Servant ranks


Below stairs, there was a strict hierarchy among servants, from butler and housekeeper down to hall-boys and scullery maids. At the top was the house steward, employed in some great houses as a general manager. Directly below him were the butler and housekeeper who were responsible for the daily organisation of the household and who supervised the other male and female house staff.


The ranks of female staff in order of importance were the housekeeper, lady’s maid, cook, nurse, housemaids, kitchen and dairy maids, scullery maids, and laundry maids. The male staff included the steward, butler, valet and chef; beneath them were the footman and various odd-job boys such as scullery boys, hall-boys and pages. Each position was carefully graded and in houses where the butler and housekeeper ruled supreme, the lower servants often lived in greater fear of their wrath than of that of the master or mistress.


Upper servants were addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ by their underlings as a mark of respect. At mealtimes, in church and at prayers, the servants entered and left in strict order of rank. Servants ate the first course of their meals together in the servants’ hall, often in silence, after which the upper servants (the housekeeper, butler, lady’s maid, valet and cook) retired to the housekeeper’s hall (often referred to as the ‘Pug’s Parlour’) for desert. While lower servants were served home-brewed beer, wine was provided for upper servants, some of whom acquired fine palettes! 


In large houses like Emo Court, the indoor servants were mainly female, partly because a tax on male staff made them more expensive to employ. For this reason, male servants were seen as status symbols, and this was emphasised by the practice of employing tall, good-looking footmen dressed in ostentatious livery. Upper servants were usually ‘imported’ from abroad – of the house staff at Emo Court in 1911, for example, the housekeeper, two nurses and the 1st footman were all born in England.