The name of Butler comes from the French bouteillier – one who was in charge of wines etc. in the household.
His duties in the 19th century included looking after the wine cellar and ensuring that the bottles were kept in the best condition; he also had the nerve wracking task of cleaning and caring for the crystal glasses, china, silver and gold.
Generally, the Butler oversaw all the other servants alongside the Housekeeper and he made sure that the household ran smoothly – his daily duties were many, and he was the chap who announced the arrival of guests; waited at table; locked up at night/opened up in the morning; took care of the master’s clothes and wound the many clocks in the house.
Although the Butler had no rigid uniform, he was expected to be always dressed impeccably, and generally when waiting at tea and dinner he would wear a white shirt with a black waistcoat. Gloves were nearly always worn, usually white and made of cotton.
If there was no Valet employed by the master, then the Butler would assume this role – he would also act as Valet for male guests.
The Daily Routine of the Butler
At crack of dawn the Butler would ensure that the dining room was ready for breakfast, including setting the table in households where footmen were in short supply. He would then serve the breakfast after which the master would issue orders for the day.
He himself would carefully take away the china and plate for cleaning.
At mealtimes, the Butler laid the table and when the meal was ready he announced to the family and guests that lunch was served. He always stood behind the master’s chair, ready to supervise the serving of the meal and to ensure that all wishes were catered for smoothly.
He made sure that all the fires were lit and maintained as and when necessary, and was always ready to answer the door or a summons by the bell.
The Wine Cellar
This is where the Butler had to show exceptional skill and knowledge. He suggested appropriate purchases to his master, and had to know the price and qualities of each wine……he alone was in charge of the cellar, and he kept a log of each bottle, showing when bought and when it had been drunk.
The master of the household had to be able to trust his Butler implicitly to not only spend money wisely on excellent wines, but also to keep those wines in top condition – a bad wine selection at dinner could make the owner of the household a laughing stock!
Sometimes the wine came ready bottled, and sometimes the Butler had to fine down the wine in wood before bottling it himself.