Life Below Stairs, Part 3 ~ The Male Servant

dinner-in-the-servants-hallThe English aristocrat often lived beyond his means. Maintaining country houses (often several of them) and a large Georgian town house in Mayfair took its toll on his purse strings. In addition to owning the property, Society forced him to maintain an extensive staff, which would see to his family’s needs.

Rank among the serving class manifested itself in extra bedrooms and workrooms to meet the servant hierarchy. The house steward and the housekeeper were often given a sitting room in which the upper servants could dine. A work space was required for the steward to conduct his business. The butler oversaw an extensive pantry. A stillroom was necessary. Storerooms for groceries. A separate china closet. The scullery. The ladies’ maids required a separate room where they could do their mending and ironing. Don’t forget a knife room. A shoe room. A lamp room. A brushing room. A servants’ hall. Etc. Etc. Etc.

the-servants-60193_w650Even a modest staff was costly. Characteristically, a land owner maintained 40-50 servants. A large number of male servants was an indication of a man’s wealth. Employing males, instead of females, created a greater expense because a tax on male servants was introduced by Lord North in 1777. The tax was to be used for the cost of fighting the Americans and the war with the French. It cost a landowner £7 for each male servant if there were eleven or more in the household. Although it was gradually reduced over the years, the tax continued until 1937.

Compounding the issue of keeping powdered footmen increased by the duty placed on the hair powder. That tax remained in place from 1786 to 1869. Is it any wonder that some landowners forced their servants to use ordinary house flour to save on expenses? A smart footman might use the household flour and then claim the reimbursement for the expense of the duty.

Thomas-Barrow-thomas-barrow-35847975-391-582Footmen and other male servants were provided tailored livery. In the mid 1800s, it would cost 3 guineas for a footman’s uniform. Typically, a footman received 2-3 suits per year. Only the wealthiest aristocrat could afford to employ a house steward, groom of the chambers, valet, cook, butler, under-butler, footmen, footboy, usher, page, “tiger,” coachmen, grooms, a man-of-all-work, gardeners, etc.

Footmen were chosen for their height and their handsomeness. Most were at least six feet tall. It was desirable to match the footmen in height (like Radio City Music Hall does with the Rockettes). Most households had 3 footmen. The first footman, who was often called “James,” no matter what was his Christian name, usually acted as the lady’s footman. He would serve her breakfast, clean her shoes, take her dogs for a walk, stand behind her chair when she dined elsewhere, carry packages when she shopped, etc. The second footman served the afternoon meal. Often he completed valet duties for the eldest son. The third footman carried the coals and wood. The first and second footman served meals. They would accompany the carriage whenever it was used by any member of the household. The footmen were responsible for cleaning and polishing the silver. (Frank Hugget, Life Below Stairs, John Murray Publishers (July 14, 1977)1901093

article-2207935-0B6311FC000005DC-422_306x575The valet was usually at least 30 years of age. He was expected to have a superficial air of aristocracy about him. He saw to his master’s dress and was expected to be abreast of social gossip to aid his master in social engagements, etc. He did not wear livery. He would rise before his master. The aristocrat’s clothes were prepared, a bath drawn, and everything his master required for his ablutions prepared. He might also be required to dress the master, or he might need to know how to load a gun quickly so that his master could shoot with his friends.


A CARNIVAL FILMS PRODUCTION FOR ITV1. DOWNTON ABBEY. COMING SOON. ITV’s new costume drama series, Downton Abbey, written and created by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes and made by Carnival Films for ITV will star Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham and Elizabeth McGovern as Robert’s wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham. They will lead an all-star cast, which also includes: Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Lesley Nicol, Siobhan Finneran, Rob James Collier, Joanne Froggatt and Rose Leslie. Set in an Edwardian country house in 1912, Downton Abbey will portray the lives of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them. PICTURED: JIM CARTER as Mr Parson. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc/CARNIVAL FILMS and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograp

The butler needed similar skills as the valet. He was responsible for the footmen, the custody of the plate, and the contents of the wine cellar. He also oversaw the brewing of the servants’ beer, the arrangement of the dining room, etc. Unlike our perceptions of the haughty butler who ruled a household with an iron hand, the Victorian butler was in a more lowly position. In reality, the valet, the house steward, and the groom of the chambers, all outranked him in the household. They also received higher pay.

The groom of the chambers was the one who attended the main door, opened doors for members of the household, filled inkpots, saw that everything the household members needed was within reach.

The house steward oversaw the transition from country estate to Town when the Season came around. He was responsible for all the servants. He maintained the household accounts.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, buildings and structures, customs and tradiitons, estates, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Great Britain, history, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, Regency era, tradtions, Victorian era. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Life Below Stairs, Part 3 ~ The Male Servant

  1. Jacqui says:

    Enjoyed reading this. Thanks Regina. To think that Cardom might have been outranked by a footman, had he lived in Vicyorian times.

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