Tales From The Pantry: A Butler's Diary

From the pantry of an historic country house comes the ongoing diary of its butler, Mr Dean Fielding. I shall be giving you a glimpse of the family I serve and of the lives both 'Below Stairs' and 'Above'. I hope you follow my jottings daily.

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Location: United Kingdom

Have been butler here for over 15 years. Having previously, and unusually for these days, worked my way up from footman to under-butler to my current post. You can now follow me on Twitter via: http://www.twitter.com/butlerfielding

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

'Below Stairs': The Servants

In years gone by there was a steward at Carstone House (as there was in many of the larger houses in this country). Those days have passed. We no longer have the huge staff that would necessitate both a butler and a steward. This means that, today, I am the senior servant, and am responsible for all the male members of staff. I have been fortunate enough to be in service for many years, and I like to think that I am a shrewd judge of both the abilities and character of those I work with. I know what makes a good member of staff. I know what makes a bad one. I am delighted with the current staff. Perhaps being the butler puts one in a jolly frame of mind anyway. I have that most fantastic of powers, the ability to 'delegate'. It brings a smile at times, but I never abuse my position. I shall quickly run through some of the members of staff that may well appear in this diary in future:

Mrs Berry is the Housekeeper. She hasn't been at Carstone for too long, six years or so, but she has already (I say 'already', some might think that six years is quite long enough to get settled into a job, but, in the grand scheme of Carstone, with its ancient halls and centuries of tradition, six years really isn't that long at all) proved to be something of a rock to Lady Carstone. Unflappable, and usually cheerful, there is also more than a hint of steel behind that twinkling, jolly smile. She is, in the old tradition, unmarried, but is always referred to as 'Mrs'; which is something of a courtesy title.

Mr Copeland is Valet to Sir Geoffrey. He is rather indispensible and, as the years have gone by, seems to have become something of a confidante to my master. A good man, with at times, admittedly, a rather superior attitude. He is something of a connoisseur of art, music and literature, or claims to be. Sir Geoffrey sometimes dispatches Copeland to Lady Carstone's artistic evenings, as a sort of proxy.

Miss Roberts is Lady's Maid to Lady Carstone. Amusing and talented, she can also be almost unbearably fussy and bossy. It depends in what mood you catch her.

Mrs Styles is The Cook. Small, slight, aged about forty, she is superb at her job, but is often so pessimistic about everything, and is often in such a gloom, that you find yourself musing on whether it is only professional pride that keeps her from slipping poison into the Plum Duff. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong according to Mrs Styles. She always comes up trumps in the end but she does like to torture herself (and anybody within ear shot) so!

We have two footmen, named Simon and Richard, they seem efficient enough, although they have not been in their jobs long, so I shall reserve judgement on them.

The housemaids fall under the supervision of Mrs Berry. I only have good things to say about them, although Wendy, does seem to be rather flighty at times, and I am convinced that Rhiannon already has her eye on the Housekeeper's job; she is not without ambition or confidence. The kitchen maids are supervised by Mrs Styles, and for that they have my sympathy. We have several staff that are part-time, and are brought in when the circumstances demand.

Robert is the Hall Boy. He is young and willing to work hard and learn. He always attacks any task he is given with vigour. He is also very adept at supplying me with the latest Test Match score when required.

The Outside Staff included:

Mr Llywelyn the Lodge Keeper, of which you will already have read. He is a fountain of knowledge and tall tales about Carstone House. The problem often comes in distinguishing between the two. He also has other duties to perform, including back-up chauffeur.

Mr Reynolds is my Master's principal chauffeur. Unsurprisingly, he has a passion for cars, and can probably take them apart and re-assemble them, just for fun. He is marvellously well-organised, and likes to run things by military precision. He once showed me his diary where he documented every journey he made in Sir Geoffrey's employ, clearly stating the distance driven, and the conditions that day. Most impressive, if, perhaps, a tad obsessive.

Mr Barton, the Head Gardener, we shall not dwell on at this juncture, suffice to say that his plants treat him as a monarch, and seem to do everything he commands. He has three permanent gardeners under his supervision, with other part-timers being brought in when necessary.

There are others, of which you will hear in due course, but I hope the previous posts have given you something of the flavour of this establishment.

All that is left now, is to begin the diary proper......


Anonymous Augustine Mulliner said...

What exactly are the tasks of a Hall Boy? Does he clean knives and boots?

9:19 pm  
Blogger Mr Fielding said...

The Hall Boy is the lowest ranking servant. He is usually a youngster, starting right at the bottom; but he could conceivably also be in his fifties or sixties, even though his title would still be Hall Boy.

The Hall Boy attends to whatever duties are given him. These could include, as you say, cleaning knives and boots, or chopping firewood (in the past the 'stickman' would do this, but, in this age of central heating we no longer have the need for a 'stickman' on staff at Carstone),; think of him as a general odd job man, unfortunately they are the jobs nobody else wants to do.

The Hall Boy also serves at table in the Servant's Hall, and will wash our plates up after us in his own scullery, which is situated just off the Hall.

The Hall Boy here in times past also had to sleep on a fold-up bed in front of the House safe, to give extra protection to the master's silver. We don't go to that extreme anymore.

He, in effect, serves on the servants, and also keeps the Servants Hall clean and tidy. In order of strict precedence, he has the equivalent rank of a Scullery Maid.

Unless, of course, he is able to provide the Test Match score to the Butler, then he becomes rather more valuable!

10:16 pm  
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What are the uniforms worn by the various servants ? Do you change into a different uniform for the evening ?

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