What are Upper-Servant Offices?

Status was just as important among servants as it was within aristocratic ranks. Upper-servants supervised under-servants (sometimes called lower servants) and under-servants deferred to upper-servants. Upper-servants included the house steward, butler, valet, head housekeeper, head nurse, and lady’s maid. Upper-servants also enjoyed privileges that under-servants did not, and, in order for upper-servants to perform their jobs effectively, they were often allotted special offices or quarters for their use known as Upper-Servant Offices. Such offices or quarters included the Butler’s Pantry, China-closet and Scullery, Gun-rooms, House-Steward’s Office, Housekeeper’s-Room, Service or Sideboard-rooms, Still-rooms, Steward’s-Room or Upper-Servants’-Hall, and Store-rooms.

Upper-servant offices - William Hogarth's servants.

Six of William Hogarth’s servants. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

  • Butler’s Pantry: Among the Upper-servant Office was the Butler’s pantry that accommodated wine service and the service and stowage of plate (silver). Therefore, it was usually good to place it close to the Dining-room and close to Wine and Beer Cellars. Additionally, the Housekeeper’s room needed to be nearby, and if there was a Steward’s-room, it was helpful to it have it close at hand too. Because a butler functioned as personal attendant to the master of the house, it was also nice to have the Butler’s Pantry near the Gentleman’s-room and to have it in some way connected to the approach to the house, as the butler also had to notice the arrival of carriages. A proper Butler’s-Pantry was said to be as small as 12 feet square to as large as 28 feet square. It usually contained a small dresser equipped with sinks and hot and cold water. There was also a large dresser to hold such things as glasses, a napkin-press, table linens, shelving, and plate. There was often a separate room, known as a Plate-Scullery, used to clean the plate. This room contained sinks and a dresser. Often the Butler’s-Pantry was also next to the Butler’s-bedroom so that he could guard the plate at night. Sometimes the door of the Plate-safe might be built into the Butler’s-bedroom or sometimes the Butler’s-bedroom was inside the Butler’s-Pantry. If no man-servant was kept, a small Butler’s-Pantry often sufficed and was based on the same principles as mentioned.
  • China-Closet and Scullery: This was a small apartment near the Housekeeper’s-room. It was used to stow non-everyday items such as china, stoneware, and so forth. It usually had shelving, but sometimes the room contained locked cupboards instead. In Superior homes there might also be a China-Scullery that contained a dresser and sink and was attached to the Housekeeper’s-room. If the China-Closet was of sufficient size this room might also be included in it.
  • Gun-rooms: These Upper-servant Offices were rooms often found in English country homes and were from 12 to 14 feet square. Around the walls were closets (sometimes called presses), glass cases, or drawers. These rooms accommodated anything used for hunting or fishing, such as guns, fishing rods, baskets, pouches, flasks, nets, etc.. Usually a table was present to allow cleaning of such items, along with two or three chairs for relaxation. Gun-rooms were often located near Entrance-Halls or Secondary Entrances, such as a Luggage Entrance. These rooms needed to be kept dry to prevent items from rusting, and, so, these rooms were often built from wood. A Gun-room in a smaller home might be substituted for a locked closet in the Servant’s Hall, Butler’s-Pantry, or Cloak-room. In certain instances, Gun-rooms might also be separate buildings attached to a keeper’s dwelling or such items might be kept in an Armory.
  • House-Steward’s Office: In large establishments, house stewards relieved butlers and housekeepers from provisioning a house. The house steward also ordered and received items from tradespeople, while the kitchen clerk was responsible to check, weigh, and keep accounts. Because of the business-like aspects of a steward’s duties, they were usually allotted special Upper-servant Offices with this special office, known as the Steward’s-office. These offices functioned primarily as business rooms and frequently the steward’s bedroom adjoined it. A Steward’s-office generally had a book safe, overlooked Larders and Kitchen-Entrances, and were sometimes accessible from secondary entrances, such as a Luggage Entrance. It was also important that the Steward’s-office have good communication with male servants, as Steward’s often supervised them. Sometimes in order to better conduct business, house stewards also had a Kitchen-clerk’s office that adjoined the Kitchen and Larders.
