Posted in Mrs Beeton, TV Programme

Mrs Beeton’s advice for the Butler

The Butler's Pantry, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.

The excitement is building, not long to go now before the second series of ITV’s Downton Abbey returns to our screens on Sunday 18th September.  I have delved, once more, into my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management to bring you more illuminating advice from Mrs B for staff below stairs. 

Chapter 68 – Domestic servants and their duties – The Butler

‘The butler is the head of the male house-servants, and his duties are the most responsible, not the least amongst them being the superintending of the men under him if there be several.  To him is confided the charge of all the most valuable articles in daily use, and under his sole charge is the cellar.  It is needless to say, therefore, that he should be a man whose conduct is above suspicion, as his influence for good or bad will materially affect the other male domestics.

The domestic duties of the butler are to bring in, the eatables at breakfast and wait upon the family at that meal, assisted by the footman, and see to the cleanliness of everything at table.  On taking away, he removes the tray with the china and plate, for which he is responsible.  At luncheon, he arranges the meal, and waits un-assisted, the footman being now engaged in other duties.  At dinner, he places the silver and plated articles on the table and sees that everything is in its place.  Where the dishes are carved on the dinner table he carries in the first dish, and announces in the drawing-room that dinner is on the table, and respectfully stands by the door until the company are seated, when he takes his place behind his master’s chair on the left, to remove the covers, landing them to the other attendants to carry out.  After the first course of plates is supplied, his place is at the sideboard to serve the wines, but only when called on.  The first course ended, he rings the cook’s bell, and hands the dishes from the table to the other servants to carry away, receiving from them the second course, which he places on the table, removing the covers as before, and again taking his place at the sideboard.

Before dinner he should satisfy himself that the lamps, candles, electric globes or gas burners are in perfect order, if not lighted, which will usually be the case.  Having served every one with their share of the desert, put the fires in order (when these are used), and seen the lights are all right, at a signal from his master, he and the footman leave the room.  He now proceeds to the drawing-room, arranges the fireplace, and sees to the lights; he then returns to his pantry, prepared to answer the bell, and attend to the company, while the footman is clearing away and cleaning the plate and glasses.

After dinner the butler receives the desert from the other servants, and arranges it on the table, with plates and glasses, and then takes his place behind his master’s chair to hand the wines and ices, while the footman stands behind his mistress for the same purpose, the other attendants leaving the room.

In addition to these duties, the butler, where only one footman is kept, will be required to perform some of the duties of the valet and to pay bills.  But the real duties of the butler are in the wine cellar; there he should be competent to advise his master to the price and quality of the wine to be laid in; “fine”, bottle, cork, and seal it, and place it in the bins.  Brewing, racking, and bottling malt liquors belong to his office, as well as their distribution.  These and other drinkables are brought from the cellar every day by his own hands, except where an under-butler is kept; and a careful entry of every bottle used, entered in the cellar book.’ (pp. 1762-4, 1915 edition)


Social historian, based in the UK.

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