BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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O To Be A Radical! The chronicles of Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

Mrs Finnegan’s advice is FREELY GIVEN and letters are MOST welcome. FAITHFUL readers will be PLEASED to know she is STILL the housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE 

MY MOTHER AND BROTHER mean well but all they want to do is marry me off.
They say that a good match will bring prosperity and status to our family which in recent years (since my father died) has fallen on hard times.
Yesterday they showed me a portrait of a prospective suitor and what an ugly brute he looks: at least 100 years old with grey whiskers and an unfortunate eye patch. I most definitely don’t want to marry him.
Picky Philippa from Pickering

Mrs Finnegan replies

Prosperity and status are not to be sneezed at. There is TRUTH in the old saying that when poverty knocks on the door love FLIES out the window. (I remember my mother saying it on SEVERAL occasions.)
However, your brother SHOULD be shouldering his share of the burden. Has he found an ugly and THEREFORE grateful heiress for himself? An elderly spinster with substantial savings but a faculty or two missing?
I’m not ENTIRELY convinced that your mother and brother are good judges of a likely prospect unless, of course, the man in the portrait is indeed of EXCEEDINGLY advanced years.
A wealthy young widow is in command of her own destiny. Just saying…

PS

You left me last week with Mrs Hankey RINGING the parlour bell for the third time and me announcing to her daughter and her lady’s maid that I was about to go on strike. I know many of you were worried. I received a TOUCHING message from Tiffany of Canada who has been FOLLOWING these chronicles almost from the very beginning. I hope you have not spent too MANY sleepless nights on my behalf.
So did I go on STRIKE I hear you ask…
So.
I didn’t. By the time the bell rang for the fourth time I was in the parlour bowing and scraping to the Mistress (I exaggerate for AFFECT. I never scrape and RARELY bow) and fetching her needlework from the next room. In other words, doing everything a GOOD servant should. Miss Martha was relieved – she had no desire to share a supper of cold blancmange and rhubarb PIE with her mother who would NO DOUBT have been in a raging horror of a temper. And poor Susan was NOT looking forward to going hungry to bed.


I was wretched. I berated myself for being the most CRAVEN of women unable to claim a decent wage (commensurate with my numerous and HEAVY responsibilities) or of securing regular employment for LITTLE Sissy Jewell.
I was all MOUTH and no apron. Ready to talk but not to fight. If you SLUNG all your insults in my direction – I deserved no less – your harshest criticism would have been cream-coated comforts compared to the names with which I was torturing MYSELF
My mood would have continued festering in the BLEAK shadows of my own disdain had not an unexpected VISITOR arrived.
Mr Owen Talbot, butler for hire, knocked at my door asking after my welfare. You will remember he was butlering the night of the GREAT robbery when the cook was REVEALED TO BE the scheming, triple-dealing, tripe-eating shim-sham that I KNEW her to be.

Glad I was to invite him in, but he quickly SENSED that all was not well.
He said I appeared to be on the edge of an ambedo, a word I had not heard BEFORE and I wondered if I should visit the pharmacy. Fortunately, there was NO NEED as it turns out to be a particularly sophisticated melancholic TRANCE where you are temporarily absorbed in the intricate STUFF of life – raindrops skittering DOWN the window pane perhaps or the clusters of dirt that cling to the innermost corners of a window frame if you haven’t wiped it down for a week.

Now, if that didn’t describe my STATE of mind I don’t know what would.
I was super ambedo-ic and in DANGER of dropping into permanent trance.
I poured out my HEART and my liver and soul. My weaknesses and my folly were as exposed as if they were SERVED UP on a plate after being spit-roasted with garlic over an open fire.
Did he CHIDE me for being the coward I was? No, he did not.
Did he insist I wear the yoke of servitude with humble pride? No, he did NOT.
He said that I was going about it the wrong way and OFFERED his sagacious advice.
Striking was the last thing to do, not the first.
I should INSTEAD put forward a list of rational demands for the mistress to contemplate and TOGEHER we could discuss them with calm civility. (Remember, he has only SEEN Mrs Hankey from afar.)
I went to work at once with my quill and paper and produced my list for Merry to consider (Mr Owen Talbot asks his SPECIAL friends to call him Merry on account of his middle name being Merryweather.)

