BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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A Lady Blessed with Every Virtue Seeks Advice from Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

Mrs Finnegan is in a VERY happy place back in her OWN Kitchen at The Regency Town House. She is PLEASED to receive MAIL from across the COUNTRY, the Seven Seas and BEYOND being an expert on almost everything.

I must describe myself first for you to understand my problem. I am blessed with shiny reddish black hair. My blue eyes sparkle. My fair skin is unblemished and my teeth are pearly white. I should also add that I am generously endowed. Surprisingly, despite all this, I am not vain. Indeed, I would describe myself as a kind and giving soul.  My sisters are not truly plain, but pleasingly ordinary. Alas, naturally all men, rich, poor, young or old only pay attention to me. I wish this were not so because consequently I have no lady friends, not even my siblings, to gossip and chatter with. My parents adore me, and this does not help with my sisters.

Should I wear my most unflattering clothes, not tend to my hair and paint some blemishes on my face, thus disappointing my parents, but pleasing my sisters? Or run away with the richest and most handsome of my suitors, thus distressing my parents.
Dear Mrs Finnegan, you are the only person to whom I can reveal my dilemma.

Respectfully, Jane (but not Plain! Mrs Finnegan this is my little joke for I am also blessed with a delightful sense of humour.)

Mrs Finnegan replies

Rarely have I been addressed in such cordial terms by one so bounteously BESTOWED with Mother Nature’s blessings, but it is a puzzle that YOUR CUP does not runneth over with joy.
This is a serious matter that must be addressed and I SPENT all afternoon cogitating on it. I have come up with a solution but for it to work you must follow it with CAREFUL exactitude.

I note that nearly 20 per cent of your brief letter was taken up with the words I, me and my. These are excellent if used with discretion but can have a harmful effect if ALLOWED to dominate. Amend your speech and your writing accordingly. I recommend no MORE than five to eight per cent.

EXCLUDE certain subjects from your conversation namely: your skin, your hair, your teeth, your eyes and the number of men who admire you.

INTRODUCE new conversational topics. I recommend: your sisters’ skin, hair, teeth, eyes and friends. (In moderation. While hair can easily take up an entire afternoon, I think a sentence on teeth is satisfactory if no denture is under consideration.)

Make certain to INCLUDE a minimum of TWO questions in most exchanges. The FIRST question should seek your sister or acquaintance’s opinion on a RECENT activity such as Did you enjoy your perambulation along the sea front this afternoon? To be followed after their response with a second question. This is an important point. On no account should a second question be UTTERED before a reply. It should also BEAR some reference to what your companion has just said. In the example I’ve just given, Do you know where I can purchase silk ribbon for less that 5d a yard? will not do.

Follow this advice and I think you will see a REAL and meaningful improvement in your sisterly relationships. It is very versatile and can be used in all SOCIAL situations.

It occurs to me that a phrase in popular usage in my IRISH homeland might apply HERE. It comes from the Old French word “caper” – to seize – and can best be rendered in common PARLANCE as:

Cop yourself on

Most especially when standing in front of a looking glass or when comparing yourself to OTHERS.

PS

The FIRE SCREEN is back!
Along with a multitude of GOODS stolen from the house over the course of months: everything from gold jewellery to a cracked mixing bowl. In a corner of Merryweather Wholesalers I found my OLD fire shovel which I thought long lost. This place deals with everything from fine furnishings for the gentry to third or fourth hand basics for those who are BARELY making a crust. A huge meat store takes up a good portion of the basement but it is hard to identify a haunch of venison with the kind of accuracy that the BRUNSWICK Town police require so I came home without it.

I asked if the Wholesaler was being prosecuted and Bert and George – the constables who were SO helpful last week – gave each other a SIDEWAYS look and SAID No, very slowly.

Miss Martha and Susan, the lady’s maid, came to help. The SHEER audacious quantity stunned all of us. The cook must have been stealing from the very moment she entered the house. No wonder she barred me from the kitchen.

Take your last look at Mrs Pole.

Of COURSE Mrs Hankey’s dinner party is now the TALK of the town, a fact she pretends to be totally ignorant of. Recent diary entries made me hoot with laughter.

My dinner party passed off beautifully, apart from a minor event which I will describe below because I do not want to forget it, I might have wished for my dear Martha to have smiled a little more. Be that as it may, I seated her next to Sir James Pagget and was gratified to see him taking a great interest in her and I may say, her decolletage. He is the heir apparent to a title and a grand estate in Somerset, but his pater lingers on, so he is seen about town. A little on the chubby side, with a pronounced limp which he told me was from fighting Napoleon. That may be true as he of middle years.  

A prospective son in law
for Mrs Hankey?

