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Archive for the ‘19th Century Servants’ Category

Inquiring readers,

I had the immense pleasure recently of visiting The Breakers, the summer “cottage” of the Cornelius Vanderbilt family in Newport, R.I. Before walking through its marbled halls, I could only imagine the conspicuous consumption this enormous house represented in the gilded age. I was not disappointed.

The social life in Newport during the Edwardian era represented the last gasp of outrageous luxurious living* before income taxes ended the Beau Monde’s competitive spending sprees. The mansion’s, er cottage’s, lavish details of marble, gilt, carved mahogany, and ivory – of furniture, draperies, rugs, and exquisite china – were achieved in only 2 years by a dedicated army of designers, cabinet makers, carpet makers, weavers, gilders, woodworkers, and the like.

Walking through the immense two-story butler’s pantry reminded me of Downton Abbey and how much I miss that series. Has it been only a year since we viewed Carson, head butler, decanting wine and counting the silver plate in his Butler’s Pantry and overseeing the male servants with an unflinching eye?

Make it a general rule always to have every thing in its proper place, as nothing looks worse than to see every thing topsy turvy; this is an English phrase, but the meaning is, to see every thing in its wrong place; for the beauty of a good servant is to have a proper place for every thing that is used in common, that he may know where to lay his hand upon it, when it is wanted; this will be greatly to your advantage. – Robert Roberts, Robert’s Guide for Butlers & Other Household Staff, 1827

I venture to state that The Breakers’ pantry outstrips Downton Abbey’s in size and grandiosity. Let’s visit this late Victorian/pre-Edwardian room (images below) and compare it to our memory of Carson’s domain. I then invite you to join other readers in a poll to share your opinion.

This Thursday in the U.S. we are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. May you and yours the world over be blessed with loving family and friends. I feel so very lucky in that respect and so did my favorite author, Jane Austen.

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Downton Abbey had bells. The Breakers employed electricity. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

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The family and guests transmitted their needs and wants in a system reminiscent of Downton Abbey’s. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

Like the servants in Downton Abbey, the servants in the Breakers knew exactly where in the “cottage” the request had originated. To listen to servant first person accounts about their service at The Breakers, click on this link to the Newport Preservation Society’s page.

Transition from kitchen to butler's pantry.

Flower arrangements were created in the room that connected the kitchen to the butler’s pantry. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

In the image below imagine around 20 sets of china dishes kept in the cabinets in the 2nd story mezzanine.

The family silver was locked up in a safe – all pieces were counted daily because of their value.

Butler's Pantry at the Breakers

Walking into the Butler’s Pantry at The Breakers with its second story mezzanine is breathtaking. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

Cold foods were kept on ice until served. Hot foods were kept in a warmer.

Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen's World

Warm foods were kept in a warmer. Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World

The butler was in charge of decanting the wine. Robert Roberts suggested the following way to clean cut glass decanters:

…you must have a brush to brush the lint which your glass cloth may leave in the cutting, or rough work, then give them a good polish with your shammy leather, and put them away in their proper places…

Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen's World

The footmen and butler had plenty of room to clean the china, silverware, and prepare the trays for guests and family. Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World

The silver was inventoried every evening. The butler kept the key to the wine cellar and had charge of its valuable contents.

*Conspicuous consumption has returned in spades, as witnessed by images displayed by billionaires and their progeny on Facebook pages and the media.

The Breaker’s butler’s pantry vs. Downton Abbey’s

(polls)


The Breaker’s butler’s pantry vs. Downton Abbey’s

(polls)

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