Butler history Newsletter Steven Ferry

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

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry


When the host was carving, the butler always placed the head of a fish, rabbit, and roasting pig pointing to the left of the carver, and for all birds, pointing to the right—unless it were stuffed, in which case most carvers, being right handed, preferred the head pointing to the left, etc.—with different instructions given for other cuts of venison, mutton, and hams. In all, it was a matter of knowing the carver’s preference and accommodating that. Another point of detail: Carving boards often had channels and depressions to collect jus, and the collection point needed to be on the right side, for right-handed carvers.

When holding plates for the carver to place cuts on, the butler needed to hold the plate next to and level with or slightly lower than the carving plate, holding them in the left hand from the left side.

The technique for holding plates so that the thumb was not on top with the food, was to have the thumb along the edge, as we do today; but instead of using the meaty part of the thumb along the edge, too, counterbalancing the fingers underneath, they would curl the index finger in a bit, and the other three fingers curled so their tips were against the base of the thumb (similar to the shape one creates when pretending one’s hand is a gun), and so secure the plate between thumb on the side and index finger underneath. Both methods work, but a combination might be even better: Curling the index finger fully so that its tip is touching the meaty part of the thumb and using the other three fingers in the center of the plate to support the weight.

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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