BRIDGET WHELAN writer

for writers and readers….

There are SOME things Mrs Finnegan will not discuss – Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper intends to KEEP her standards HIGH

Mrs Finnegan, celebrated authority AND housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE has her reputation for probity and scrupulousness to MAINTAIN.

Mortified that’s what I am, but more than that: my husband Arthur has appalled and humiliated me.
He is employed as an articled clerk in a large Brighton company of some repute. I had great hopes of his advancement.

To this end I have constantly reminded him of the importance of appearance, and the manners and habits that would mark him as a gentleman. 

Oh Mrs Finnegan! My hopes of his promotion and thus a move to a more prestigious address will come to nought. 

When he returns home each night, he will cast off his work suit and sit reading the evening paper With His Legs Wide Apart.  

Miss Agatha Plomley-Bruce, in her etiquette advice for the aspiring male, states that a gentleman always keeps his legs together when seated. I imagine you are acquainted with her column in The Dainty Housewife. 

What threats,  persuasions and feminine wiles might I use to persuade him to keep his legs together and thus allow us to prosper?

Mrs Uppity Mobili of Uckfield  

Mrs Finnegan replies:

Madam, I am not accustomed to advising gentlemen ON PERSONAL matters of this nature and I am alarmed that the journal you mention chooses to discuss such an intimate subject.
Suffice to SAY, a TRUE gentleman CAN BE left to make his own decision on the appropriate placement and a true LADY would not notice where he puts his legs.

As for Miss Agatha Plomley etc etc. AVOID!


At least twice a week I attend the local market to purchase goods for the mistress of the house. Lately I observe one of the servants from a neighbouring house doing the same. The problem is her apron. How does she get it so white? I have taken against her for the sheer arrogance of her snowy attire.
Of course, all our clothes are regularly laundered, but they never achieve this glowing brilliance. Please can you tell me how she does it. I am beginning to feel very second best. 
Miss Dowdy of Durrington

Mrs Finnegan replies:

I strongly suspect the girl has a work apron and has saved up for a GOING-OUT apron. Work aprons are usually made of coloured material to hide the dirt (look at the other women in your picture). White is for best.

To keep whites WHITE soak in buttermilk – sour milk will do at a pinch. Minimum time required is overnight. Maximum is two days.

Some use turpentine in the first wash instead, but it is a practice I DO NOT recommend. Yes, it saves time. Yes, it has a kind of tree-ish smell which is not entirely unpleasant, but it can catch alight in A BLINK. An old cook told me a curse word shouted IN ANGER could set it on fire.

And it should never ever be DRUNK. (Ask yourself: might any of the staff be tempted? O the rigours they would suffer as a consequence! They would beg for death and it would come slow but sure, SLOW but exceedingly terrible.)

Next soap and boil your whites.

Then SWISH in blue water made from mixing scrapings from a block OF BLUE with water and adding it carefully to the wash water. TOO MUCH and you will have a BRIGHT blue apron that a week of scrubbing will not change. Too little and it will have no affect, but the right amount will banish every trace of yellowing. (As a guide it might be helpful to know that the water should be as blue as a SPRING SKY early in the morning an hour after a shower of soft rain.)

Next rinse the whites at least twice (three times is better). After THAT it is only a matter of wringing out, mangling and drying – on a hedge in full sun if possible. If no hedge is available the grass will do.

All that remains is to starch and iron your apron.

It is quite straightforward.

PS

Readers, another letter has arrived.

Do you shake at those words? I did when I saw the envelope fall on the tiled floor. I trembled a VOLCANIC tremble and I don’t care who knows it.

Yet somehow I found the courage to snatch it up and resist the TEMPTATION to fling it away unopened and unread.
GLAD I am that I did open for it was writ by dear Master Peregrine, the riding master (retired) who lives across Brunswick Square at Number 61.

I recognised the HANDWRITING in a trice because he is a man of gentle disposition who has always been a good friend to me and Miss Martha and I believe to THE WORLD at large.

I will HIDE nothing from you. There was a MIS-FOURTUNE earlier this year occasioned by a dinner that did not happen (I say no more. Those who do not recall that painful day may read it all HERE) but there has never been a moment’s ill-will on either side.

AND yet I hesitated before reading this missive in full.
Is it POSSIBLE that the wretched writer of poison pen letters has been in contact with Master Peregrine?
Has SHE (I am convinced it is a she) told LIES about me?
Worse, has she been spreading MALCIOUS truths (the worst of all sins because you cannot take them back)?

The letter was a TIGHTLY written wad of paper, almost a small book

Master Peregrine was INORDINATEDLY pleased to be writing to me and have his quill spell out my name, but Master Peregrine WAS also inordinately saddened by the MOTIVATING FORCE as strong as Hercules that has DRIVEN him to…etc etc

Master Peregrine has a distinguished WRITING STYLE, but it involves a lot of twisty sentences and multiple clauses. Dear reader, the upshot is that he has asked me to visit his home in SECRET after DARK at which time he will be able to impart information about A MATTER that is causing me GREAT DISTRESS.

