Footman

My last post dealt with Elizabeth Casbon, a lady’s maid. Today we’ll look at a male servant who placed a newspaper advertisement similar to those placed by Elizabeth.

Detail from “Want Places,” advertisement in The (London) Morning Post, 5 March 1884.[1] (Click on image to enlarge); Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).
In this ad, “W. Casbon” is seeking a position as first footman. He gives his age and height. He says he has a “good character” (reference from current or previous employers). His address is in the oddly-named village of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. This is presumably where he is currently employed.

Who was W. Casbon? His stated age gives us a birth year of about 1860. Unless he has greatly over- or under-exaggerated his age, the only candidate I can find is William Casbon, born 1860 at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire.[2] William was the son of William (1835–1896) and Sarah (West, ~1823–1905) Casbon. I’ve written about William previously, so I won’t repeat the details. However, I will say that he led an interesting life. The 1871 census lists eleven-year-old William as a “Scholar.”[3] In 1881 we find him working as a “Railway Signalman” in Derbyshire.[4] He later went on to become a baker,[5] then the manager of a Golf Club[6], and finally, the Superintendent of the Refreshment Department of the House of Lords in London.[7]

Ashby-de-la-Zouch is only about fourteen miles away from Breadsall, Derbyshire, where William was listed in the 1881 census. There were probably only a few households that could afford a footman, but I haven’t identified the specific home where he worked.

What is a footman? The word has an interesting history. It used to refer to a servant who ran alongside his master’s carriage, or ran ahead to announce his arrival.[8] The meaning later came to refer to a male household servant with various duties, including opening and closing doors, serving meals and carrying items to heavy for the female servants.[9]

“I am the Only Running Footman,” sign from London public house.[10] The engraving depicts a footman in the old sense, running alongside or ahead of his master’s entourage.
In the hierarchy of servants, footmen were on a lower rung than the butler, who was generally the highest-ranking male servant. Very wealthy households might have several footmen, numbered in order of their relative standing in the household (i.e., “first footman,” “second footman,” etc.). In houses without a butler, the first footman would perform the butler’s duties. An extended list of a footman’s duties would be too long to write here, but would include cleaning boots and silver, answering the door to visitors, serving at meals, lighting lamps, lighting fires, going out with a carriage, and serving as a valet to the younger gentlemen in a family.[11]

Footmen often wore livery – a special uniform. Their livery might include knee breeches and silk stockings, and in some households, powdered wigs. The household usually provided two suits of livery per year.[12] Footmen were often selected for their height and looks.[13] Hence, the advertisements above include the man’s height. William Casbon seems to have been at an advantage with his height of 6 feet, 2 ½ inches! Footmen also tended to be fairly young, as can also be seen in the advertisement.

Thomas Rowlandson, “Country Characters. No.4: Footman” (1799), hand-colored etching.[14] Footmen were often depicted as being conceited and flirtatious. (Click on image to enlarge)
When William placed the advertisement in 1884, he was probably working as a second or third footman, and looking to move up the ladder to a higher position. He obviously did not make a career of domestic service. However, his experiences as a footman probably gave him valuable experience that helped prepare him for his eventual position with the House of Lords. In an era where class distinctions were pronounced, he made significant strides.

[1] “Want Places,” The (London) Morning Post, 5 Mar 1884, p. 8, cols. 6–7; online image, British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 24 September 2016).
[2] England, “Search the GRO Online Index,” HM Passport Office (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/indexes_search.asp : accessed 25 January 2019), search on “Casbon” “William” “1860,” Casbon, William, mother’s name West, S[ep] qtr, Royston, vol. 3A/205.
[3] 1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, enumeration district 15, p. 18, schedule 105, William Casbon (age 10); imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7619 : accessed 25 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >District 15 >image 19 of 32; citing The National Archives, RG 10/1363/23.
[4] 1881 England census, Derbyshire, Breadsall, enumeration district 11, p. 2, schedule 9, William Caskan; imaged as “1881 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7572 : accessed 25 January 2019), Derbyshire >Breadsall >District 11 >image 3 of 24; citing The National Archives, RG 11/3393/67.
[5] 1891 England census, London, St George Hanover Square, enumeration district 14, p. 20, schedule 56, William Caston; imaged as “1891 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 25 January 2019), London, St George Hanover Square >Mayfair >District 14 >image 13 of 42; citing The National Archives, RG 12/69/76.
[6] 1901 England census, Hertfordshire, Chorleywood, enumeration district 11, p. 19, Wm. Chaban; imaged as “1901 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7814 : accessed 25 January 2019), Hertfordshire >Chorleywood >District 11 >image 20 of 24; citing The National Archives, RG 13/1322/49.
[7] Jon Casbon, “A Casbon in Parliament?” Our Casbon Journey, 9 Mar 2017 (https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/a-casbon-in-parliament/ : accessed 25 January 2019).
[8] “Footman,” Etymology Online (https://www.etymonline.com/word/footman#etymonline_v_33280 : accessed 20 January 2019).
[9] “Footman,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Footman : accessed 20 January 2019), rev. 1 Oct 18, 02:32.
[10] “I am the Running Footman,” engraving in Edward Walford, Old and New London: a Narraitve of Its History, Its People, and Its Places (London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873), vol. 4, p. 330; online image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/oldnewlondonnarr04thor : accessed 22 January 2019).
[11] The Servants Practical Guide: a Handbook of Duties and Rules (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1880), pp. 161-2; online image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/b21528147 : accessed 22 January 2019).
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Secrets of the Manor House: Recap and Review,” 22 Jan 2012, blog post, Jane Austen’s World (https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/secrets-of-the-manor-house-recap-and-review/ : accessed 22 January 2019).
[14] Royal Trust Collection (https://www.rct.uk/collection/810523/country-characters-no-4-footman : accessed 22 January 2019).

6 thoughts on “Footman”

  1. I greatly enjoyed your informative post! Now I know what a footman did, as well as how he was generally perceived. I’d only encountered them in novels, where they seemed to appear at random moments to perform random tasks for people who appeared perfectly capable of performing these tasks themselves.

  2. Your description about sums up what many servants did, although to be fair, much more work had to be done by hand in those days. Thanks for the comment!

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