The Butler



Originally called the ‘bottler’, the butler’s most important job was to look after the wine cellar. The master and the butler held the only sets of keys to the wine cellar, and it was the butler’s job to order the wine, store and decant it, and choose the appropriate vintage to serve with each meal, which invariably involved tasting it!    


At Emo Court, the journal of the 2nd Earl includes many entries relating to wine, which was bought in enormous quantities. An entry dated Nov. 1826, for example, reads “Put 24 Doz of Lafitte claret (1819) into cellar from Elliot: 22 Doz of Latour from Sneyd”.


Wine Cellar at Emo Court  


The house had two wine cellars, which in 1900 were stocked not only with fine wines, but with 21/2 doz. bottles of champagne, 23 doz. of port, 18 doz. of sherry and 6 bottles of absinthe. All of this would have come under the butler’s care, and a ‘cellarette’, such as that now displayed in the dining room, would have been used to hold bottles selected for consumption each evening.

 The butler was also in charge of the conduct of the footmen and the custody of the household plate. He personally guarded the silverware, cleaning it after meals in a wooden sink in his pantry. He also presided over the laying of the table at mealtimes, ensuring the correct place settings were laid and that the napkins were correctly folded. He remained in the dining-room throughout the meal, hovering by the sideboard until glasses needed replenishing. After dinner, he attended to the needs of the men in the smoking room, lighting cigars, filling glasses and providing the chamber pot when necessary. His last duty at night was to oversee security, safeguarding valuables and locking the doors and windows.


Butlers at Emo Court

At Emo Court, butlers were most likely brought over from England and at times the roles of house steward and butler may have over lapped (the 3rd Earl of Portarlington alternately calls Edwin Bailey his ‘house steward’ and ‘butler’ in his will, for example). Butlers included Penncan (Dawson’s Court: 1781),Joseph Comber (1854) ,Edwin Bailey (1876 to 1887),Mr.Bates(1912) and George Bennett (1892-1900), who presided over the servants’ ball of 1892.


In his diary, Viscount Carlow relates a story concerning the butler at Emo Court in the late 1800s. The Viscount’s grandfather, the 5th Earl of Portarlington, was something of an amateur photographer and would disappear for hours to his darkroom in the basement, where the butler, George Bennett, helped develop his pictures. As the dark room was located next to the wine cellar, the Earl would sometimes wander in to “refresh himself”. According to the Viscount, with so many chemical solutions being mixed (and a little alcohol consumed), “the explosion which removed one side of the butler’s moustache and side whiskers could scarcely have been unexpected.”


While such mishaps were not a usual part of the job, butlers were at least well-rewarded for their work. They typically earned ₤50-80, usually one half to two-thirds more than the average housekeeper’s wage. They could also be left money in their employer’s will: the 3rd Earl for example, left an annuity of ₤25 per year for life to Mrs Bailey, the wife of his late butler, while George Bennett received ₤50 in the 5th Earl’s will, perhaps in recognition of the moustache incident!