BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper Takes a Dim View of the Good Old Days

Yes! Mrs Finnegan is a REKNOWN Authority on the AFFAIRS OF THE HEART in addition to being housekeeper of The Regency Town House, but under her bodice beats a RADICAL heart that will not stand for HUMBUG!

Dear Mrs F, I am told you are the Doyenne of the Serving Classes
WHERE ARE THE rough, plain, laborious, old-fashioned servant maid I remember from my youth 40 years ago?

My father’s servant Betty Grubb would replace three of these modern damsels, with their slender waists, chitty faces and mincing steps.

Betty had no need for flounces, frills or long-ruffled sleeves.

The proportion of bone and muscle in Betty was all honest stuff, her face was pitted with the small-pox and a little of life’s vinegar may have mingled in her composition, but she filled the offices of cook, dairy-woman, laundress and brewer.

Mrs Finnegan, I beseech you, where are the Betty Grubs of the 1830s?

Jonathan Oldstyle

Mrs Finnigan replies

YOUR Betty Grubs never existed.

The REAL Betty Grubs was ill-used and worn out, CHEATED out of her youth and thrown away in OLD age. If there was vinegar in her counternace, you put it there, Sir. You and your kind.

I’d wager a guinea to a farthing that she was dead before NATURE intended: or, if not, suffered a WORSE FATE, codemned to a cruel old age dependent on COLD charity.

What RIGHT do you have to presume Betty Grubs had no need of flounces and frills? Did anyone ever ASK?

Betty MAY have dreamed dreams that were richer than the Bank of England, more colourful than Napoleons’s curtains, and with greater DEPTH than the Atlantic.

You never saw Betty Grubs.

You saw the work she did, but you never saw the woman.

My quill pen is in DANGER of scoarching the paper. There is SO MUCH more I could write, but I will stop lest I land in the law courts.

Be certain of one thing though: I know what the Betty Grubs of the 1830s are doing. They are following in the footsteps of the maid you remember. Up long before dawn, they rarely go to bed before midnight, making fires, carrying water, answering bells, scrubbing until their hands are red raw, they are unseen in the basement kitchen and unappreciated.

Confound you, Sir, if only they were EXTINCT!!

PS

Phew! I feel in great need of a fan.

I do hope Mr Oldstyle is not friends with The Hankey family for I cannot imagine the Mistress approving of my REPLY.

But I could not be silent, I could not.

Life in service CAN be a good life and preferable to being a drudge on the farm, or a hand in a factory. But not ALWAYS.

I must calm myself by thinking of more pleasant things. Tea with Master Peregrine, for instance.

He had sent out to the bakers for some frippery little fancies and presented them nicely on a good Delph plate. Each one was a mouthful (if you had a small mouth) of sponge and air, and a sprinkle of sugar-water glaze. Perhaps I wasn’t expected to consume all 10 quite so quickly.

Still, I had been summoned to listen to VERY IMPORTANT news. I hoped it would be about his neighbour, the man with no name THAT is suspected of highway robbery (only by the maids in Brunswick Square, but still…).

Alas Master Peregrine was a DISAPPOINTMENT. He had not heard the rumours and refused to let them enter the parlour and sit down at the tea table.

“A highwayman in Hove, Mrs Finnegan? NEVER!”

However, he did know the gentleman’s name.

Dan Dapper.

So, I was able to go away with that MUCH, at least.
           
And Master Peregrine’s important news?

He revealed that at long last his HOUSEKEEPER had RETIRED to Pratt’s Bottom in Kent to be with her sister.

I was relieved. She had the face of a church flower arranger and the heart of a spider.

Congenitally jealous, last year she tried to blackmail ME.

Master P wanted to know if I would help him FIND a replacement. Pleased to be asked, I intend to be thorough.

My first task is to draw up an extensive list of questions. He didn’t find out about the last one’s pickling abilities until it was too late. It is my MISSION to save him from that and other equally terrible FATES.

At the end of the evening Mr P walked across the Square with me which was kind as he avoids physical exertion as a rule.

He made a show of taking out his pocket watch as we neared the basement steps. It is a very fine pocket watch.

“I don’t think Mr Talbot will be visiting you tonight,” he announced.

“No,” says I, surprised.

“I watched him arrive at his usual time from my drawing room window while you were taking such an interest in the cakes. He left again.”

Master Peregrine managed to smile and look SAD at the same time. “You do realise you have an admirer.”

I’m not sure I have.
I’m not sure I want one.
I’m not sure what I will do with one.

The Chronicles of Mrs Finnegan are a regular feature written by Bridget Whelan working with a host of volunteers at ThRegency Town House. This week a SPECIAL THANK YOU to Paul Couchman

You can keep up with Brighton and Hove history by SUBSCRIBING to The Regency Town House’s ridiculously good email newsletter.
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5 comments on “Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper Takes a Dim View of the Good Old Days

  1. beth
    September 13, 2022

    now where to put the admirer?

    • bridget whelan
      September 15, 2022

      I’m tempted to say under the stairs, but I don’t think Mrs Finnegan would approve.

      • beth
        September 15, 2022

        ❤️

  2. Sarah Waldock
    September 13, 2022

    Dear me! it sounds as if Mr. Peregrine is fishing for a housekeeper, and possibly hopes for a live in nanny with benefits as you might say, to look after him, feed him, and tuck him up in bed.
    Men of his age are dangerous to know. They are old enough to be desperate for what passes as romance and yet have learned enough duplicity and parsimony to find ways to please themselves on the cheap. By maybe offering marriage to avoid having to pay wages and then being mean about the allowance a wife should have. Step very warily, Mrs. Finnegan!

    • bridget whelan
      September 15, 2022

      “Men of his age are dangerous to know…” Rest assured your warning has been passed to Mrs Finnegan. What she does with it is another matter.

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2022 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , .

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