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An Open Letter to My (Numerous) Gentle Readers from Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

I trust you have had a pleasant yuletide? Yes? Plenty of sweetmeats and sweet wine? People toing and FROING? Plum pudding perhaps? Mince Pies?
Very good.
I know you will be agog to hear my NEWS so I shall not delay in the telling

Yours Mrs Finnegan

Christmas Eve and I went HOT FOOT to the dwelling of little Sissy Jewell and her mother to tell them Sissy would work for me with a MOST immediate start. In fact she would come BACK with me that very minute!
Oh the tears and laughter my annoucement brought!

The mother gasped when told Sissy’s annual salary would be magnificent £15 per annum paid in equal amounts on the quarter days.

That is:
 25 March Lady Day
24 June Midsummer’s Day
29 September Michaelmas the feast of St Michael and All the Angels
and very conveniently
25 December Christmas!

I had £3 15 shillings carefully secreted ABOUT my person which – with a BIT of modest undressing – I intended to hand over with a good deal of fuss and hand clapping.

Do NOT sneer you gentlemen of sober and refined taste who in the same situation would suffice with a NOD of the head and a discrete movement of the lips to SUGGEST a smile floating nearby.

Such days do not come OFTEN and we can feed off the memory of them when harder times return.

But as I looked around the gloomy hovel with BROKEN floorboards, damp walls and BOARDED UP windows – for a cheap rent comes with a cheap landlord – I changed my mind.

£3 15 shillings was A LOT of money to come into that house in a lump. Mrs Jewell’s creditors would hear about it before I HAD RETURNED to Brunswick Sqaure and would PESTER and beleaguer her for every last penny, fearful that it might not come again.

I decided at THAT MOMENT the money should be paid more regular than normal so the Mrs Jewell would become known as someone to be relied upon. In a word: SAFE

I told her my plan and she got the GIST at once. So it was AGREED that Sissy’s wages would be paid on the cross-quarter days as well.

To wit:
2 February Candlemas
1 May May Day
1 August Lammas
1 November All Hallows
 Thus turning the year into EIGHT equal parts and I duly handed over  £1 17s 6d and YES! all three of us clapped hands.

THERE was more laughter and smiles when I uncovered MY BASKET and produced a QUARTER pound of ham, a STRING of sausages, a loaf of bread that went LOPSIDED in the rising, a pat of butter and a jar of MY OWN apple jelly.

A feast.

And you may well have had a better Christmas dinner but I doubt it TASTED better.

By this time I was ready to leave as Sissy and I had a MOUNTAIN of work to do before we slept and a dozen more mountains to CLIMB the following day if Mrs Hankey and her guests were to have the Christmas they REQUIRED.

The girl jumped up and my heart GLOWED to see the spirit in her.

I had not forgotten that Sissy Jewell WON this job with her quick wits and her courage. (If you have, you can remind yourself here.) She is only nine but she’s going to be an asset.

True, I really OUGHT to have chosen a 13 year maid of all works, still biddable but strong enough to bring in coal and firewood and FETCH AND CARRY up and down stairs ALL day long. Oh those stairs!

If my gravestone doesn’t say Mrs Finnegan is a FOOL to herself I don’t know what it will say.

Still, I was well pleased with the bright look in Sissy’s eye. She will be a QUICK learner I have no doubt.
She kissed her mother on her cheek and turned to me with a WINNING SMILE and asked what time will she be back HOME tonight and what time will she be needed in the morning.

The colour FLED from my face.
She is only nine.
She DIDN’T understand she won’t be coming home any more.
Visiting on her half day off, of course, and with the mother living so close there MAY BE other times as well, but Sissy will be sleeping in the attic room high at the top of the house. I have it all prepared. PERHAPS on Mothering Sunday she can spend the night.
She LOOKED from me to her mother for an explanation.
What FOOLISH WOMEN we WERE expecting Sissy to know all the HARD facts of life that took us so long to learn.
The mother tried to soothe the child with gentle words. Sissy interrupted. She wouldn’t mind coming home in the dark, really she WOULDN’T.
Mother and I SHOOK our heads. The hours WILL BE long and she will have to respond to a click from Mrs Hankey’s fingers at midnight and still be FIRST UP at 5 the next morning.  
She is only nine.
I stole her childhood when I WALKED through the door chinking with shillings and florins.
But I bought her a future.
I looked around at the empty grate and BARE store cupboard. I THINK I have bought two lives.
I don’t know how mother and daughter WOULD survive a HARSH winter

I saw Sissy’s COURAGE again when she looked me STRAIGHT in the eye.
It was quite all right, she said. A misunderstanding nothing more. Her own eyes were WET and her lips trembling as she said it.
She is only nine.
I nodded and BLEW my nose, but as I headed for the door my glance HAPPENED upon the sleeve of Sissy’s dress. A rip had been mended with STICHES so neat and small a FAIRY would not have been ashamed to own them.
I had a candle LIT moment.