  • £12 more a year for Mrs Finnegan.
  • Sissy Jewell to be employed as Kitchen skivvy

That would not do, Merry said.
For a proper negotiation my CORE NEEDS should have a frame around them made of major and MINOR wants. Thus both SIDES would be able to give away on some aspect and hold hard on others. For you to win a battle, he said, you must MAKE sure Mrs Hankey ALSO has some battles she can win
I made a new list.

  • £25 more a year for Mrs Finnegan
  • £5 per year bonnet allowance for Mrs Finegan
  • Mrs Finnegan to have a full day off on her birthday
  • A full complement of household staff of Mrs Finnegan’s choosing and answerable only to her

Merry looked at me with one eyebrow raised. “I didn’t take you for a radical,” he said.

“Perhaps you should also add a demand for annual parliaments and an end to threshing machines”, he added. It might have been the candle light, but there seemed to be a twinkle in his eye.
“I didn’t think that was in Mrs Hankey’s remit,” I said. “But if I were to make such a suggestion, I’d be taking about vulnerable girls and hungry children, the rights of women and put-upon housekeepers, the sale of watered down milk…” I paused for breath.

“A real radical!” said Merry, throwing his head back.

My LIST was revised again. I was persuaded to THROW out my request for a bonnet allowance. That was hard because now I’ve thought of it, I am reluctant to let it go.

We agreed I’d keep in my need for more staff.
“That is Self-evident, Ma’am,” said Merry, looking up at the ceiling and down at the floor. “And if ever there were PROVISION for a butler here, I might well throw my hat into the ring.” With that he was gone, leaving me QUITE flummoxed and WITHOUT having asked the tricky question that had been at the forefront of my mind EVER since he arrived.
How well did he know the scoundrel of a cook? I had not forgotten it was on HER recommendation that he FIRST appeared in the House
And did he have any CONNECTION with the Wholesalers in Western Road who were going to take receipt of the stolen goods pilfered from Mrs Hankey? Or is it a coincidence IT IS called Merryweather’s Emporium.
I am meeting with Mrs Hankey tomorrow.
Should I be worried that she was the ONE who called for the meeting? The subject, dear reader, is my future in the HOUSE which is another coincidence as that is EXACTLY what I would have said we MUST talk about.

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 and Tiffany (who really did write in).
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7 comments on “O To Be A Radical! The chronicles of Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

  1. beth
    December 7, 2021

    the house must be kept happy at all costs

  2. Sarah Waldock
    December 7, 2021

    Perhaps a bargaining chip of demanding, if staff not forthcoming, the latest in closed stoves, a Sidgier patent rotating drum washing machine, a box mangle, and one of the patent carpet sweepers which come and go with more regularity than under-chamber-maids [largely because they don’t work well, but no need to tell the mistress that when totting up the cost of these household labour saving toys.].

    • bridget whelan
      December 8, 2021

      Mrs Finnegan is delighted with the suggestion and at this very moment (Mrs Hankey is out all day) is studying newspapers and collecting information on such outlandish devices. She is grateful for your endeavours on her behalf and would be pleased to learn of any other arguments that could be usefully employed against the most intransigent mistress she has ever encountered. .

      • Sarah Waldock
        December 8, 2021

        I would consider mustering the argument of poorly cooked food, if interrupted by the bell, damped sheets, lumpy mattresses not turned nor beaten with the bed post, smeary windows and fires made up only at the last minute, because of struggling to maintain the house which needs a half dozen girls to do properly. Also arriving to the bell with the task in hand with you, nothing like turning up in the drawing room with a full chamber pot in hand to make it clear you were busy….

  3. bridget whelan
    December 8, 2021

    Mrs Finnegan feels she has met a kindred spirit!

    • Sarah Waldock
      December 9, 2021

      hehe I grew up protesting…. and enacted civil disobedience at school as seemed necessary…

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This entry was posted on December 7, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , , .
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