  • Housekeeper’s-Room: Another of t he Upper-Servant Offices that was the primary room used by a housekeeper to conduct her business was known as the housekeeper’s room. The main consideration was where it was located as she needed to be able to supervise the female staff. Therefore, it was usually best to place such a room first, by the Kitchen, next, near the Servant’s-Hall, or third, near the Servant’s-Entrance. Additionally, it was helpful to have it located near the mistress’s Drawing-room, Morning-room, or Boudoir. Another use of the Housekeeper’s-room was to allow servants to take breakfast and tea in the room. Servants could also pass evenings in this room, and if there was no Steward’s-room, it took its place. Besides the ordinary Sitting-room furniture, the Housekeeper’s-room might also contains closets with drawers and shelving to accommodate preserves, pickles, special groceries, china, glass, linen, etc. The standard arrangement was to keep sugar, linens, and light groceries in drawers and glass and china in drawers or on shelves. Cakes and biscuits were usually kept in canisters. However, some of these articles might also be placed in the Store-room.
  • Service or Sideboard-rooms: These rooms were used for communication with the Dining-room during dinner service. These rooms were usually 10 to 20 feet square, plainly furnished, and often had a dresser to hold dishes. The room was frequently situated near the Butler’s-Pantry and formed a sort of Ante-room to the Dining-room allowing the serving of dinner, wine, and dessert. In small houses, a Lobby might serve this function. Service-rooms could also function as a sort of Vestibule and be connected to the Dining-room with an outer door to access the grounds. Fireplaces were usually unnecessary in these rooms, and a sink, wash basin, or hot-table were usually present. In larger houses there might also be a Service-room known as a Butler’s-Service room. This room was attached to the Butler’s Pantry and allowed communication between the Service-room and the Dining-room. It usually had a dresser to store plate and to hold wine and desserts. If the Butler’s-Service room was located in the basement, it needed to have a passage for servants or a stairway to allow access to both the Kitchen and the Butler’s-Pantry. For dishes there could always be a Lift, with the size of a double Lift being no more than about 5 by 3 feet. In smaller houses, the Butler’s-Pantry often constituted the Service-room.
  • Steward’s-Room or Upper-Servants’-Hall: Another of the Upper-Servant Offices in superior houses was this room that functioned as a Dining-room for upper-servants. Among those who dined here were the valet, butler, head cook, head housekeeper, head lady’s maid, and head nurse. Visiting servants of equal rank could also dine here by invitation. Additionally, the room sometimes served as a common room during the day and a Sitting-room at night. This room was generally close to the Kitchen but also convenient to the offices of the upper-servants. Furniture was usually a dining room table, sideboard, bookcase, and one or two closets. Sometimes a small Scullery was attached to allow cleaning, washing, and storing dishes. One incidental purpose of this room was to receive superior tradesmen or visitors of rank that came to visit upper-servants. Thus, it could also function as a waiting room. In smaller homes where there were fewer servants, this room might be substituted by the Housekeeper’s-room.
  • Still-rooms: Still-rooms derived their names from the sixteenth century because they were used for distilling household cordials. Still-rooms were used by housekeepers and the Still-room maid to prepare tea and coffee and to make preserves, cakes, biscuits, etc. Still-rooms were also used to relieve the Kitchen from everything but lunch and dinner. Pastry work was often done in Still-rooms, as was other odds and ends. Because of the way a Still-room was used, they usually contained an oven, hot-plate, sink, dresser, table, shelving, and perhaps a closet. Additionally, in some houses, the Still-room was used as a hall for women servants or as an Outer-Kitchen. Still-rooms were also often connected to Store-rooms to allow unpacking of items before moving them into the Store-room. If convenient, Still-rooms might also be connected to the Housekeeper’s-room.
  • Store-rooms: The last of the Upper-Servant Offices was the store-rooms that held groceries and other items under the charge of the housekeeper. However, they could also take the place of a Housekeeper’s-room if one was not available. This room needed to be dry, cool, and well-ventilated to ensure against odors and foodstuff spoilage. During the winter, this room was usually warmed by a fireplace. Store-rooms always adjoined the Housekeeper’s-room or the Still-room, and Store-rooms usually contained a dresser with drawers and cupboards underneath. Additionally, there were frequently pin-rails along the wall to hang items on and some sort of wall shelving, with at least two shelves. One side of the room might be left open to accommodate boxes and aid in unpacking items. In smaller homes, if there was no housekeeper, the room might be used by the mistress and might include a dresser with a sink and a fireplace. When a mistress used the room, it might also accommodate china, glass, and plate if there was no Butler’s-Pantry. Store-rooms were also sometimes divided in two. When that was done, the inner part was usually kept under lock and key and the outer part was used for housekeeping purposes or to house china dishes.


  • Kerr, Robert, The Gentleman’s House, 1865.

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Comment