Anybody who watches Downton Abbey will be well aware that one of the true stars of the wildly popular drama is not an aristocrat or even the stunning ‘other character’ that is Highclere Castle. It surely has to be the wonderful Carson, irreplaceable, irreproachable, irrepressible butler to the Grantham/Crawley household.
English butlers of the type that Carson epitomises are world-famous and highly sought-after, with good reason. They are often the biggest cog in the domestic staff machinery as well as the oil that keeps things running smoothly. A first-class butler is worth his weight in gold for many discerning families. In modern times a family may want a traditional type who can manage staff and oversee silver service, or someone who is not unfamiliar with Wi-Fi and wears a pager. But what is the history of this honourable and essential role within domestic service?
The term ‘butler’ is derived from the French, ‘bouteillier’ or bottle bearer. Very popular amongst the middle and upper classes in Victorian England, butlers were viewed as the ultimate domestic servants and the head of ‘below stairs’.
In 1888 butlers earned £45 a year and had few perks save leftover candle ends and a bottle of wine for every half dozen that they opened. The footmen reported in to the butler and he was responsible for overseeing dinner, from ensuring that the silver cutlery had been polished to laying the perfect table and carving the joint as required.
By the roaring ‘20s, the role of the butler had been immortalised by P.G. Wodehouse. Bertie Wooster’s indispensable butler Jeeves has come to inform much of the modern impression we have of a butler - dignified, intelligent, discreet and totally loyal. Naturally, the Jeeves of fiction could also keep Bertie in check with the odd very clever remark that typified the best of English wit. Little wonder that British butlers are seen as setting the benchmark for the rest of the world.
Naturally, the modern butler knows how to multi-task as well as, or perhaps even more than, their predecessors. These days – where households generally have fewer staff - it is common for a butler to also be adept at everything from valeting to surfing for information online.
The perfect modern butler is a true asset, knowing about the etiquette of social occasions as well as being able to manage all the key aspects of a household and its staff. Perfect Household Staff butlers are the cream of the crop, so please don’t hesitate to call us on 020 7960 6292 should you be looking to employ one. We’ll be happy to talk to you further about our butlers, who embrace the best of their tradition but are thoroughly modern too – Carson would be proud.