for writers and readers….

BALL GOWNS and the LACING OF CORSETS – ADVICE from the 1830s BRIGHTON housekeeper

Mrs Finnegan is the Celebrated Authority on affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT in addition to being housekeeper of The Regency Town House.

TODAY she adds cutting edge FASHION ADVICE to her already extensive repertoire


I have nothing, yes nothing, to wear for an upcoming ball. My father refuses to give me money for a new gown. He says I have plenty of dresses. He has no idea. What do you recommend?
Patches from Pease Pottage

Look not to your father for SALVATION, but to the pedlar (and possibly the attic). And in the process learn how to become a skilled negotiator. You have already made a good start.
Choose the most becoming dress in your WARDROBE which you have not worn for some time and consider what can be changed.
For example, new short, puffed sleeves – BIGGER, WIDER and in a contrasting material – will make both an impact on the dance floor and your waist look smaller. I am told that a combination of FLORALS AND STRIPES is quite the thing at the moment. The pedlar will have the material – hopefully your father will have the budget and be pleased that the cost is so little compared to a new dress.

If that is beyond Papa at present, then insist on your pressing need for (in this order)
A pelerine – these little shoulder capes can be run up in a range of materias. I saw a darling one in white muslin the other day.
A tippet – a stole in a good fabric can look fetching, but perhaps not so suitable for a ball? I am perhaps out of my depth here, but you can always mention it in passing to show your willingness to compromise.

New buttons, bows, ribbons, lace shawl, net shawl, lace trimming and GLOVES – this is the bottom line, your LAST THROW of the dice. Make it clear to Papa that you must have some of these to be considered a gentlewoman, less would be a disgrace, a shame on his illustrious name etc etc.

Well done, for starting these delicate negotiations at the top. Your father will surely feel he has won a victory if he avoids paying out for an entire new dress.

I mentioned the attic. Have you noticed that heavy brocades have come back in style? Once thought too last century, this is now the fabric of choice for many fashionable ladies. See if any of your mother’s or grandmother’s dresses can be made over for next season, but make it clear to your father that you are making a supreme sacrifice that only an obedient, but wretched, daughter would consider etc etc

Overheard on Brunswick Square…

“Black becomes me so well, I have decided to go into presumptive mourning for Aunt Bella. She looked a little peaky at the garden party.”

Is it permissible to ask a gentleman to lace me into my corset? I am unmarried, but walking out with a young under butler of good reputation. Surely there can be no harm in allowing him to fully appreciate my attributes without considering me a horrid flirt?
Merry Maid from Marylebone

I sought high and low for an appropriate illustration

Is it permissible?
Of course not!
Is it done?
Of course it is. You know it and I know it. We would BOTH be SIMPLETONS if we attempted to deny it.
Would the under butler think you a FLIRT?
Would he think you something worse? (Pick the most likely answer)
Yes and he will boast about it.
No. Once he has laced your stays he will recognise that you are his one true love and drop to one knee to propose.

Yours Respectfully

Mrs Finnegan

I thought I would be reporting a quiet week in the square until Mr Peregrine Hilderbrace – the riding master (retired) at Number 61 – sent a note over addressed to both myself and Miss Martha requesting our presence on a matter of the most URGENT CONCERN. He seems to have got over his previous nerves about ENTERTAINING GUESTS indoors. As neither of us had anything in our diaries it took us less than two hours to get ready and DASH across the Square.
What is amiss? we ask over a cup of GOOD Indian tea. He offers around two kinds of cake as well, both generously proportioned.
He looks EXCEEDINGLY GRAVE and asks me to ready myself for BAD NEWS. Miss Martha takes my hand and I prepare the cushions behind me incase I should swoon, but in truth I am at a loss to consider what REVELATION would cause much in the way of PALPITATIONS. My paltry savings are SAFE. I counted them only this morning. After the passing of the dearly DEPARTED Mr Finnegan, I have not much kith or kin to speak of so…I wait.
Mr Peregrine pulls a letter from his pocket. Below is an extract. I would not inflict more on you.

You and yor whife R in a wery pekooliar citywation. My advice is to take Mr Mason’s VITALLY-IT-T PILLS. He cells them from hiss Shoppe on Western Rode. Tell him I CENT YOU.

Dear reader, it is signed:

Mrs F of Brunswick Square
Well Nown Hoosekeeper and Addvice Giver
1 farthing per letter

I burn with indignation. Miss Martha offers me smelling salts, which I politely refuse. This lady’s not for fainting. This lady is ready for battle, but who is my enemy?

Mr Peregrine does not know. Miss Martha cannot guess. I, however, have my suspicions.
Is it someone who wants to take PECUNIARY ADVANTAGE of my enviable reputation?
Or is it someone who wants to TARNISH that reputation, SOIL IT with base commercial associations and rub it with the worn rag of IGNORANCE while spilling the sour milk of poor SPELLING across its splendour.
It appears to be a choice between GREEDY STUPIDITY and DEVIOUS MALICE.
Dear reader, have you any suspects in mind? Be in no doubt, I shall hunt the culprit down!
I return to Number 13 still in high dudgeon. Miss Martha suggests a medicinal glass of Madeira to ease my troubled mind. Reluctantly, I allow myself to be persuaded.

We then discover that the post has arrived in our absence.
Two letters on the hall floor, both from Mrs Hankey, one to her daughter, one to me. I do not know the contents of Miss Martha’s letter. She is in her bedroom behind closed door. There is no more mention of Madeira .

My letter instructs me to:
Wash, dry and iron all sheets etc.
Air blankets. Sprigs of lavender to be put where appropriate.
Sweep all floors, wash all doors and wainscotting etc etc
Beat carpets etc etc etc.
Ensure the house is entirely free of mice and spiders.
And pursue sundry other tasks with the utmost diligence (including placing a pleasing arrangement of flowers and leaves in the bay window of the dining room, the display to be large enough to be viewed by passersby).

Dear reader, Mrs Hankey’s return is imminent.

Mrs Finnegan is the creation of Bridget Whelan  and Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook 
“I render my services, I do not sell them.” Mrs Finnegan

Follow @_Mrs_Finnegan on twitter. BEWARE IMPOSTORS and accept NO SUBSTITUTION . She is delighted to report that she has now 1428 FOLLOWERS and wonders if any other BRIGHTON RESIDENT (of the 1830s) can make the same boast. She doubts it and would like to be introduced to any who make such a claim….

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