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Coping with a Tedious Tea Party and “Praise” for Old Maids – Good Advice from Mrs Finnegan, the Brighton 1830s housekeeper

Mrs Finnegan is the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT as well as housekeeper at The Regency Town House.
Mrs Finnegan asks readers to note that a wise Chinese gentleman once said: He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.

I have a dilemma. I have been invited to afternoon tea by a group of the most tedious women imaginable. I will be bored to tears. However, the hostess has the most handsome of brothers who I wish to find favour with. What shall I do?

A perplexing quandary indeed! I am RELUCTANT to suggest you should forgo such an opportunity (after all, it’s a chance to get out of the house). However, if this gentleman also considers his sister and her friends wearisome he may ASSUME you are the same if he should see you in their company. (But read on, for I have a plan to avoid that possibility.)

Every life has its years in which you feel as though you are progressing along A DREARY, DUSTY ROAD to nowhere very much. All you do is pick up your foot and put it down again, step after step after step…

We are living through such a year.

For that reason ACCEPT the invitation.
Expect the worst. You exchange the tedium of an afternoon at home for the tedium of an afternoon in someone else’s home.
Hope for the best: a DECENT SLICE of cake and a chance encounter with the gentleman who interests you.
Prepare yourself for such an event
Practise wearing a look of lively engagement as if you are just about to make a WITTY REMARK – in case he glimpses you from the hallway.
Cultivate a sweet tinkling laugh – in case he passses within EARSHOT.
Demonstrate your intellectual superiority by saying frequently WITH GENTLE SADNESS My dear, I don’t believe you quite understand – in case he overhears the conversation.
AND REMEMBER when all’s said and done, it is only an afternoon…

This isn’t quite the look I had in mind…


You wrote about a lady’s last chance of marriage last week. Let’s give a hearty three cheers for maiden aunts and old maids everywhere! What would we do without them?

My sister in law gets a tad despondent at times, but is a boon with the children (there are eight of the rascals!) and puts them to bed most nights. She also gets stuck in with the hemming and darning and all those annoying little sewing jobs that aren’t worth sending to a seamstress. I almost forgot – she embroiders very neatly too.

I won’t sign this letter to save her blushes, but she will know whose praises I am singing when I say we all love the imaginative things she creates on the cook’s day off. What a treasure she is!

A spinster’s lot …

There is much to be said for the single life. The next time the cook is off why not visit the kitchen yourself and surprise your sister in law with Spinster’s Pudding

  • take 6 oz of beef suet with a little grated lemon peel
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 oz of apple grated fine

Boil for 4 hours and serve with a wine sauce (and a large glass of wine on the side).

It seems well-named for it is hearty, full of the good things of life with a hint of sophistication (the wine sauce is a master stroke). I found the recipe tucked down the back of the dresser at The Regency Town House. Alas, there wasn’t one for condescending sisters in law…

Yours Respectfully
Mrs Finnegan

PS Where did I leave off last week? Ah yes, with Miss Martha dashing across Brunswick Square after Monsieur D’Albert’s passionate (but NON SPECIFIC ) appeal for help.

I was quick on their heels for I would not allow Miss Martha to enter into a potentially UNCHAPERONED situation with any man, but especially not that man – even though my footwear was unfortunate (in the sense that it was missing). But what do wet stocking feet matter when a housekeeper has her duty to PERFORM!

I entered Number 60 Brunswick Square FULL of foreboding. I passed a shocked parlour maid in the hall and entered Madam D’Albert’s studio (in reality the ground floor dining room) and spied HERSELF prone on the chaise. Picture the scene: her body stiff, the face as white as bone, and the son on his knees SOBBING NOISILY (holding Miss Martha’s hand a little too closely).

Everyone talked in HUSHED TONES. A doctor had been called.The Madam was very ill, perhaps even….

Were her eyelashes fluttering just a little? The BODICE RISING a fraction? The face was indeed several shades whiter than her normal colour, but I thought I could smell freshly applied lead white, the kind of face paint we applied so freely – and thickly! – when we were girls. Long out of fashion, of course.

She looked much better with rosy cheeks

What to do? Monsieur D’Albert was demanding a lot of attention from Miss Martha, so I took the opportunity to look for my trusty bottle of smelling salts – made to my own recipe and a powerful remedy in tight corset or no-breakfast-in-the-morning situations. I thought it might have some effect here (for different reasons), but it was nowhere about my person. Then I saw the quill pen on the small desk at Madam D’Albert’s feet. Just what I needed!

No, dear reader, I was not going to use the sharp end to poke Madam. But I noticed the old lady was also shoeless and I stroked her foot gently with the quill’s feathery plume.

Her foot jerked forward.

I applied a little more pressure WITHOUT ANYONE seeing. Who would have thought Madam D’Albert so ticklish? She leapt from her bed and DANCED around the room on one foot. Colour FLOODING her cheeks.

In truth I have never seen her look so well OR MOVE so fast, although waves of powerful emotions crossed over her face. Well, only ONE EMOTION really. Plain old-fashioned fury. And she was looking straight at me.

We made our excuses and left as Monsieur D’Albert and the servants WERE exclaiming their delight at the MIRACULOUS recovery. I noticed that there was a white stain on the cushion where Madam’s head had rested just minutes before.

I wonder what that was all about, mused Miss Martha as we walked back across the square. I have some idea, but I said nothing. I’m not one to judge.

Mrs Finnegan is the creation of Bridget Whelan  and Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook 
Mrs Finnegan is not sure how this happened, but she is now on YouTube Becoming Mrs Finnegan via @YouTube

7 comments on “Coping with a Tedious Tea Party and “Praise” for Old Maids – Good Advice from Mrs Finnegan, the Brighton 1830s housekeeper

  1. beth
    September 29, 2020

    i love the boring tea party advice – and the suet recipe…..well

  2. bridget whelan
    September 29, 2020

    Thank you Beth. For me any kind of suet pudding is a bit eeky…does anyone still make them? I mean for a proper dinner, not just the Regency Chef…Wish we had discovered the recipe for the wine sauce though…

  3. Janis
    October 1, 2020

    Well done Mrs Finnegan. You get wiser and wiser!

    • bridget whelan
      October 2, 2020

      Thank you – Mrs Finnegan will be gratified to hear that.

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2020 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , , , .


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