BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Even Mrs Finnegan likes a man in uniform…More from the Chronicles of Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

Mrs Finnegan is the celebrated housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE and most days can be found in her room writing to readers. Now that some of her heavy duties have lifted from her shoulders (see below) she welcomes letters on ANY SUBJECT from any quarter of the WORLD.

How does one choose a husband?  My mother lives in fear that I will be thought of as flighty or even that I have already damaged my reputation along with my chance of a suitable marriage

But Brighton is awash with dashing officers with whom I can dance with, dine with and walk with. Surely it would be a mistake not to become acquainted with these gentleman before choosing a husband. 
After all to death do us part can be a very long time, when you make a decision in haste.

Happy Hortense from Hanover

It’s a narrow road BETWEEN being flirtatious and being forward and fast. And I think you’re in GRAVE DANGER of tumbling down the QUICK side.

I worry about the officers (in plural!) you have DANCED, dined and walked with…you CANNOT do all THREE with the same man without a PRIOR offer of engagement. And you shouldn’t do any of those with more than two (EVEN when accompanied by a chaperon.)

Listen to your Mama.
Listen to Mrs Finnegan.

Promise me, no more dinners UNLESS the officer has a ring in his pocket.

AH! But how to decide whether to ACCEPT a proposal? There’s no easy answer. By all means marry for love, but don’t forget the side-benefits of a decent income, a curricle and matched pair and yes, how he looks in uniform.

When is enough enough Mrs Finnegan?
I have agreed to receive letters from a dear friend in Taunton. She is in financial hardship and does not enjoy many outings. It seems that letter writing has taken the place of a social life and she fills page after page with tedious accounts of her every movement, from what she saw out of her window (in truth, not much) to how she slept the previous night (not well).

I now regret my decision. I expected the occasional letter, but the flood gates have opened. She writes in earnest daily. And for each one I am charged a penny…

What can I do without causing OFFENCE?

Downhearted in Dumpton

Mrs Finnegan replies

The amount you spend on postage comes to a GOODLY SUM over a month and cannot be ENDURED, but the solution is SIMPLE.

Write to your friend TELLING her

I You VALUE her highly, but can no longer afford the expenditure. (Add that you know she will understand. She won’t, but write it anyway. In my experience friends like this ASSUME that the rest of the world is ENJOYING a high old time with few worries and a fat purse. They are are the only ones who suffer etc etc. Only they are forced to eke out a wretched existence and SO ON and so forth.)

II Say you know writing is doing her a POWER OF GOOD so she must continue with her letters. However, you will only pay a penny for the FIRST letter of every month. On all other days the postman will be turned AWAY.

III The benefit is that even though most of her letters will remain UNREAD (hurrah! says you) you will know she is fit and well and continuing in good health every time the postman knocks.

We shall see if she is still an EAGER letter writer when she knows she has no reader. I suspect that correspondence will dwindle away to once a month, but if does not why! there’s no harm because it means you will continue to have a HANDSOME man come to your door every day. I am assuming that letter carriers are NOW wearing that very smart scarlet uniform in Dumpton.

I do think MOST men look better in an uniform, don’t you? Although I hope your letter carrier is a tad younger than the gentleman above. The uniforms have been de rigueur in London since I was gal, but are only slowly, SLOWLY coming to the provinces. They make the streets look so much better.

Yours in affection and humble service
Mrs Finnegan

PS

There are a lot of good smells coming from the kitchen which is putting a smile on all our faces. Mrs Pole, the new cook, keeps herself very busy. She’s a woman of quiet refinement who values expertise and experience. She’s paid my PICKLES several compliments and is always tapping on my door asking if I wouldn’t mind giving an honest opinion on a slice of Dundee cake or take a bite of a chocolate tart. And her Salamagundi salad well, it knocks the stockings off any I’ve had previously.
That woman can even turn an ordinary egg salad into a delight to the mouth WHICH IS NOT easy.

I’ve NOTICED Mrs Pole PREFERS to come to me rather than I walk into the kitchen. I understand – we all like to THINK we are in control of our own small domain. Nevertheless she and I must WORK together on the stores. I am in charge of the household PURSE while she must advise when stocks are low or special ingredients are required. But other than that, I am happy to oblige. The kitchen is the ENGINE ROOM of the house and can be hot and NOISY unlike my own dear room.

I like to think that my room is an engine for advice and a cradle for culture…


However, Mrs Pole is UNHAPPY with the butcher I use and has asked that we CHANGE to one she prefers.
I’ve said I will give the matter SOME thought. In reality I will wait AN HOUR before saying yes. I do not want her to think that weighty decisions are not given the correct amount of MATURE reflection.
I’ve used the time to nip into Mrs Hankey’s room for a quiet READ. Her diary is in the usual place

My gown, my gown.   What a delight this is going to be. 

I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a bit of a BORE.

I found Mrs Guppy, the dressmaker Lady Frobisher (or dear Lizzie, as I call her) recommended.  

Fortuitously she seems to know exactly what I have in mind
and even suggests that the sleeves be bigger than I had envisaged since she saw how smooth and silky my shoulders are and how they will distract from the wrinkles and size of my chest.   

Even bigger sleeves? Lordy, we will have to widen the doors unless she walks like a crab. Still, they have a big job to do.

She also agreed that the colour purple suits me, however she has asked me to buy the material myself so tomorrow I will repair to a merchant to whom she especially recommended me. The yards and yards of fine purple silk, as well as the white taffeta and the necessary extra for the turban might be daunting to a person of more slender means, but I am, at least, grateful to Thomson that I do not have to trouble myself with such paltry worries

Mrs Hankey has talked of little else but the new purple dress. How the dye is made (a mix of crushed beetle and a tropical plant if you want to know), how everyone who sees it will know how expensive it is, how titled ladies will look at it and know they can’t afford it. La di dah.

Mrs Pole was on a week’s trial. The days MOVED ON and nothing was said. I could see she was getting nervous, the poor woman, until last Friday she confided that she was going to do something extra special FOR DINNER – white chocolate mousse flavoured and COLOURED with lavender.

A PURPLE dessert – that’s style – I clapped when I saw it And, of course, Mrs Hankey was CHARMED. Mrs Pole’s trial has been extended and no end date mentioned.

When I come DOWNSTAIRS after leaving Mrs Hankey’s room the cook is at the bottom wanting to know if I have made up my mind about the butcher. I tell her we can TRY OUT the one she likes. She is so delighted she offers to clean all the SILVERWARE, all the spoons and forks and all the knives. Not just once, but to take over the CHORE ENTIRELY.

I feel as LIGHT as a lavender mousse. I can’t think of the last time I had so little work to do. Mrs Pole is a WONDER.

MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook working with a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers. This week a special thank you to Catherine Page and Julia Pattinson .

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3 comments on “Even Mrs Finnegan likes a man in uniform…More from the Chronicles of Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

  1. beth
    August 3, 2021

    i’m all about the uniforms!

    • bridget whelan
      August 3, 2021

      Mistake to get rid of the scarlet for postmen! Were US postmen ever attired so grandly? (The painting is from the Postal Museum and is of the last letter carriers to wear this splendid uniform circa 1890s)

      • beth
        August 3, 2021

        it must have been a huge loss – no, our uniforms were never quite as elegant )

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