BRIDGET WHELAN writer

for writers and readers….

Beware – Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper is in a Fighting Mood

Mrs Finnegan, the long-suffering Housekeeper at The Regency Town House in Brighton and Hove, is famous for her imperturbable temperament. However, readers’ letters can sometimes INFLAME the passions of EVEN the most placid as today’s example illustrates…it is possible you may feel the same way.

Bare knuckle fighting, don’t you just love it? Two men beating the living daylights out of each other for our entertainment.
I love the crowd, the noise, the blood, the gore and sometimes I win a few shillings if the fancy takes me to make a bet. Whenever I hear of a fight taking place I am down there early to get a front row seat.
Some say it is unseemly for me to go to such an event. Some say I should be better suited to staying indoors and sewing and such like. Fiddlesticks.
I don’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy myself the way I want. Don’t you agree, Mrs Finnegan?
By the way, do you fancy joining me at the event next Friday? Big John Watson is fighting Jellyface Steve in Farmer Billingham’s field at sunset.
Battling Bessie from Box Hill

Mrs Finnegan replies

I believe I am OTHERWISE engaged on Friday, but thank you for the invitation.
I am CONTRACTUALLY obliged to remind you that this is an illegal activity, albeit one SUPPORTED by most of the nobility including our present dear king.
Yours etc etc

That’s my polite response, Bessie. You can stop reading NOW as I’m guessing you won’t like my real answer very much.

Those who want the HORRIBLE, bloody truth read on.

They call it a YOUNG Man’s game for a good reason – they die early.

It is the ONLY PLACE in the Kingdom where the Great and GOOD rub shoulders with the poor and Grimey, but I’ll ONLY go and watch two human BEINGS rip one another to shreds when the Earls, Viscounts and Barons THROW their own boys into the ring.
I’ve never been to a match but I read the newspaper reports like everyone else. I remember well the description of that young Scottish lad who was carried out of the ring some little while ago. He was:

“so frightfully cut and disfigured, that the features were lost in a confused mass of gore and bruises.”

The Chester Chronicle

He was some MOTHER’S son, he was, and she wouldn’t have recognised him.
He died.
Sure, they TRIED to get his opponent for manslaughter and would have too, if the GREAT and the Good hadn’t clubbed together to send in an ARMY of lawyers to defend the case.

I don’t BLAME the man flinging the punches. He was dead in the ring a couple of years later himself. I blame the rich fellows who like to see blood FLOW and make money out of it.

I’m NOT having a poke at you, Bessie – well, I am I suppose if you’re still reading – but I know your sixpence and SHILLING bets don’t get men killed. It’s the big money does THAT and it comes from those fellows who swan around in their greatcoats and double-breasted frock coats, with diamond pins in their CRAVATS and a glint in their eye.

THE most they have ever RISKED is a speck of mud on their boots, yet they demand 99 rounds in a fight and call it SPORT. They ARE the ones who insist it can’t end until a man’s legs WON’T hold him up and he can’t SEE to aim a punch. They call themselves The Fancy and the raw, HARD truth is that they take MUCH better care of their horses. And their dogs.

There, I’m done.
I’m going out to have a quarrel with a seagull who has just messed the sheets I hung out . (If you think that’s not fair fight you don’t know sea gulls. They are the Mrs Finnegans of the bird world).

My brow is feverish, my temper raised and my blood is up. I must find something or someone to shout at.
Mrs Hankey better not ring her bell!
Yours faithfully etc etc

PS

Mrs Hankey’s BELL remained quiet for at least 20 minutes AFTER I answered that letter which was as well for both of us. She spent most of the morning in GREAT agitation waiting for the dressmaker to arrive with THE dress. Eventually she did at half-past-what-time-do-you-call-this? in a Great tizz-wazz about the lace. It will not behave, she WHISPERED to me as she started to climb the STAIRS to see the mistress, her upper lip a tremble. It was SAD to see the poor creature in such a state.


I was not PRIVVY to what happened next because it occurred behind closed doors, although from the VARIETY of squeals I imagine that PINS were involved.

Mrs Hankey was determined that the household would be subjected to a great REVEAL: that is her daughter Miss Martha, myself and Susan, the lady’s maid (There would no surprises for Susan, HOWEVER as she had to dress Mrs Hankey. No respectable woman is capable of dressing herself.)

I HAD the chance of winning half a guinea from the other HOUSEKEEPERS in Brunswick Square if the DRESS turned out to be green so I was naturally anxious myself. I tried to PEEK into the voluminous bag the dressmaker carried, but all I could see was petticoats and the TROUBLESOME lace.

What would I spend half a guinea on? A new bonnet perhaps. Or better still new gloves with a row of neat buttons down the side. I long to have a pair of SUNDAY gloves.

The dressmaker came out of the room WRUNG OUT and whey-faced. She told us that the mistress required us to stand in the hall so she could MAKE her entrance.

WE waited. The dressmaker was called back into the room TWICE.

Miss Martha and I stood next to each other in the hall as expectant as hounds at dinner time.
‘I’ll CHEER first,’ said Miss Martha out of the side of her mouth. Her face was as SERENE as a mill pond, but her eyes were DANCING. ‘But I’ll let you cheer the loudest.’ She really is a DEAR girl. ‘And I wager you will say it is SWEETLY pretty.’
‘How can you be so sure?’ I said, surprised.
‘Because you ALWAYS do. Especially if you can’t ABIDE it.’

NO time to say more because we could hear the door open upstairs. The performance was ABOUT to begin. Miss Susan scurried down the stairs to join us and be part of the audience.

A cough, a clearing of the throat. At first all I could see was a gloved hand on the bannister. Let it be green, I thought. GREEN.

The Mistress turned to face us, a tea clipper in full sail.
A lady in RED.

This is not Mrs Hankey, but it is the dress. Does it look like the lace is trying to make a quick getaway?

We clapped. We Oooooh! WE exploded with theatrical expressions of AWE. We backed it up with a magnificent selection of comments.

“Very fine, Ma’am!”
“So, lovely Mama – the colour becomes you.”
“Sweetly pretty.” My VOICE was the loudest. “It goes so well with the turban!”

Let’s not forget the turban Mrs H has already chosen.

This is also not Mrs Hankey but, Lord save us, this is THE turban

She wanted to stand out at her dinner party and I am CONFIDENT she will achieve her ambition. She will be a beacon at the table, dressed head to toe in velvet, ALTHOUGH I fear she may resemble a boil waiting to be lanced…

The housekeeper at Number 59 won the sweepstake. I’m told she’s spending the half guinea on mouse traps.

Gambling is an abomination. I should never have allowed myself to be persuaded

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 Jill Vigus.

Want to know more about the CHARACTERS that populate Mrs Finnegan’s world? Just click HERE
Or perhaps you are curious about the influences THAT shaped the life of the COMMANDING housekeeper of her generation. Click HERE to discover all.

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This entry was posted on September 21, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , .
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