What the Butler Saw 250 Years of the Servant Problem SC E.S. Turner Pengiun Classic History


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What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem Paperback
by E. S. Turner (Author)

This is a lively foray into a world where a gentleman with £2,000 a year was betraying his class if he did not employ six females and five males; where a lady could go to the grave without ever having picked up a nightdress, carried her prayer book or made a pot of tea. It is the story of the housekeeper and the butler, the cook, the lady’s maid, the valet and the coachman. Their duties are described in detail, and the story is told of the strife and even pitched battles that ensued between servants and the served. Here is social history from a fascinating angle, packed with droll information lightly handled, with many a moral for our own times.

Publisher Penguin Global; Revised edition (2005)
Paperback 304 pages
ISBN-13 978-0141390833
Weight 12 ounces
Dimensions 5.25 x 0.75 x 8.25 inches

Turner has searched out the documentary evidence of the life of servants in Britain. His book readily quotes sources without it interfering with the text and what remains is a highly entertaining and obviously well-researched book.

The life of servants is generally not well known. They were neither so literate that they would write about their lives, nor would their accounts generally be well-received.

Turner has made use of a variety of sources including pamphlets written by Daniel Defore and Swift, as well as the only 18th century account known to exist of a man-servant.

It is difficult to imagine, now, the clear class distincitions which were so entrenched in Britain of the 17th, 18th and 19th century – even into the twentieth century. Where the upper class knew their place, as did the servant classes. Turner ably describes the millieu in which the system of servant and servitude thrived. And also clearly and at times with high amusement, describes the pros and cons of it all.

It seems Man servants were better paid than their female counterparts, (well some things haven’t changed!) despite females generally having to do more work and having to provide their own clothes. Amusingly, one of the great challenges of richer households was the footman – and having a matched set of them highly prized (all the same height etc) so if there were any problems in a household it was generally the female servant who would be asked to leave rather than breaking a ‘set’ of footmen.

The book is divided into various chapters including Male and Female branches with each role clearly examined, along with conditions of servitude, even ‘black boys’. This book is a great resource for historians, or those keen on understanding the circumstances of employment of servants, who did it, how much and conditions – also the problems of hiring them.

This book was originally published in 1962 and this is a reprint. P G Wodehouse wrote highly of it – and you can’t beat him as an author for his biting satire on the servant vs upper classes.


Spine stresses from being read. Spine is angled from being stored wrong. Yellowing. More pictures may be in description (which it is suggested you read!)