JAN 9th

A Real Butler’s Pantry & The People Who Worked Below The Stairs

Butler's Pantry Mick De Guilio

A Butler’s Pantry.  Who doesn’t see this image (one of my all time favorite spaces by Mick de Guilio-kitchen design legend) and say, “why yes, I not only need a Butler’s Pantry but I could use a butler too.”

I know I do.  And in my next house (which is already planned in my head) I will have a Butler’s Pantry.  But I’m pretty sure we won’t have a butler.  Although Mr. V could definitely be my Bates…

Bates and Ana Downton Abbey

For those of you who don’t get that reference, I’m speaking of one of my favorite shows, “Downton Abbey” which has mercifully returned for Season 3 on PBS.  Full of intrigue, passion and drama, Downton Abbey also has incredible costumes and perhaps for me the most important character–amazing sets.

Downton Abbey

Regular readers know I am fascinated with history, old pictures and how we really used to live.  My bedside table is filled with real barn burners such as, “Victorian Living” and “Daily Life in America from 1910-1940.”

And as much as I love a fairy tale, the real Butler’s Pantries were not a thing of beauty (unless you count that most were filled top to bottom with the household silver), but instead were poorly lit, dank places where the Butler spent a good deal of time.  Some butlers were required to sleep in their pantries to protect the silver from dishonest help.

Downton Abbey

Hard to believe there were scheming and conniving servants! I suppose Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton must have had them in mind when he dreamed up the fantastically horrible pairing of O’Brien and Thomas.


Above is a picture of the staff on the television show.  Below are pictures of real Edwardian servants.

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Even though they had unbearably long days filled with often back breaking work, domestic servants were happy to have their position as it was much more favorable to the alternative of being a farm laborer or a factory worker.

A domestic worked his/her way up through the ranks- starting as a “tweeny” or kitchen maid, and aspiring to have the most coveted of positions which was either the butler or the head housekeeper.

In the television show, Mr. Carson has a desk in the Butler’s Pantry.  He is seen locking up the liquor and taking inventory of wine.  Carson Downton Abbey

It seems to be a small but cozy room and Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper often comes in to the Pantry to discuss important household matters with him.

Below is a picture from “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915) and it shows a desk in the Pantry just like Mr. Carson’s.  There were many volumes written as to how to successfully run a household and what duties were expected of household staff.  Because domestics made up such a huge part of the work force, there were schools and employment agencies devoted exclusively to servants.

Mrs. Beeton

An image of the Butler’s Pantry from Cambridge c. 1912.  Pretty dark even with the window.


Here are some vintage Butler’s Pantries with storage as the main element.   The first one is from the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.  It truly is a fascinating place and I highly suggest “the back rooms tour.”  It shows you the servants quarters and places that normally wouldn’t be a highlight in a place as beautiful as Biltmore.

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There were often dumbwaiters to move the food from the basement kitchen up to the dining areas.


How did the owners communicate with the servants?  Often they rang a bell (as in Downton Abbey):



Here is a similar set up:


With the popularity of electricity came the electric bell box:


And the very advanced “elevator” type buttons:


The White House Butler’s Pantry has seen some changes over the years.

Here it is in 1920:


And in 1952: see the dumbwaiter on the left?


And in 1992: (not too much had changed)


And in 2008:


If you haven’t watched Downton Abbey you can catch up on Seasons 1 & 2 on Netflix!  And if you are brave, you can simply dive into Season 3 and wonder what’s going on…like my parents are trying to do now.  You too will be bewitched by the Crawley family and their faithful servants who work below the stairs.


I leave you with a few of my favorite Butler’s Pantries from the last decade.

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images of Downton Abbey courtesy of PBS.  images of Edwardian servants courtesy of Jane Austen’s World. images of vintage Butler’s Pantries via Google.  images of White House courtesy of whitehouse.org.  images of recent Butler’s Pantries: 1-Pinterest, 2- Joy Tribout, 3-Google, 4-John Lewis Hungerford, 5-Home Bunch

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15 Responses to A Real Butler’s Pantry & The People Who Worked Below The Stairs

  1. Goldie Stetten says:

    Thank you Amy, a timely post with nice research and pictures.

  2. OMG what post!! I am one foot out the door but HAD to tell you I will be coming back later to absorb all the beauty that has my heart beating faster just looking at these scrumptious pics…nice work Amy!

  3. Ellen says:

    what fun!…..check out the castle where it all happens…..here


    Maybe a trip to jolly old England is in order……smiles

  4. Phyllis says:

    I would love even just a small pantry to house the overflowing collection of glasses and dishes I have accumulated. These are gorgeous.
    All best,

  5. GEOFFREY says:

    Great pix, almost more interesing than the show. The first house I lived in was built in 1923 and actually had a (very modest) butler’s pantry. Really a passage connecting din ing room and kitchen, it had no running water or sink but was lined top to bottom w cabinets, glassfronted, and drawers below with a convenient counter….. those were ther days!

  6. barbara says:

    Love your reference to Downton Abbey–I’m obsessed with the series! Love a proper butlers pantry too. Here in NY there are still unrenovated kitchens that have their butlers pantry intact–and new ones that have decided to add them back in!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for stopping by! I too, amore than a little obsessed with Downton. I adore all things Edwardian! I also love in renovated old shambly homes. They provide insight into our past that gets all too quickly covered up with renos.

  7. Susan says:

    Well timed post…so Downton obsessed!

  8. Francesca says:

    Pretty cool pictures! DA is definitely one of my favorite shows on tv right now! I like how your post brings the attention on the real bases the shows has and the story behind it! thanks for sharing and great pictures!

  9. Mr. V says:

    Good old Downton Abbey. I think the Butler’s Pantry is where the “real” household business takes place!