BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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The Diary of a Reluctant Rebel – Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper is on strike

In all due humility, Mrs Finnegan prefers to read the diaries of others rather than write her OWN, but believes that her day to day struggles in The Regency Town House deserve to be recorded for POSTERITY, for history, for a bit…

Day the First

I told Mrs Hankey the prievous evening of MY pressing need for extra help in the house (to wit little Sissy Jewell, kitchen skivvy, 9 pence a day all found) and REQUESTED an Adequate adjustment to my own annual remuneration (£20 extra per year to bring me ABOVE the lady’s maid position in the accounts).
Alas, all requests were DENIED, rejected and scorned and thus I spent a sleepless night, not so much twisting and turning as gyrating.
I rose and made up fires in the parlour, dining and drawing room (two needed there) and MIGHT have made them in the bedrooms too were I not wary of Mrs Hankeys’ temper. Her ability to fling a well-aimed shoe would surely qualify her for a place in the Sussex cricket team if she did not suffer from two major disadvanatges
1) being a woman and
2) being a mean-tempered curmudgeon.
I also drew water from the well in the back yard and carted up four pails to the ground floor for the household to do with them what they wished. Thus I fufilled my promise not to leave the HOUSEHOLD cold or thirsty.
My day’s work done I had a FEW hours to kill. (Fourteen to be precise.)
I read for a bit. The household was slow stirring.

I looked out the window at Brunswick Square.

I read for a bit more and it wasn’t DAWN yet.

When it did arrive it was grey and dull which EXACTLY matched my mood.

I heard movements from upstairs and a few STRANGULATED cries:
“COLD water!!!”
“No breakfast?”
“Not even a little kidney? Or liver?”
“No CAKE!”
and several bellows of “THAT woman.”
Susan, the lady’s maid, put her head around my door and asked, “Are you really…?”
I nodded solemnly as befitted the GRAVE situation.
I was AWARE word was spreading in Brunswick Square when I SPOTTED a group of stable lads hanging over the railings watching me.

Mrs Hankey and Miss Martha left, returning very late.

Day the Second

“I want that woman out!”

That woman was me and the speaker was Mrs Hankey. (You probably guessed.)
I have never been in a crisis like this in my ENTIRE life. I have been asked to leave in the past, but I’ve never been MADE to leave
I admit the situation is of my own making, but did I have a choice, dear reader. Did I?
A letter arrived from my dear sister in law INVITING ME to her Mattress Shop in Mitcham for Christmas. (Faithful readers MAY remember that I tried to go last year. Those with weak memories or Johnny-come-latelys can read about the TRAUMATIC events HERE )
What to say?
I dare not leave, less the door is BARRED against me on my return.
But then…
I might have need of a bed to sleep in.
I decide to DEFER my response.
Her at NUMBER 59 Brunswick Square (known by some as the housekeeper from…not Hell, but in that general neighbourhood) sent over her kitchen maid with a message:

MRS Finnegan.
You might be interested to KNOW that Mrs H has asked ALL Brunswick Square under servants to spare a FEW hours each day at Number 13 for which they will be paid the going rate PLUS a handsome bonus in time for Christmas.
If you are seeking a new position, I know a hostel for AGED Sailors that needs a new housekeeper. But you will need a reference and I don’t know where you will find one of those.

Oh horror!
The mistress is buying herself time before she APPOINTS a new housekeeper. And HER at 59 has not lost a moment to GLOAT
I am undone.
“It’s al’rite,” said the kitchen maid. “No one is goin’ to com. I tole all t’other skivvies not to cross the threshole. We don’t like her and We don’t trust her.”
The dear girl went skipping BACK with my own good wishes ringing in her ears.
“You’ll go to heaven, you will,” I called after her. “But you won’t know anyone there,” I added as an after thought.

Day the Third

There is News of the Contagion raising its ugly HEAD again and I wonder if Mrs H will depart to the countryside once more. If she goes before our dispute is settled I will be in a limbo of torment: neither a properly accredited housekeeper nor yet a miserable wretch in want of work – in other words neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red meat.

This is a very stange picture, supposely a medieval idea of limbo. I don’t know what they were drinking back then, but I suspect they were having too much of it.

Master Peregrine, retired riding master at number 61 Brunswick Square, sent a note saying he lamented the situation I was FACING and would have invited me to stay in his home for the “DURATION of the unpleasantness” (there being a spare bedroom in the attic next door to his housekeeper) but regrets that is no longer possible because of the danger of infection.
A kind thought, but I would have had to turn him down for the same reason as missing the festive gathering at the Mattress shop.

Day the Fourth or Fifth or it Might be the Sixth

I’m fed up with this diary marlarkey. I miss a day (and you’d be a STRANGE fellow to count that a sin) and then it all falls to pieces.
Anyway, the next thing to HAPPEN is Owen Merryweather Talbot arrives on the scene, but he doesn’t knock on my door as in the PAST. Oh no, the bulter for hire goes up to the front door – as bold as a brass WEDDING ring – and raps on it THREE times as if he were gentry.
As if he was EXPECTED.
I could see him from my basement window and he COULD see me spying on him and I DID NOT CARE and I DID not duck down, pretending I wasn’t looking when I WAS.

The FRONT door opened very quickly to allow him ADMITTANCE. I did HEAR that he was now running an EMPLOYMENT agency for SERVANTS.
So.

