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Who Were the Servants?

The Butler

In 1881, the butler at Shibden was John Masfield and he was 26. He was born at Gargrave in Yorkshire.


A Set of carving knives and forks in a velvet lined box
Victorian Carving Set

Most of those employed in domestic service in Victorian times were women, outnumbering men at over 20 to one by 1880. Indoor male servants became rarer as the century progressed, as they became increasingly expensive, and were considered the preserve of the wealthy. As at Shibden, there was often only one male servant working with a team of women.


Wooden tray with raised edges and a decorated curved brush.
Crumb Tray

It was only in very large establishments that there were a group of male servants with lots of roles. In smaller houses, like Shibden, the butler would be expected to combine a number of different jobs, including footman, valet and page boy.


Three round metal buttons showing a stag head with a cross hanging round its neck.
Livery Buttons

His main duties would be: 

  • Waiting on the table at mealtimes
  • Looking after the silver in the house
  • Locking up the house at night
  • Caring for the wine cellar
  • Cleaning the knives and the shoes
  • Answering to visitors who called
  • Cleaning the furniture
  • Looking after his master’s clothes
  • Taking letters from / to his master and mistress
  • Winding the clocks