Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, September 2019, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry

Part 28: Food & Beverage

Advice concerning the kind of items used in the dining rooms of private houses includes how to manage cut-glass jugs and basins—the jugs mainly being used for “spring water for the dessert.” So they drank spring water, and particularly with dessert—but why not at other times, one wonders?

Key advice is not to allow the cut crystal to become dusty, as it is difficult to clean thereafter. The solution in those days to dusty cut glass was to rub the cut glass with a sponge dipped in whitening (in those days, a powder) and then use a soft brush to brush off the powder.

Then there is the advice on the cruet stand, which includes small glass containers for mustard, oil, vinegar, and other sauces: «Make sure the glasses are full of fresh product, so guests have it available when they want it, with any unused each day given to the chef/cook to utilize in his/her recipes. The whole set should be covered against dust and ‘being tarnished by the damp air.'»

When it comes to tea and coffee urns, not much in use these days, the old-world butler had a set of protocols that do not bear repeating today in the fast-paced world of coffee and espresso machines.

Advice on mahogany trays is to wash them in the event gravy is spilled on them while taking dinner up to a guest (must have been a common occurrence if the author put so much attention on this item of trivia), otherwise, to treat them as any mahogany furniture.

The author encouraged his colleagues to have a towel in the Butler’s Pantry to dry his hands, and not to use the towels for the glass or china for this purpose. He also admonished butlers not to throw the contents of the chamber lye (urine mixed with wood ash used as a laundry detergent) nor tea leaves, down the sink: The tea leaves should be put in the “dust-hole,” which one presumes then dropped into a dustbin/trash can.

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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