I have heard that on occasion he may be intemperate since he still has a bullet inside him the pain of which can only be ameliorated by alcohol,

What of the minor event she mentioned earlier? Could that be the moment when MYSELF and two police constables CAUGHT the cook red-handed in theft on a GRAND scale? Is it possibly when ALL her guests (and half of Brunswick Square) trooped OUTSIDE to witness the contents of her house being loaded onto a COMMON CART? No, nothing so trivial…

One of the serving girls spilled some hot soup on my beautiful dress so that not only was I sitting in a puddle but my dress was somewhat stained and I was fearful of rising after dinner. It had, however, dried by then and did not show, but the girl was so careless and had I been wearing that red  velvet all would have been a disaster. Mrs Finnegan had hired the two girls and she is responsible for their carelessness. I must remind her that I need at all times the best staff to maintain the highest standards.  

That’s a conversation I’m looking forward to…

After dinner Martha played on the forte piano while Sir James turned the pages. At one stage he turned two pages at once, but luckily most of the guests did not notice. 

Most of the guests didn’t NOTICE because they were EITHER still outside or ELSE hanging out of windows to watch the culprit being dragged away to a prison CELL. Mrs Hankey required two doses of smelling salts before regaining the power of speech and ordering Miss Martha to play in order to create a sense of congenial NORMALITY. Sir James had not moved out of his chair throughout the drama. (I believe it was on wheels and a serving girl rolled it to the piano.)

But I don’t care two HOOTS! I’m back in the kitchen and have GREAT diffiuclty in walking BECAUSE the urge to DANCE is so very strong. I KICK up my heels going upstairs, do a little JIG in the hallway and mazurka my way back down. And do I sing? Dear readers, I cannot carry a tune but I’m not LETTING that stop me!

Some of you have written to ask about the 9d a day scullery maid I hired and who did me SUCH a great service when I needed it most (Not sure what I’m talking about? Have a peek here to remind yourself what happened last week and why I consider her a dear, dear child, a dote, a pearl of a girl.)

REST assured, I have NOT FORGOTTEN brave Sissy Jewell (for that is her name) and now I am back in my own kitchen I wanted to COOK a special treat for her and her family. I decided UPON apple jelly, a personal favourite although it takes TWO DAYS to make.

You can cook it along with me for I’ve written it out neatly below and I can recommend DANCING while you work.

Take 10 or 12 large apples, and chop them up. These may be windfalls. Be sure though to chop out any bad bits. No need to peel or core them.

Put into a large pan and cover with water. Bring your pan to the boil and cook until the apples release their juices but are not reduced to mush.

This could be the time for a swift gallopade while you wait


Sieve the apples THROUGH a colander and collect the juice. Keep safe in a jug. 

Take a big piece of BUTTER muslin and put the apple pulp into it. Tie close and hang on your preserving hook in a cold place. I like to HANG mine from a shelf by the back door where it is cold and protected. Let the bag DRIP into a bowl and leave for one day. You may give them a GENTLE squeeze to get out the last of the juices before discarding the pulp.

Collect all the juice together in a jug and measure. Add DOUBLE the quantity of sugar to a clean plan. Bring slowly to a boil to dissolve the sugar, THEN rapidly.

Boil for about 15 minutes.

If you are EVER going to attempt a one-handed quadrille now is the time.

REMOVE from the heat and test a spoonful of jelly onto a cold saucer.

Wait for THREE minutes or how long it takes you to complete a very fast high-kicking REEL.

If the jelly does not set boil the jelly HARD for another five minutes minutes. Keep TESTING until the mixture becomes jelly on the saucer.

I like to pour in half of the hot jelly into jars, filling them halfway AND let this jelly set. I THEN then drop in dices of orange, add warm, but NOT hot jelly on this layer, filling the jars. The orange is suspended beautifully. 


You may serve this as a desert dish in little CUSTARD glasses or turn it out of a jelly mould. But THIS housekeeper likes it best spread on bread at tea time. 

I SET out for Sissy Jewell’s house well pleased with myself. I HAD three large jars of apple jelly secure and a GLOWING letter of recommendation that may be useful to her in the by and by. I found the address – on the other other side of Donkey Row – and walked into the one-roomed home as the front door was ajar.

I saw little Sissy in the gloom and could haved CURSED myself.

I bring a sweet TREAT into a home that has no bread, not enough fuel to last the day and insufficient ROOFING to keep the weather out.

What kind of fool am I? (There’s no need to write in with the answer, I already know. But you CAN write about anything else…)

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 and Catherine Page.

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2 comments on “A Lady Blessed with Every Virtue Seeks Advice from Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

  1. The Regency Cook
    November 17, 2021

    After reading this missive I believe that you have, in the house where you work, a vacancy for a cook. I would like to return to Brunswick Square after a year working in a country house. Could you advise me on the procedure? To whom should I apply? I remain your humble servant, Mr Couchman.

  2. bridget whelan
    November 18, 2021

    As far as I am aware there is no REQUIREMENT for a cook at present, although you must make your own enquiries. I would not DREAM of standing in your way.

    Mrs Hankey is NOT the most approachable of women/employers/dragons but you may wish to write to her care of myself. I should perhaps mention that the pay is poor, the stairs steep, the work hard and the family generally unappreciative but do not let me SWAY you.

    However, I have heard that there is an opening at Number 59 Brunswick Square. I could put in a good word for you.

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , .
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