The Butler 


The head of the domestic household was the butler, William Jones 52, a native of Sway, whose presence here would have served to maintain discipline among the other servants. He would have worn no livery but been attired in formal clothes, distinguished by some deliberate solecism – the wrong tie for the wrong coat, or the wrong trousers – to prevent him being mistaken for a gentleman. He would have paid the accounts for wines, coals, flowers and all those supplies which fell outside the province of the cook.

William Jones’s other duties would probably have been slight. He would have been careful to off-load the more unpleasant chores on to a footman or, in the absence of a footman, a young and strong housemaid. At breakfast he would have brought in the food with the assistance of a footman or a housemaid. He would then have waited upon Lord Arthur and his lady. His later morning labours, mostly discharged in the privacy of his pantry, would have included the warming and the ironing of the newspapers and the polishing of the plate, a feat he would have been expected to perform without the use of neat quicksilver which made the articles brittle. He served luncheon but was not necessarily expected to wait on his mistress. When Lady Arthur was ‘at home’ he answered the door to callers. These were divisible into two classes. The first was ‘gentlefolk’, the second ‘persons’ – such as land agents and solicitors. Gentlefolk were led straight to the drawing room. ‘Persons’ were asked to wait in the hall [probably guarded by the housemaid, Alison Heming, to ensure they did not make off with the spoons.] The ability to distinguish between the two was vital.

Although the dinner table would have been laid by other servants, Jones would have been responsible for the showpieces. He then re-arranged such items as he did not like and gave his final nod of approval. It was on the dinner table that he would have been chiefly judged. If too much calcinated magnesia had been used to bring up the bloom of the grapes, if too much laundry blue had been applied to the plums, if the filberts had not been sulphur-fumed to a uniform colour and gloss, Lady Arthur would have had harsh words to impart later.

During the saying of Grace, Mr. Jones would have stood behind Lord Arthur’s chair. He would have removed the dish covers and thereafter waited at a side table and served the wine. Later in the evening he would have served tea from an urn. His last duty of the day would have been to see that all doors and windows on the ground floor were locked, all fires safe and all lamps extinguished.

At this date, a good butler earned about fifty guineas a year, equivalent in modern money to about £5,000. Servants’ wages were paid twice-yearly and would have been received, in cash, from the hand of Lord Arthur or his agent in the drawing-room, being acknowledged with a respectful bow.


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