for writers and readers….

Women Working! What New Horror is this? An anxious reader writes to Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

Mrs Finnegan, Housekeeper at The Regency Town House and DOYENNE of those who TOIL for a living, has been thinking a lot about WORK this past week.
She MAKES an important decision.

While strolling with my good friend Petunia, we encountered two surprising and I think probably illegal scenes. The first (innocuous really) was a young man digging. Not sure what for, but it is something one sees regularly usually performed by one or a group of men the purpose of which is often a mystery.
Then Mrs F what do you think we saw? A woman. Yes! a woman digging. This surely shouldn’t be allowed.

I know some women work, indeed Mama employs maids, housekeepers and the like, but never doing a job like this. What is the world coming to??
I was all for telling someone in authorthy, but Petunia said that it was quite the custom these days. I am appalled as I’m sure you are, dear lady.
Livid Lily of Livingstone

Mrs Finnegan replies

LOOK around girls.
You will see women working everywhere. And MUCH of the work is rough, heavy and DEMANDING.

It is NOT a new FASHION. Women have always worked even if history books and scripture do not BOTHER to mention it.

They worked in the fields when knights rode horses and the lords sat in CASTLES. (And field work means digging. Those seeds don’t plant themselves)
They worked when the apostles were still fishermen. (Who GUTTED the fish?)
And there’s a good chance that Eve PICKED up a spade when she left the garden of Eden.
If she didn’t, it was only because she was too busy child bearing and child rearing, and finding food and FIREWOOD and then cooking the food she found.
Of course she also had to invent the first clothes to MAKE herself and Adam decent.   

And today?

There’s NOTHING unusual in women working 90 hours a week in the factories (although I hear that BIG MOVES are afoot to reduce the hours for children to a steady 12 a day.)

I COMMEND you, Lily and Petunia for your sketches. The man looks like an AMATEUR. He’s probably come home after a hard day sweating over a ledger to grow some daisies in the back garden, but that woman knows what’s she’s doing.
It’s MY belief that her WORK will feed the family for the year.  

SOME women work because they have to, my dears. If that thought hasn’t occured to you before I’m glad to be the one to put it in your heads. For some – the majority – there is no CHOICE.
Other WOMEN would like to work but they TOO have no choice.

Yours faithfully
Mrs Finnegan


I have thought of little else but Sissy Jewell since I visited her hovel of a home last week. I quick look round told its own sad story.

Two chairs but no table – the furniture has been sold piece by PRECIOUS piece.
There were MARKS where a cabinet once stood. There was a time when pictures adorned the walls.
A BLACK ribbon of remembrance was looped over the bare mantelpiece – a death in the family.
And old BLUNT chisel lay on the window sill – the death of the bread winner.
And then in the corner I spied something so OUT OF PLACE I took a step back.

How COULD a portrait of such quality be here?
My first thought was that it showed Sissy when she was younger, but another GLANCE confirmed that it was of the mother when a child.
The woman’s GENTLE bearing and fine manner told me it was FAR from a hovel she was born and the painting told me the rest.
It was the old, OLD story of two young people in love. The parents disapproved of him. Perhaps he had been too POOR or too foriegn or prayed in a different church and when the MUCH loved daughter married against THIER wishes they were both cast out.
I THINK that painting will be the last thing to be sold, and the poor women will only get a pittance for it.
I resolved to do SOMETHING.
As I parted from Sissy’s mother I nodded towards the portrait, can nothing be done? I asked. With the man dead, surely she and little Sissy would be welcomed back into the HEART of the family?
The woman shook her head, catching my meaning immediately.

‘My mother would have,’ she whispered. ‘My father too, but they BOTH died last year in the contagion. My brother has told me I have a place in the FAMILY home but only…’ Her voice faltered. ‘Only if I put Sissy in an orphanage.’
The horror was writ clear on her face. ‘We will starve together before that,’ SHE murmured,
Back I went to Brunswick Square, the THUD of each step telling me that SOMETHING had to be done for Sissy and HER mother.

I had already arranged a meeting with the Mistress and planned what to say.
Such phrases as In light of my recent endeavours and having risked life and LIMB sprung to mind. I was going to ask for £20 more per year and was hoping for £10.
I have already spent the money a HUNDRED times in my imagination.
NEW bonnet
New boots
Perhaps A DRESS in the spring.

Mrs Hankey, I said when I entered her parlour. And I thought of Sissy’s brave words when the cook tried to pin her thievery on me. I thought of the UNSHED tears in her mother’s eyes when we parted.

I didn’t mention money. That could wait for another day.
I just said I couldn’t manage a moment longer without a kitchen skivvy and I’d found a nice girl. As cheap as guel. No trouble at all.
The mistress’ face was as stiff as haddock dead three days.
That, she said getting up, was OUT of the question. With all the EXTRA expense of the robbery she would have to make economies. No NEW staff, she added in case I MISSED her meaning. We must be FRUGAL, and with that she sailed out of the room.
I watched her GO.
A job for Sissy Jewell was THE ONLY question, I realised.
And MRS HANKEY was about to find that out…

MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature written by Bridget Whelan working with a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers.
This week a special thank you to Jill Vigus.

Follow @_Mrs_Finnegan on twitter

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , .


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