A while ago we took a look at the below stairs roles of the household maid, the laundry maid and the cook, now we come to the role of the footman. Once again, we’re using the information provided by a certain Mrs William Parkes.
She firstly explains that the role of the footman varies greatly dependant upon the size of the household and its position within society. In a small household employing only one footman his typical morning would commence with the rougher part of the work of his department such as cleaning cutlery. Next, he would clean the household shoes and brush clothes.
He would also be required to assist the housemaid with cleaning the polished furniture in the library, dining and drawing room.
He would then prepare to serve breakfast by first making himself ready, then by setting the breakfast table, making sure that everything was ready on the table; seeing that the water was on the fire at the proper time so that no delay would arise when the family gathered in the breakfast room. He would also be responsible for ensuring that crockery was clean by washing the china and ensuring that glassware was as bright as possible. After the family had eaten it was his role to clear everything away and ensure that the breakfast room was tidy. That would largely take up most of his morning, but he also had to be ready to answer the bells in the house and to open the hall door.
His next job was to wait at table. It was the footman’s responsibility to lay the dinner-cloth, set each place with the correct cutlery, a tumbler, wine-glass and a chair. He also had to announce dinner once everyone was present at the table.
He should remain quiet at all time but be ready to assist as soon as required. Bread, wine or water, when handed round, should be presented with the left hand and upon the left side of the person served. The footman should take care never to reach across the table, nor to put his hand or arm before anyone. He should tread lightly and speak quietly when answering a question.
As great care was required when cleaning cutlery with ivory, ebony or silver handles this role also fell to the footman – there’s nothing more disagreeable than carelessly cleaned cutlery!
A good steady servant will keep his clothes and person clean and neat; he will be particularly careful in washing his hands, being called upon constantly to wait and hand so many various things. In many families, the footman, is very properly, not allowed to deliver any small thing, not even a card or letter, except on a waiter.
A good footman, when sent out, will not waste his time but will execute his errands quickly, and return to his business. Punctuality is a very important quality in the footman, who must be ready to serve his master or mistress at any time required.
Within a large establishment, the footman would be under the constant watch of either the housekeeper or the steward and would probably never be seen by the master or mistress.
The newspapers of the day were full of adverts from people seeking employment as a footman and others from employers seeking a footman. The key attributes required appeared to be honesty, cleanliness and sobriety and for the prospective candidate to have worked for their previous employer for at least a year.
Taking an airing at Brighton, the donkies, or the humours of fashion. British Museum