Mrs Beeton let us into a few Victorian secrets in her Book of Household Management in 1861.
In a large household, many servants were needed, scampering around, seeing to the needs of the family. A country home the size of Thatcham Hall would require dozens of servants, to run the household, stables, gardens and land. Even middle-class Victorian families kept at least one manservant.
The butler, in charge of the other indoor servants, was eagle-eyed and constantly on the watch for laziness or disrespectful behaviour. His position was one of great trust, and he would usually have joined the household as a young boy, possibly cleaning the boots at first, then rising through the ranks by dint of hard work and good behaviour, until he attained the most important, highly-prized position of butler.
He was indispensible. He oversaw breakfast, luncheon and dinner, announcing the evening meal, carrying in the first dish and ensuring everything was just as it should be around the table.
Once the meal had begun, he stood at the sideboard, ready to serve the wine when required.
He came into his own in the wine-cellar, where he would advise on the quality and price of wine, keep it at the right temperature of between 55 and 60 degrees, and count the bottles, ensuring none went missing. As Mrs Beeton says, “Nothing spreads more rapidly in society that the reputation of a good wine-cellar.”
He was also expected to know how to bottle wine and brew beer.
At night, it was the butler’s responsibility to lock away the silver, known as “plate,” secure the doors and windows and make sure the fires were safe, for everyone dreaded a housefire.