Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, April 2020, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry

PART 35: Dinner Service

The next subject taken up was cloth, meaning the tablecloth and napkins (although the author says «if napkins are used,» which begs the question!).

Table cloths generally had patterns woven into them, so it was important to have the patterns on the upside, not upside-down, facing the table. Where an object was depicted, the butler had to make sure the bottom of it was directed toward the bottom, not the head, of the table.

Any napkins had to be folded neatly enough to allow the butler to bring and place bread, and so that any image, such as a crest, was clearly visible.

The author then continued beyond cloth to the rest of the place settings: The laying of the silverware/flatware was much the same then as now, but it was done before the plate was laid, meaning that the distance between knives and forks might not be correct. Today, we place the plate first so the flatware can then be spaced correctly.

The instructions for the placement of the different flatware is frankly confusing and nonsensical; the same for cooling the wine glasses in spring water on the table itself.

The butlers placed the decanted wine near each of the four corners of the table when diners were to serve themselves.

The table centerpiece, if not candles, was called an epergne, with a central bowl or frame and radiating dishes or holders for candles, flowers, fruits, or sweetmeats (such as English sugarplums that had just appeared during the author’s lifetime: Boiled candy made from dates, almonds, spices, and honey or sugar, and often formed into plum-sized shapes).

Each dinner was expected to require six large plates for each person, plus pudding plates and cheese plates and all the required cutlery for each course; three wine glasses per person; and two rummers (glasses with a stem and foot) by each water bottle for those wanting to drink water.

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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