Butler history Newsletter Steven Ferry

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

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry


When it looked like everyone had finished, the butler kept an eye on the host/hostess for the signal to clear that course. When the timing was close, he alerted the cook by ringing the bell (if not by verbal message relayed by a footman).

First to be removed were any carving knives and forks. Then, funnily enough, removing the knives and forks from the individual settings, and next their plates.

Unlike today, the butlers two centuries ago did not lay all the silverware before the meal, but course by course, like in a restaurant, which is harder for the butlers and distracting for the guests. Obviously, the modern refinement occurred sometime after the 1820’s.

For the cheese course, the butlers served salad, cucumbers, and butter, and with beer—rarely with wine—so the wine glasses were removed before the cheese course. Everything was then cleared, the table brushed down, and finger bowls provided.The tablecloth and under-mat/green cloth were then removed (one imagines not without inconvenience to the guests) and dessert serving dishes and spoons/knives placed, and dessert plates. Rummers and two wine glasses were provided per person. The butler then quickly and quietly removed all dirty and unused dishes and cutlery from the room and let the guests enjoy themselves on their own.

The butler then lit the lamps or candles in the withdrawing room (as the ladies did not take long to leave the dining room after dessert), and also boiled water for the tea and coffee they would enjoy there.

The butler then cleared the dining room and cleaned all the silverware and glass/crystal and put them away.

Lastly, the same ploy that we use today to communicate something that is best not overheard by others was used then: Telling the person that someone wanted to speak to him, so when he left the dining room, the butler could relay the necessary message.

We will start the new year with the proper procedure (two centuries ago) for serving an English Afternoon Tea.



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



The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.