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Mrs Finnegan’s Chronicles: the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT is looking after The Regency Town House and a newly arrived member of the gentry.
I enjoy long walks in all weathers. My brother, who rarely takes any exercise himself, insists I must not. He says that – along with all members of the fair sex – I am too puny and I will damage my health if I persist. A gentle promenade in the gardens when the sun shines must suffice. Really, Mrs Finnegan, really?
Miss Hale and Hearty of Hollingbury Village
If women were as puny as your brother thinks the HUMAN RACE would have vanished from the earth long ago. Exercise is good for everyone, but please use your GOOD SENSE and keep out of the rain.
I enjoy walking in MODERATION myself (see the etching above) and will sometimes amble, saunter, waddle from Brunswick Square up the track to Furze Hill, although not as quick as I once was and I may need to take my lunch and supper with me…
Perambulate by all means, but stay dry!
My maid is most tiresome. She came with the very best of references, but cannot seem to get my hair right. This is the style I wish to emulate. What would you advise?
Mrs Ever Fashionable, Bath
It is Fashion which is TIRESOME. I sometimes think that the wind is the most talented hairdresser.
This afternoon I embraced Brighton sea front’s windy weather & have let my hair be COIFFED CREATIVELY.
Madam, I suggest you emulate this….
Yours with the utmost respect
Some readers who belong to twitter* (I enjoy the company of a nice, well-mannered group of friends) will know that I have entertained certain feelings about the housekeeper at Number 26 that were not entirely positive. She thinks me a friend. We will draw a veil across what I thought of her. But I saw my chance to find out more when I spied a dirty scrap of a boy with running nose and running, red-rimmed eyes leave the basement of Number 26 with a parcel clutched to his breast. I called him over with the offer of a boiled peppermint lozenge and I was soon exhausted by his EAGERNESS to talk.
Brunswick Square must be the nicest square in the whole world, says he. Why? says I.
Because here was I giving him a sweet out of the same pure kindness that prompted Her at 26 to give him a new set of clothes and SEND AROUND food to his mother this morning who was in much need of it.
Is she known for such behaviour? I asked.
Known? He said in honest bewilderment. No, Missus she isn’t known for it. She’s famous for it.
She teaches the girls from the alleyways of Brighton stitchery so they can mend clothes and maybe earn a little. She gives odd jobs to boys whenever she is able and collects clothes to hand out when a family is in need. The little chap went on for a good bit longer. Every time I thought he’d finished, he would remember some new act of generosity which had to be related.
I sent him off with the remains of a goose leg I was going to have for supper.
I shall be eating umble pie tonight. The Americans call it boiled crow. It’s the same dish.
She thinks me a friend. I shall try harder at being one henceforth.
Another letter from the Mistress about her daughter. I do not understand her opening remarks as VERY LITTLE disturbs my steely-eyed calm.
Dear Mrs Finnegan
I have read your letter and observe, with no surprise, your rising note of panic. Martha can be a handful and to say that she is wilful is an understatement. She is also charming as you have discovered, but that charm may yet be her undoing. She rather depends on it to extract herself from difficult situations that she herself has created. So it is up to you – and remember I am depending on you – to prevent her from entering into those difficult situations in the first place. The one outing that she may undertake alone is her attendance at Church.
Just weeks before we left, Thomson and I rented a pew in St Andrews Church at the bottom of Waterloo Street. You may know it for it is a dear little church built especially for the Brunswick Estate and the Reverend Edward Everard is the Vicar. He has been most agreeable to me. You may go together if you wish, but if she were to go alone it might allay her suspicions that she was being spied upon. That might be where she will meet suitable people, indeed I would be very relieved if she did for that might stop her venturing further.
She may host an afternoon tea however please cast an eye over her list of invitees and question her if you do not recognize a name. If she remonstrates, remind her that you have instructions from me (In truth I do not want to encourage her in the habit of giving afternoon tea, because I myself had just established a salon which I fancied was going rather well before I had to leave).
She may go to the lending library: indeed the more books she borrows and the more engaged she finds herself with those books, the less time she will have to get into ‘situations’.
As for sea bathing, I think that is to be discouraged. But I am fearful that discouragement in this regard will only make her resolve the stronger. I will leave that up to you, but on no account should she be allowed to do that alone. She has a fine figure, and despite bathing machines, a wayward young woman might find a way of displaying it. She is very well aware of the clinging effect of water on material for she was a young impressionable girl when the regency dress was still in fashion!
You mentioned that she talked about balls and dances. I have to confess that I was a little overwhelmed by the thought. Anything could happen. One has no idea who attends, especially when those balls are given in public places such as the Old Ship Ballroom. I realise that Paganini has played there (and indeed I could condone attendance at a concert) but a ball is another matter entirely.
As you can read Mrs Finnegan, I am entirely in your hands in trusting my daughter to you.
Yours etc etc Mrs Hankey
No church for me. Very good.
No balls or sea bathing for either of us. Good-ISH. Better if someone else were obliged to inform the impetuous Miss M.
Tea allowed – just. (As long as the guests are respectable and gatherings are not as successful as the AFTERNOON SOIREES Mrs Hankey is planning.)
No so good. I can only tell if a guest is UN-respectable after the fact.
Lending Libraries. Oh, sweet delight! (This to be read in a voice like lead.) I cannot think they will keep either of us amused long.
I foresee a bleak future of …wait, I hear a thread upon the stair. Steps coming DOWNstairs. How can this be?
‘Finnegan, are you there?’ Would it work if I called back, ‘NO!’?
‘My dear Finnegan, I must get out of this house. With you or without you.’
Would Mrs Finnegan hide in the servants’ quarters? I should think not…but as I crouch inside the larder, very quietly, to check on my latest batch of pickles I see for the first time a message on the back of Mrs Hankey’s letter. I have begun to suggest to Thomson that the time is coming for us to return to Brighton, so that never fear, this responsibility will not go on endlessly. However, he is not enthusiastic so this persuasion may take some weeks.
Here’s an interesting philosophical question: which is better the fire or the frying pan? I shall stay in the larder a little longer to ponder the possibilities.
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 1100 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