Butler history Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, August 2018, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry

Part 15 Care of Wooden furnishings

“Another branch of a manservant’s business is to attend to the cleaning of tables, sideboard, and mahogany chairs, also trays, or whatever else of mahogany may be used in the parlour or drawing rooms.”

One might add whatever wood type has been used for the furniture. Furniture cleaning and polishing is now within the duties of a housekeeper, but housemen (the equivalent of footmen) can have these functions, and also, butlers can assist the housekeepers in times of their overload, or when the butler has downtime.

The various lessons being imparted include mixing and using a light-colored polish for both dark and light woods, because once a dark-colored polish has been applied to a lighter wood, it will darken the wood for good.

Use sponges dampened with water to remove stains from tables, and if that does not work, rub the stain with a soft cork or a brush in the direction of the grain, to avoid scratching.

In the event wax or oil have built up on the surface to the point where dust is collecting on it, wash it off with hot beer applied with a sponge, dry quickly, and apply polish.

Any brass fittings should be cleaned with soapy water and then polished with the same leather used for cleaning plate. If the brass has lost its lacquer, clean it with leather and brick dust.

Oil furniture once a week if not in regular use, but dust and rub it more often. Tables in daily use should be dusted and rubbed thoroughly each morning. For ink stains, remove soon by putting salt of lemons (citric acid) on the spots, dip a cloth in hot water and with your finger, rub the cloth into the salt.

The author advises against using oil for tables where hot items are placed, as it will draw up moisture from the oil and leave the surface dull and clouded: Wax has less moisture in it and so does not have this problem.

Extracted from the 1823 book, The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer, re-published in hardback by Pryor Publications.

You may obtain your discounted copy (with free s&h) by emailing the publisher: Mr. Pryor (

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