‘Is this your work, Sissy?’ I asked and PRAYED the answer WAS no.  
As I hoped, her MOTHER was the delicate seamstress and it was a matter of moments to engage her for AD HOC mending and darning tasks. They could be done in her home, although as the light was better in our KITCHEN she had better come there, I said. Every Tuesday afternoon.  I’m sure Sissy and I will find something for her to do.

As I say, I’m a fool to myself. I think I’ll start saving for that gravestone.

Was that my Christmas?
Christmas day was cooking and washing up. And baking and washing up.

And serving and washing up. Miss Susan, the lady’s maid, helped.
Little Sissy was quite exhausted at the end of it.

And I was CHEERED by the Christmas Card from Master Peregrine the riding master (retired) on the other side of Brunswick Square at number 61.
Although I was puzzled by his postcript. He wanted to know who was the gentleman calling at my door at DIFFERENT times of the day and night.
And what were his intentions?
I can’t think who he means.

Was that my Christmas?

My Christmas came when Mrs Hankey and Miss Martha went out on St Stephen’s Day and required no dinner or supper. It was a little like this – but without the rowdy menfolk (or indeed any men).

It came when Mrs Jewell sat down at my table (at my invitation) and Miss Susan’s dear little babe came to visit (at my invitation) and the children played together.

And somehow we managed to get rid of all the leftovers,
That was MY Christmas

My usual ADVICE SERVICE will start again next week.
You can write care of The Regency Town House but life would be considerably easier if Mrs Hankey doesn’t get to see your letter. Just slip in under the basement door – that’s the best plan.
Or you may leave a message below.
Now I HAVE Sissy to help me I WON’T know what to do with all the FREE TIME I will have on my hands, so I am in URGENT need of more PROBLEMS

Today is Tuesday. If you find you need reminding subscribe HERE to make sure you never miss an episode
Mrs Finnegan is in an optimistic mood. That can’t last, can it?
Will little Sissy Jewell be homesick?
Will Miss Martha find true love in the New Year?
Will Mrs Finnegan?

16 comments on “An Open Letter to My (Numerous) Gentle Readers from Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

  1. Sarah Waldock
    December 28, 2021

    Sissy may be homesick, but she is within walking distance of home if there are any real concerns, unlike many of the daughters of the gentry packed off at the same age and younger to boarding schools where often inadequate care and poor food costs them their health or even their lives. Such penny-wise and pound-foolish preceptresses who demand high prices and provide little for them are, alas, of the same stamp as Mrs. Hankey. However, at least Sissy has a caring teacher to go to in her benefactress, Mrs. Finnegan! and she will learn skills early in life which will see her likely to have a good position or make an advantageous marriage one day, perhaps to a man of letters even.

    • bridget whelan
      December 28, 2021

      Thank you Sarah.

      Think Sissy is the next generation Mrs Finnegan…

  2. Glen Available
    December 28, 2021

    This line amongst so many others I love particularly –

    “I stole her childhood when I WALKED through the door chinking with shillings and florins.”

    • bridget whelan
      December 28, 2021

      Yes, I quite like that one. Didn’t know I was going to write it until I did…

  3. beth
    December 28, 2021

    and a happy christmas indeed, thanks to mrs. finnegan and her kind heart and i do think the little one will grow up to be quite like her

    • bridget whelan
      December 28, 2021

      Thank you Beth. It’s going to be fun writing a mini Mrs F in the making (I think – this is very much seat of the pants writing so who knows where it will go)

      • beth
        December 28, 2021

        The best kind of writing in my opinion

      • Sarah Waldock
        December 28, 2021

        there’s definitely a book lurking in it.

  4. bridget whelan
    December 28, 2021

    Well, I’m with a wonderful team of volunteers at The Regency Town House so maybe we will get something out in 2022

    • Sarah Waldock
      December 28, 2021

      I can see it now “The housekeeper’s guide to training your mistress”

  5. bridget whelan
    December 28, 2021

    Wow! That’s a great title

  6. Maria Gardiner
    December 28, 2021

    May I place my order for the book right this very minute?

    • bridget whelan
      December 28, 2021

      I’m almost tempted to say yes!!

      • Glen Available
        December 28, 2021

        I’ll gladly stand in that book queue as well. Standing in a mile-long Covid test queue on the other hand? Way less enjoyable!

  7. bridget whelan
    December 28, 2021

    Thank you Glen (do both)

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