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.
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.
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
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!