Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, June 2021, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry



Continuing the recommended procedures for a formal dinner, by 6 pm, everything should be ready and it was time to warm the plates, heat the irons in the fire to keep the food warm; heat the water for the hot plates, fill bottles and cut-glass jugs with spring water (no running water from the municipality was used), prepare the drinks on the side table, as well as the bread, salad, cucumber, and cold meats—which were not pre-sliced, but required carving on request by the butler.

At 6:30 pm, the lamps and candles were lit in the dining room and on the route to there from the kitchen, the dish- and plate warmers placed on the table, and the bread in the napkins (in a breadbasket?), the chairs placed in their proper positions, and ice in the ice pails (buckets) for the wine bottles. One has to wonder why a warning was given not to dirty the ice buckets with the ice…. Lastly, hot plates were placed by each setting and soup plates at the top and bottom of the table, to the left of the host and hostess, when they were serving it to their guests.

Lastly, the butler remained in the dining room orchestrating everything while the junior staff brought items to the dining room, and took one final look around to make sure that everything was as it should be.

At this point, the servants, especially those in livery (uniform) had to stand in the hallway for show, and as each guest arrived, the staff member at the front door would announce the names of the arriving guests to the staff member in the hall. The one in the hall would announce the same names to the one at the bottom of the stairway as the guests walked up to the reception room, and the one at the top of the stairs would announce to the one by the reception room, and that one, in turn, would announce the arriving guests to the host and hostess in the reception room. It was important that the front door announcer knew the names of each guest, and the one at the bottom of the stairs kept track of the guests, so that he did not give the names of any arriving guests who sidetracked to deposit their coats or visit the powder room, as belonging to guests who came in right after them. This whole sequence would run smoother if the staff were given the list of guest names and practiced pronouncing them before the guests arrived. The butler was also smart to provide chairs for the staff but insist they remain quiet and not make comments about the guests, not splay their legs out across the hallway and prevent easy passage by the guests. Apparently, this was quite an issue for it to have been mentioned specifically.

When the guests were leaving, the whole procedure was repeated in reverse, with names shouted so that the proper coats could be retrieved, the carriage brought round to the front door, and the footman of that family who came with them, arrive in time to escort them out to their carriage and leave with them. Finally, it was recommended that a constable be brought in to keep order amongst the coachmen.



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 (alan AT



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