The House Steward



The house steward was the most senior member of the household staff and was employed only by the wealthiest of families. He was responsible for the smooth running of the household, checking supplies, engaging, dismissing and disciplining lower servants, and controlling the main household accounts. When the family went to stay at their house in Dublin or went to London for ‘the season’, the steward supervised the movement of staff and controlled the safe transit of valuables from one residence to another. When a steward was employed, the upper servants would eat in his room rather than the housekeeper’s, and if there were visitors, he would escort the visiting female servant of the highest rank (usually the lady’s maid) in to dinner.


His job involved great responsibility, and he was expected to have considerable experience in household affairs, as well as excellent accounting skills. Ideally, he was a man of irreproachable character, efficient, trust-worthy, and morally upright.



House Stewards at Emo Court

A house steward was sometimes employed at Emo Court, usually in place of, rather than in addition to, a butler. From the 1900 inventory we know that the house steward’s room was quite luxurious compared to those of the lower staff. In addition to the usual bed, bedding, washstand and table, his bedroom contained a footbath, nine pictures, a mahogany table and cupboard, a chest of drawers, a mirror and a bookcase. House stewards were generally well-paid, typically earning ₤75-100 per annum. As head of the indoor staff, the steward might also be left money in his employer’s will – the 3rd Earl of Portarlington, for example, left his former steward, Edwin Bailey, a sum of ₤100.


The house steward at Emo Court in the early 1900s was Mr Bates. In 1911, he supervised the arrangements for a grand ball which was given at Christmas time. 300 guests were expected, including friends of the Earl and Countess as well as servants and former tenants from the estate. A review of the ball in the Leinster Express newspaper (Jan. 6th 1912) described Mr Bates as a ‘genial’ man and commended the ‘excellent manner’ in which he and the housekeeper, Edith Adams, organised the event. As the two most senior servants, Mr Bates and Mrs Adams also had the honour of commencing the ball by dancing ‘a triumph’ with the Lord and Lady of the house.