In the Victorian hierarchy of servants, the domestic servant called a footman was considered an underservant, meaning he had fewer privileges than the upper and senior servants, such as house stewards or coachmen. A footman’s duty was to make himself useful in a variety of jobs throughout the day.
Before the family of the house woke, the footman completed a list of tasks. In the early morning hours, he cleaned boots, shoes, knives and forks, trimmed the lamps, brushed his master’s clothing and wiped down the furniture. Because he might have got dirty doing this work, he changed into a new jacket and cleaned himself up before preparing for the family’s breakfast. His responsibilities included laying down the tablecloth, then the breakfast cloths (cloth place mats), and setting the table with silverware and dishes.
If there was no butler in the house, the footman was responsible for carrying the tea urn and assisting the housemaid. Once the meal ended, he cleaned off the table, folded the breakfast cloths, swept, shook out the tablecloth and tended to the fire. At lunch he performed the same ritual again, and for dinner he took extra care that the tablecloth was laid out smoothly. He properly arranged the knives, forks, glasses and plates (each person had five or six plates) on the table, knives on the left of the plates, forks and spoons on the right. It was his responsibility to distribute the chairs equally on each side of the table, fold the napkins and set the bread out.
Sometimes the footman was required to accompany the carriage. He made sure it stayed perfectly clean, meaning that the glass, sashes and linings were dust-free. He also relayed messages from the carriage to the coachman. When the carriage arrived at its destination, he knocked at the door, then returned to the carriage for orders. When he closed the carriage door, he had to make sure that the door was securely shut and that no part of the ladies’ dresses got caught. The footman also delivered messages from the family to friends, the post or tradesmen. Sometimes the footman reserved seats in the family’s box at the theatre, prepared tables for receptions and games, opened and closed doors for visitors and announced their arrival.