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What to do with a maid who can’t work – ADVICE from the 1830s BRIGHTON HOUSEKEEPER AND AGONY AUNT

Mrs Finnegan, the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT, only has time to answer one question this week because some people will not listen to good advice when they get it.  Mrs Finnegan is also keeping herself busy at  The Regency Town House  and is  issuing a very special invitation (see below) 

Am I or am I not the Mistress in my own house? I won’t bore with the trivials, all you need know is that a servant in my employ is no longer fit to do her duties. I was all ready to send her packing, but the Cook says no. Mrs Finnegan, tell me, has the world gone mad? Are the cooks in control?

Mrs Spitting Feathers of Fishersgate

On these brief details I deduce two things:
1) the cook is a very good cook OTHERWISE you would not care what she thought
2) Natural justice demands that you do not deprive someone of home, income and food without good cause.

Is not a broken foot good enough cause? And what’s the cook’s ability to make the best puff pastry in south east England to do with anything?


A broken foot can mend. Without proper care it can maim. And the cook can leave. Puff pastry is in HIGH DEMAND.

The girl’s just a skivvy, a scullery maid nothing more. No skills except the ability to run and up downstairs, and now she can’t do that. Who is going to do take on those duties, that’s what I would like to know?


Have CONFIDENCE in the other servants. They will rally around and somehow fit those tasks around their own duties. Why, there’s a wealth of things a girl with a broken foot can undertake to be useful. It means a PINCH of compromise and a few ounces of tolerance and maybe for a few weeks…

Don’t a few weeks me! You sound like my own housekeeper who is as bad as the cook. They are in league against me. I have a large house to run not a hospital. And a position in society to maintain. I am known for my Thursday evening soirees. I’ll have you know I had the younger brother of an Earl at the last one. The hot water for my room was a good 10 minutes late this morning. And there was only honey cake for breakfast. Plum cake was entirely missing. The Master was looking forward to a caraway seed bun and had to suffice with a pathetic slice of brioche.

Madam, why have you sought my advice?

The Cook said she would go elsewhere if I refused and I have the third cousin of a viscount dining next week. We finally agreed that we would abide by your decision. I thought you might be a sensible sort. Are you really telling me I should keep the clumsy chit on? If only she hadn’t got in the way of the dray horse. I’ve already had to pay good money to have the foot set. Where is the justice in that?


I have not put myself to the close study of legislation handed down to us from the Court of Edward the Confessor to the parliament of our own BLESSED MONARCH, Good King William but I do have by my side a copy of The Complete Servant. A most estimable guide, I shall quote an INTERESTING passage.


A master cannot discharge his yearly servant within the year, by reason of illness, or of any by which he may be disabled from doing his usual business, nor even for insanity, without an order from a Justice nor can be his wages be abated for the same reason.

Aha! I have you. I never said how long she should stay


If the hiring of a servant be general, without any particular time specified, the law construes it to be a hiring for a year certain.

Well, I’ll seek an order from a Justice – your book learning had undone you Mrs Finnegan!


You may get one – it depends who is sitting on the bench. I cannot say you won’t. But the TOWN will know of how you treat your servants in times of calamity and make their OWN MIND up about it. Many will be ready to SWOOP down and entice your cook away. Bit by bit, all the experienced servants will find themselves better positions.
Remember, a dray horse’s HOOF can come down on any of us. And we know not the day nor the hour he will paw the ground…

Yours respectfully
Mrs Finnegan


Miss Martha was very keen to have a turn around the gardens, although really I thought the sky looked like a hazard if not an actual threat. She dismissed my concerns and we went out armed with umbrellas.

When Miss Martha insisted on ambling up and down the west side of the Square, instead of walking AROUND it clockwise I knew she had a plan in mind. When she remarked on how interesting our new neighbours were, I felt certain she wanted a better look at the French dancing master and so did I. I’ve met the mother and was not IMPRESSED.

We PASSED Number 60 once, twice, three times. The windows were open. I could not hear any music, dancing or otherwise, but thought I caught the faraway thud of a door being shut WITH EMOTION. Suddenly, the FRONT door of Number 61 flew open and before us stood the figure of the newly arrived riding master.

Sideways on he was striking. The front view was also commanding.

Standing a good six foot in his well-polished boots, he gulped down Brunswick Town air as if it were strong beer. Smacking his lip, he announced to the clouds that he was well pleased with the day. He recognised Miss Martha having had a small acquaintance with her father and BOWED LOW when he saw us and presented his card

Peregrine Ludlow Hilderbrace
Riding Master (retired)

At your service, he said bowing again. When he came up for air he showed us the article that was spoiling the cut of his jacket.

My heart sank.
“I believe in starting and ending every day with a joke,” he told us as he turned the pages.
My heart was now seeking refuge in the soles of my shoes.

A LAWYER being sore sick, made his last Will, and leaving all his estate to fools and madmen: being asked the reason for so doing said “From such I had it, and to such I give it again.”

Miss Martha tittered politely. There is such a thing as being too well mannered.
Master Hilderbrace  turned to me. “Pray Miss Martha, introduce me to this fine filly.”
I returned his toothsome smile with a stony gaze that has oft had stronger men whimper for their mothers.
He carried on smiling: I believe him to be short sighted.
“Why this is…” Miss Martha paused, head on one side.  “The Un-rivalled WIDOW Finnegan.”
Then we were back to bowing again.
“Ah, the un-attached Mrs Finnegan,” he murmured when he was upright again.
“Un-interested,” I murmured back and I gave my Mistress’ daughter such a look I ought by rights be sacked on the spot.
But Miss Martha pulled at my sleeve and pointed in the direction of the sea. “Look, we’ve missed him.”
Sure enough there was the running figure of a limber young man and from the depths of number 60 came a mother’s wail.
“What’s that? A cry for help?” I asked, all foreign languages being foreign to me.  
“Étienne – his name – Stephen in English I suppose”
We watched as he raced toward the setting sun, his chestnut curls turning golden brown in the dying rays and just before he made off in the direction of Brighton, he turned to face us.

“I do believe that is a frightened owl,’ Miss Martha said, glowing pink with something very like awe in her voice.
I could see from his expression that Mr Hilderbrace was as confounded as I was.
“Oh you two! Don’t you know anything about men’s hair styles?”
Miss Martha flounced indoors and I was happy to follow as I saw Mr H was in DANGER of opening his book again.
Enough of the neighbours for one day!

Mrs Finnegan is the creation of Bridget Whelan  and Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook but Mrs F wishes it to be known that HER OPINIONS are always right.

Nearly always
Quite often.


You MAY feel you already know me, but we can get to know each other MUCH better at a special SUNDAY interactive Zoom call for Heritage Open Days. (I write the words as they have been passed to me, but I know not what they MEAN. Ah well, I find that is a problem I have to deal with more and more often these days. Perhaps you too?)

I am VERY MUCH afraid there will be no tea and sandwiches Why I do not know, but there we are…So, it’s just me and Mister Paul, the chef. You would think he could bring some sandwiches with him, wouldn’t you? But I don’t pass any comment.

WHEN is this Sunday Treat?  September 20th THE TIME 12.30 After church and before dinner. (When I do feel I could peck on something small and savoury. Ah well.)

THE FEE My dears, absolutely nothing! Not a penny will exchange hands.  And all are welcome.   

Book your FREE TICKET on eventbrite 

Do come!



One comment on “What to do with a maid who can’t work – ADVICE from the 1830s BRIGHTON HOUSEKEEPER AND AGONY AUNT

  1. Pingback: Love, Secrets and Annoying Nits – more problems for Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper | BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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