BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Revolt at the Dinner Table! Can Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper save the day and Bring Harmony to her own Household?

Mrs Finnegan is STILL the housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE. That situation may NOT continue for much longer…

MADAM! Is it permissible to refuse a REVOLTING dinner?
I will recount to you, if I may be permitted, a repast consumed at a Brunswick Square address last Tuesday.
To my simple tastes the fare was most horrid, but everyone apart from me ate heartily of messes of which it is scarcely possible to describe. 
But I will try. 
There was barren meat which was dry, tasteless, and withered looking. Meat that a Brunswick Square cat would not touch with its whiskers. 

Between Scylla and Charybadis or – as Mrs Finnegan puts it – between a damp ditch and a puddle

I was thrown between Scylla and Charybdis for as soon as I declined the meat course an indigestible fish was placed on my plate. It was fresh I give it that – salt water was the only flavour I could detect.

I found my plate either swimming in a veritable flood of sickening grease or entirely devoid of any moisture.

However, I was quite alone in my disgust. A pig who lives in his sty, would have some excuse, but it really is quite shocking to see people of good bearing overpowering themselves at poorly cooked meal not worth opening one’s mouth to eat.
I have been invited back next week for another dinner. Our daughter is acquainted with the daughter of the House. What shall I do?
Sir Not-a-Fussy-Eater-at-all of East Street

Mrs Finnegan replies

You’re not the gentleman with the PEA-GREEN waistcoat are you? The one who tripped over the HALL chair and complained our wax candles are MADE by an inferior class of bee?
There was NOTHING wrong with that fish! The SAUCE was forgot, that’s all
And if the meat was on the dry side, it’s how SOME prefer it and you and your plain daughter and silent wife arrived a GOOD half past the hour I was TOLD you were due (although I admit there MAY have been a SMALL misunderstanding about EXACT timings).
Oh, wait – last Tuesday you say. The Mistress dined AWAY from home that night. There were no guests. You DIDN’T come here…
Oh dear, what a shame! You SUFFERED a most terrible meal, Sir. RETURN it to the kitchen uneaten next time. Or BETTER still get your own back, and invite the ENTIRE household to your domain and let them SAMPLE the JOYS of a simple REPAST.

Yours with the utmost anixety to please
Mrs Finnegan

PS

I had a meeting with Mrs Hankey to discuss THE future.
I went in well prepared. Mistress Waldock (an avid and MOST learned reader) advised on collecting information on closed stoves, a Sidgier PATENT rotating drum washing machine, a box MANGLE…the list goes on. The aim was to SHOW Mrs Hankey that there was indeed an alternative to employing a full complement of staff, a VERY expensive alternative .

I went in BLIND.
Alas I have not been able to discover Mrs H’s diary for sometime. Oh, to know what plans she has, how her MIND is working…if Mrs Finnegan is really and truly in as bad odour as I SOMETIMES feel.
Or if the Mistress HOLDS in her heart a shred of the SUNSHINE she once bestowed on me.

Perhaps not.

I had another PLANK to my argument. Some months ago I discovered that Susan, the lady’s maid, earns a whole £10 more than me a year. EVERY year. Shut your eyes for a moment and let the horror SEEP into your marrow. Painful isn’t it?
But I have NO INTENTION of demanding a reduction. I am VERY firmly of the MIND that you MUST not do a disservice to a fellow worker in your FIGHT for Truth and Justice, but I am thinking as a CLEVER ploy I will suggest that she takes on some of the ONEROUS duties that might reasonably come with being the highest paid servant. Some that spring to mind include:

  • menu planning
  • sheet rotation
  • bill paying

That’s enought to be going on with.
I MARCHED into the parlour at the appointed time and COVERED the table with newspaper adverts for an array of extraordinary machines. (Even a CARPET cleaner!) Some were written in foreign which I think Mrs H could read NO BETTER than myself. Some I think may have been MADE of imagination RATHER than nuts and bolts and working parts. I was careful to keep my thumb over the recommendation for a washing device that came from Clerkenwell Workhouse. I SUSPECT the mistress would not have been impressed.

I was FRANK, I was forceful and I was even rather FANCY in my word choices.
Mrs Hankey looked back at me with a steely EYE. “What are you going on about?”
I said my piece again, simplier and shorter this time, while she sorted through the newspaper cuttings on her table.
“No,” she said.
“No.”
“No.”
“Out of the question.”
Finally she SELECTED one and held it out in front of her.

“You can have one of those, I suppose.”
I then brought UP the subject of wages, duties and responsibilities and was CHEERED by the attention she gave my CLOSELY argued propositions.
DID Magna Carta die in vain? I asked in a FLOURISH at the end.
“Susan is quite capable of paying the shopkeepers. Give her the strong box.” She dismissed me with a WAVE of the hand.
I turned on my heel and prepared to leave. It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is SELDOM a mistake.

I had lost one of the MOST important tasks that a housekeeper can perform, one that brings her prestige within the community and the occassional EXTRA slice of ham.
And I had gained a mop.
My resolve DISSOLVED. My fighting spirt evaporated. I was undone.

On the other side of the door was Miss Martha and Susan. “Are you going on strike?” they whispered.
I said nothing, swallowed, studied the RUG beneath my feet and then went straight back into Mrs Hankey’s lair.
I told her PLAINLY what I wanted. A job for little Sissy Jewell and more HIRED help as and when necessary until such time the household staff returned.
PLUS
A yearly increase of TWENTY pounds. I trembled at my OWN courage, but right was on my side. The Mistress went purple, she WENT green.
“Be careful about making demands when the winters are so very cold and housekeepers are SO very plentiful.”
I LAID my loyalty down in front of her and she walked over it. I explained the MERITS of my case and she sang la-la-la in my FACE.
“You are a nobody! What could you possibly do to make me change my mind?”
This was MY moment.
“I can make the fires in all the principal rooms,” I said quietly. “Morning and night because I’ll not see anyone go cold. I can pump water from the well every day, for I’ll not see anyone go thirsty, but all else I’ll leave in your hands.” I picked up my PIECES of paper and prepared to leave. “Madam,” I said. “You are about to discover what a housekeeper does.”
Mrs Hankey’s face now resembled a UNION JACK: red-rimmed eyes, throbbing blue veins and pale, slush-coloured cheeks.
“You’re not going to get a new mop now, you know!” She SCREAMED at my back.
As I walked down the stairs to my basement room I could hear Mrs Hankey CALL for her smelling salts. Only her daughter Miss Martha was there to answer her. “Finnegan makes them. Finnegan stores them. Finnegan knows where they are. Mother, you’re just going to have to learn how to faint.”

MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan working with a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers. This week a big thank you to Paul Couchman and Sarah Waldock.

CHRISTMAS IS COMING and the goose is getting fat. But who is going to buy it, pluck it, cook it and serve it if Mrs Finnegan is on strike?
Don’t miss next Tuesday’s thrilling episode. Need a reminder? Just click HERE and you’ll get a gentle nudge on Tuesday morning. Not too early. We don’t go out until the streets are well-aired.

4 comments on “Revolt at the Dinner Table! Can Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper save the day and Bring Harmony to her own Household?

  1. Cathy Cade
    December 14, 2021

    Up the workers!

  2. Sarah Waldock
    December 14, 2021

    Well done! and if fired in the haste of a silly woman, why, an advertisement taken out in the hiring section of the local paper of why it is undesirable to work for Madam might prove an investment….

    • bridget whelan
      December 14, 2021

      I’m hoping for a little solidarity in Brunswick Square too.

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , .
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