVICE FROM THE 1830s BRIGHTON HOUSEKEEPER AND AGONY AUNT

  1. beth
    June 16, 2020

    my hair could do with some good mutton fat about now –

    • bridget whelan
      June 16, 2020

      Trust me, no! Trice times no I say. And if you do, don’t mention my name…

      • beth
        June 16, 2020


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This entry was posted on June 16, 2020 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , , , .


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