So.
About this time, I noticed there was BITTER sweetish smell coming from the meat safe in the basement and dust balls were GATHERING under the chairs in the dining room. I NOTED that the window sills were already black with SOOT and the window glass crazed with SEA salt. I noticed TOO Miss Martha wearing the same dress two days running and there is now a pile of stockings that are crying out for a darning needle as LOUD as a baby crying for milk.
There’s ALSO a curtain detaching itself from a window and a rosewood chiffonier with its tongue hanging out for a bit of polish.
Rugs that get rucked up, STAY rucked.
And Mrs Hankey and Miss Martha have discovered what happens to something that is DROPPED if Mrs Finnegan is not around. It stays where it FALLS.
And in all these days the kitchen has remained unused, SAVING for Susan coming down to make hot drinks and BURN some toast (which with experience and a nod and wink to me she is now able to do every single time).
My own meals are frugal and of a PURITAN style, all bought with my own money. (The wine was excess from the cellar, no longer required)

So.
Rat-tat-ta on MY door. Mister Talbot is on my doorstep and he is smiling because I do believe he can’t do ANYTHING else with his face.
I say not a word. I wait.
“Your mistress has engaged my services,” he says at last.
I WAIT.
“I’ve told her Mrs Finnegan’s valiant struggle is known all over town. The word is out. Do NOT work there, but through vigorous efforts I have found three candidates for the post of housekeeper. These are the only candidates to be had.” With those WORDS he is gone.

By and by, the “candidates” turn up for interview.

It doesn’t take a MEMBER of The Royal Society to see what Mr Talbot is about. And it works. Within an hour I am summoned to the PARLOUR, but I will be honest and say these three women were carried to Brunswick Square on a COLD wind.
Years of toil and HARDSHIP are marked on their faces and written in the MANNER of their walking and the way their hands shook. I would rather they were NOT paraded in FRONT of Mrs Hankey for my benefit.
I know all TOO WELL that where they go I will follow for what is OLD age to my class? What is infirmity to those WITHOUT the protection of kith and kin?
But I shake off these dark THOUGHTS when I face Mrs Hankey.
“We have to plan Christmas,” she says, looking out the window. “Nothing has been done. This is NOT good enough.”
“Does this mean…?”
“Yes! It’s means I’m in Brighton for the festive season. Arrange it.”
I don’t say anything, but nor do I leave the parlour. I’m getting better at this waiting business
Mrs Hankey turns towards me for the first time. “Yes?” She raises an eyebrow. She’s getting better at it. It’s encouraging to think that women of OUR AGE still have THE capacity for learning.
“About the outstanding matters in dispute…” I begin.
“Don’t exaggerate. There is no dispute. There cannot have been a dispute for the simple fact is that I don’t argue with the lower orders. Ever.”
“So, I can hire a kitchen maid?”
“Oh please, do not bother me with trivialities. Yes, hire a skivvy. Nine pence a day, I think you said.”
I had already worked out that came to £13 13s 8½d. “Yes, Ma’m, shall we say around £15 a year?”
“A convenient amount because by coincidence that is exactly the sum by which I intend to increase your annual salary,” she looks at me with unflinching gaze. “I have always intended such an increase. Your behaviour has simply delayed it. Now, I want to talk goose stuffing. I am thinking prunes, I am thinking chestnuts…”

And I am thinking that I shall call on Sissy Jewell and her mother as soon as I can get away from Mrs Hankey.

I am a BUSY woman in a hurry and I can’t THINK of anything better.

A FEW words about Christmas Boxes…

MAY I TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY to remind all readers who EMPLOY a servant that we are FAST approaching that SPECIAL time when small financial GIFTS are much appreciated by those who wait upon your every need.
An EXTRA day off is ALSO welcomed/expected/needed.
And a reminder to Guests.
A Christmas BOX from those who visit is traditional AND the sign of a GENTEEL nature while ALSO being a SURE guarantee of getting the hottest water in the morning, a decent dry towel and satisfying slice of meat on your plate.

A very happy and safe Christmas from MRS FINNEGAN and Bridget Whelan

Find out what kind of CHRISTMAS Mrs Finnegan has next week.
Will there be presents?
Will little Sissy Jewell be joining her?
Will that goose get cooked?
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12 comments on “The Diary of a Reluctant Rebel – Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper is on strike

  1. Glen Available
    December 21, 2021

    Stockings crying out for a darning needle?
    These adventures are crying out for book publication.
    Any plans on that front Bridget?
    This stuff is beyond brilliant and soooo entertaining.

    • bridget whelan
      December 21, 2021

      Thank you Glen…no, publication plans at the moment but perhaps in the future

  2. beth
    December 21, 2021

    #finneganstrong. this is so amazing and hilarious, you certainly are brilliant at this

    • bridget whelan
      December 21, 2021

      Shucks, Beth. I’m embarrassed now….Thank you (& Mrs Finnegan thanks you too)

  3. janisthomson
    December 21, 2021

    Double ditto to the above comments!!!

  4. janisthomson
    December 21, 2021

    Double ditto to the above!!!

    • bridget whelan
      December 26, 2021

      So true, you said it twice. I thank you and Mrs F says ditto

  5. Sarah Waldock
    December 22, 2021

    it’s a wonderful story and I am so glad to see strength of will prevail over petty and pusillanimous parsimony.

    • bridget whelan
      December 26, 2021

      Dear Sarah
      Mrs Finnegan wants to know if you’ve patented the phrase petty and pusillanimous parsimony because she feels that could well come in useful in the coming year and would like to borrow it.

      • Sarah Waldock
        December 26, 2021

        Dear Bridget, please pass my good wishes and season’s greetings to Mrs. Finnegan and ask her to make free with the phrase as she sees fit; I am delighted that she enjoys my addition to alliteration!
        Sarah

  6. bridget whelan
    December 26, 2021

    Alliteration addiction is an ailment Mrs F admits to accommodating…

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