He asks that Miss Martha accompany me, both to save my reputation and also because she is a DEAR AND TRUSTED friend who MAY help RESOLVE this matter. Well, had he shaken a feather duster at me I COULD NOT have been more surprised.

Miss Martha has hardly been out of her room since returning to Brunswick Square. I believe she is nursing a broken heart. Would she come? How would we avoid her mother’s prying eyes? What has Master Peregrine to tell me?

BY CHANCE I had an opportunity to glance at the open diary of her mother on the day that letter arrived. There was not much of interest just an account of tea with Lady Wadley…She went with such high hopes

…..she is considerably older than me, definitely out of touch, and by the look of it does not have very much
money. It was very kind of her to invite me but I fear she may have been motivated by pity as I have so few friends in town…she was somewhat hampered by her ear trumpet and since deaf people do not like to have
conversations surrounding them, I found that I was the only person invited. This defeated my purpose in going, and also irritated me since I WILL NOT BE PITIED but she is titled, and I must return the invitation at some point.

My sympathy is with Lady Wadley.
Mrs Hankey is still ON THE HUNT for a cook. I have mixed feelings about her ambitions in that direction…

I have been in Brighton for some weeks now and have not been able to entertain anyone.
I will not even contemplate asking Mrs Finnegan to cook for guests, she cannot and to make matters worse, she does not realise her limitations.
She seems to think she is capable of anything which is manifestly untrue and makes for some
unpalatable dishes.

UNfair! Untrue. Mrs H does not have a discerning palate.
But I admit the carrot puffs on Saturday were not a success. It was a mistake to double the amount of breadcrumbs when I ran out of carrots. And perhaps I was a TAD heavy handed with the nutmeg and my attention was distracted when I was frying it in suet (Monsignor D’Artur had walked past TWICE in five minutes. Why? I wondered… ) but it was only a trifle singed.

Mrs Hankey said the dish had no puff and even less carrot which MADE Miss Martha laugh, the first time in a long while. Back to the diary….

I swear I am losing weight…

It would ill become me to comment…then Mrs H has one of her bright ideas.

…the Balls at the Assembly Rooms have food. Who prepares it? Do they have friends? The cook at the Old Ship hotel, where the food is good, may have friends. I shall spread the word.

COMMERCIAL culinary fayre?
These places are but a STEP above a common inn!
The food is “good” for what it is, comparing it to other hotels serving HUNDREDS. And you don’t go to the Assembly Rooms to eat. You go TO BE SEEN and to see and along the way you need some MORSEL of sustenance.
Or so I have been told.
I have not attended either establishment being a MERE housekeeper. But really SOMEONE should save that woman from herself.
Here’s yesterday’s entry.

I AM ALARMED. Susan has told me that Martha does not want to marry any of the beaux that I have
considered suitable for her. Surely she does not want to marry a TRADESMAN? That cannot be countenanced… I would almost rather she did not marry at all.
I suppose she might look at a soldier but their life is so dangerous and their reputation as constant, loving companions SO bad. And, in any case, a marriage into the armed forces would remind me too closely of my own
past which has been successfully buried. AND WILL REMAIN SO.

Ah, that perhaps explains a lot.

Susan must not see any glimpse of vulnerability on my part. I have an instinct that she is a hard little minx, only interested in herself,

I don’t get it.
Is Susan in favour or out of FAVOUR? It seems to change with the wind.
You remember Susan? Those of a forgetful nature can click HERE. Do try to KEEP UP. She is now ladies maid to both Mrs H and Miss M. And I had a WHIFF that a pay rise is IN THE AIR. A pay rise! I haven’t seen one of those in years.

I thought if I became closer to Martha she might tell me about Susan and her history. They have spent my hours together and talked and talked.
Martha must know if the girl was once… I cannot bear to write it down…if Susan once knew dear foolish Thompson, my eldest and my best (at least when he was a child), in an intimate sense and if a delicate situation developed that could harm Thompson’s prospects…
However, I have been singularly unsuccessful. My daughter keeps her distance. Perhaps I should ask Martha to keep me company during my visits to the flower show, the dressmaker and the library.
Ah, I could actually consider her thoughts as to how to get a cook. Yes, yes I will “seek her advice”. How droll!
But it would be worth it if she could confide in me. We will not talk about her matrimonial prospects instead she can tell me about Susan. And I can protect my dear boy!

So, that’s mother love.
But she is right, Miss Martha and Susan have been thrown together these last few weeks. I have been so busy I hardly noticed.
If I am to meet with Master Peregrine I have to separate Miss Martha from the ever-present Susan.

MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook and a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers. This week a big thank you to Jenny and Jill

Would you like every episode of Mrs Finnegan’s adventures delivered directly to your mail box?
There’s no fees, taxes or tips involved but a coach and four might pull up outside your house (as quietly as possible).

Just click HERE

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