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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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