for writers and readers….

Are you One of the Wishing Sisters? Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper can’t help wondering…

Mrs Finnegan – the celebrated housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE – advises on love, life and (for one day only) parrots

My name is Polly and I’m a housemaid.
Amongst my duties is the cleaning of the master’s rooms which was alright until he acquired a parrot. It is chained to a post in the bedroom and talks to me in language I’ve heard between the errand boys so I know it’s wrong.
I blush every time he opens his beak.

He says:
Polly’s a pretty girl,
Polly’s a pretty girl,
nice ankles, nice ankles,
make our bed, make our bed

And much worse but I won’t say any more.

This bird is making my life a misery. Only the cook believes me because she is my auntie. The parrot spends most of the time perched on his master’s shoulder saying not a word.
I need this job. My auntie encouraged me to to write you.
Polly from Petworth

Mrs Finnegan replies

After extensive RESEARCH in the Hankey family library, I have the answer.
Parrots like them. Your aunt has access to a supply of them and your master’s parrot is a biddable bird. This is a winning combination.

Use nuts as a training aid and teach the parrot phrases that will make the master’s cheeks CURDLE.
No coarse language, my dear. You do not have to stoop so low.
I’m thinking of something that might remind him how UTTERLY childish he is.

This well-known saying springs to mind.
O the master has wet the bed again!

If you can get the bird to repeat it every time he sees a nut then your aunt could ensure that a sprinkling of almonds, cashews, macadamias etc decorate meals when the master is dining at home.

One more thing – change your name.
Mary would be nice. Jane. Anne. Hester. Molly even.
Anything but Polly.

Since I moved house I have kept in touch with an old neighbour. She’s a small, quiet woman, walks with a limp, has a crooked back and lives in an attic.

What with parish commitments and my church flower duties, I really do not have the time to visit socially, but I have asked her to assist with sundry duties, in particular undertaking rather trying trips to the market. She was reluctant to go, but I insisted. It is important for the poor dear to get out, after all.

At the last few visits I did not get much of a welcome. She seemed distracted and twice she wasn’t even at home, but visiting the market with a friend I didn’t know she had.

What is the best way to deal with this? I make an effort to get her involved in activities outside her own four walls, but it doesn’t seem to be appreciated.
Disgruntled from Durrington

Mrs Finnegan replies

Hearty congratulations.
Your philanthropic endeavours have worked wonderfully well. It’s clear that your neighbour is now enjoying life to the full.
You may wish to turn your attention to some other deserving cause otherwise you may have to go the market yourself.


I fear I may have given a MISLEADING impression of Brunswick Square in the past.

YES, we count among our neighbours dukes and diplomats, EXILED crowned heads of state (fortunate to have kept their heads), rebel politicians, bankers and landowners, but I have misled you if you suppose that we are on SPEAKING terms with any of them.
Or nodding terms.
Or EVEN who’s-that-over-there? terms.

Before we know they are here they are GONE again, having rented a Town House for a week or two, their arrival and departure noted in the Brighton Gazette AND by the Mistress who keeps a keen eye on such matters. However, two recent ARRIVALS have caught my attention.
I call them the Wishing Sisters.

I have no idea of their real NAMES for I missed the Gazette that day, but I see them LOOKING OUT of their window as I look out of mine.

Their dress is old-fashioned, although they wear it WELL, and they have the look of once beautiful women who have faded into a MOUSEY longing, a WHISTFUL wishing for something (or some one).

When they take the air in the Square I have tried to catch their eye as we pass, thinking that, after all, we are women of a certain age who have perhaps more EXPEREINCES behind us than we have in front. But they look through me. They do see the woman you know. I’m not the one they are wishing for…

Ah me, those that have known the STORM, tire of the quiet.
(I wonder where she got her spyglass and whether one could purchase a similar instrument second-hand.)

There’s other WISHING going on in the Square.

I see the Dancing Master* with his French ACCENT and FRIGHTENED owl haircut (truly, that is what it is called) hanging out of his window on most DRY DAYS. Haven’t mentioned him for awhile have I? (Although I frequently get letters asking AFTER HIM so this portrait should please some readers).

Rest assured, my silence does NOT mean I have abandoned CONSTANT vigilance.
Did he break Miss Martha’s HEART? I do not know.
Did he desert her? I can’t be sure.
Why is he walking on THIS SIDE of the Square more often than his own?
I can only guess that it is connected to Miss Martha’s return. If he should HAPPEN to be reading this (rumour has it he SUBSCRIBES under an assumed name!) Monsieur Étienne D’Arthur I am watching you.

I will do all I can to PROTECT Miss Martha, as fine a woman that ever STUMBLED on Brighton’s pebble beach. Of course much of her time is now spent with Susan, her lady’s maid, who has SECRETS of her OWN.

Do you know North Laine?
Here’s a map to help you. (Pardon the colour – it got in the way of damp tea leaves. DON’T ask!)

There’s a very nice drawing of Brunswick Square in the left hand corner, now let your eye DRIFT to to right and you will come to The Level. Yes?

At the bottom is St Peter’s (newly built, beautiful white stone, has a curate with exceedingly BUSHY eyebrows ). Poking out on the left is Trafalgar Street. Keeping up? It’s mainly ORCHARDS and gardens around there, but with a fair sprinkling of blacksmiths and workshops. I was after CABBAGES on my visit and a new latch for the storeroom door.

Now in a side turning off Trafalgar Street who did I spy, but Susan coming out of a small house. The woman at the door waved goodbye with the words see you next week!
So, this is where she goes on her half days off.

Susan didn’t see me which is why she nearly died of fright when I said HELLO.
Her cheeks went from cherry to damson as she explained that she was lost, had never been in this part of town BEFORE and was SO very glad to see me as she NEEDED directions back to Brunswick Square which I gave with a SMILE.
I shall be back next week to DETERMINE the nature of the establishment where she is no stranger…

I’m not going to bother you with Mrs Hankey’s diary this week. Really, I’m not. It is deeply tedious stuff. It’s all Mrs Pole THIS (the new cook, remember her?) and Mrs Guppy the dressmaker that and the NEW dress that is being made that will stun the town.

And turbans.

SHE MUST have a new turban but which one is the BIG QUESTION of the day. We are a house of women and Madam had us all around the dining room table to look at illustrations. We were required to SELECT the three we believe would be most becoming taking into account Mrs Hankey’s graceful neck, Mrs Hankey’s elegant shoulders, her nose, her ears…

The real game was to see if you could choose the one Mrs Hankey had already decided was perfect.
Which of these would you number 1,2 and 3?

Miss Martha said Mama’s hair adorned with a few tasteful trinkets would be lovely turban-less. A sensible answer and a generous one. (I’m mindful the proposed dinner party is supposed to catch a husband for Miss Martha – I’ve yet to hear mention of a new dress for her.)
Mrs Pole and Susan plumped for the middle one, although I was sure Mrs Hankey’s INCLINATION was for the last one…
My choice?
I saw this in one of the magazines Mrs Hankey ordered.

….when a housekeeper can’t even GET her own name in the mistress’ diary, she needs a bit of pink froth in her life (especially if it’s the mistress wearing it).

* Not met the dancing master before? New to Mrs Finnegan’s world? Click HERE for a quick catch-up on the 1830s Soap Operetta

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 Jan Thomson

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This entry was posted on August 10, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , .


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