Footmen Behaving Badly outside the Waverley Ball
AUTHOR: KAREN ELLIS-REES
PUBLISHED: 4 OCTOBER 2023
In the early hours of Friday 7 July 1871 a large and rowdy crowd was disturbing the peace in King Street in Westminster. To the annoyance of residents this not infrequent nuisance had been going on for hours.
Complaints were passed to Inspector Hambling of the Metropolitan Police C Division, who was responsible for policing the St James’s district of Westminster. Situated in this wealthy area were Marlborough House — the home of the Prince and Princess of Wales — and St James’s Palace, town houses favoured by the aristocracy, gentlemen’s clubs, theatres, the alluring shops of Jermyn Street and the sedate London Library in nearby St James’s Square.
On reaching King Street, Hambling found that the disruption was caused by a gathering of some three and four hundred liveried footmen. Many were inebriated, having availed themselves of the facilities at the Golden Lion public house to help them while away the time. They were waiting for their employers, who were attending the grand Waverley Ball inside Willis’s Rooms.
The Waverley Ball had been organised to celebrate both the centenary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth and to raise funds for the completion of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh. The Scott Monument, designed by George Meikle Kemp, had been inaugurated in 1846, but was still unfinished. Thirty niches created to house sculpture busts of characters from the author’s novels and poems remained empty. An estimated £2000 would be needed to complete the work.
A fundraising committee was set up to raise the money, and one of the events chosen was a grand costume ball. Once it was announced that the Prince and Princess of Wales would attend the ball, tickets sold out like the proverbial hot cakes.
Willis’s Rooms were built on what had previously been the site of Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Almack’s were the more famous venue, appearing in many a Regency novel as the site of exclusive society balls presided over by a cabal of aristocratic ladies, who could make or break a debutante’s Season. But in 1871 the rooms — that is to say the grand ballroom and the supper and music rooms — were being managed by the Willis family.
It was normal practice for society parties and balls to start late at night and continue until dawn the next day. In fact the earliest attendees, driven in their carriages by coachmen, and accompanied by liveried footmen, began to arrive at about 10 pm, and we can assume that those turning up so unfashionably early were not of the highest society.
Gentlemen had been informed they would not be admitted to the ball unless wearing uniform, Highland dress or fancy dress. Ladies could wear what they pleased, although newspaper reports indicate that most came attired as Scott heroines. No doubt the novelty of admiring each other’s costumes, as well as the smart venue, soon wore off, and the early arrivals longed for the dancing to start. Unfortunately for them, though, the guests of honour had to be present if Coote and Tinney’s band were to start playing. Only then would the festivities begin in earnest.
Close to midnight the royal party, consisting of the Prince and Princess of Wales and their entourage, were finally ushered into a roped-off VIP area.
Alexandra came as Mary Queen of Scots in ruby red velvet with an over-petticoat of gold tissue and pearls. Albert Edward — Bertie to his friends and family — was dressed as the Lord of the Isles — his title when in Scotland — sporting a kilt and sporran and a bonnet topped with a perky feather. His brother Prince Arthur came as Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the Duke of Teck wore the uniform of an Austrian Hussar, which was uniform rather than fancy dress as he had once been an Austrian army officer. Other notable guests included the Rothchilds, Lord Randolph Churchill, the Turkish ambassador and a slew of Scottish nobles.
Amongst the entertainments were costumed quadrilles, Scottish country dancing in the form of reels to the music of bagpipes, and the delicious sounding continuous supper served to the 750 attendees. The ball was deemed a great success, raising £500 for the monument fund.
Keeping out the cold
Outside things were not quite so lavish or so comfortable for the waiting footmen. Having delivered their masters and mistresses to the ball, they hung around in King Street with little to do until about 4 am, when they would be summoned to assist the said masters and mistresses into their carriages and home to bed.
During this enforced leisure there was much laughing and joking and imbibing of alcohol, the purpose of the alcohol naturally being to keep out the cold and to help the footmen stay awake. It was wryly noted by the Pall Mall Gazette that only a third of those gathered were drunk.
When the police attempted to take control of the riotous mass, the young men objected and began pushing against the thin blue line. Inspector Hambling, deciding to take matters in hand, arrested some of the more serious troublemakers. As those who had been apprehended were being led away, other footmen tried to rescue them by rushing at the bobbies. Eventually the police prevailed, and three of the perceived ringleaders were taken into custody. What their employers thought when there was nobody available to open their carriage doors is not recorded.
Before the beak
The next day the wrong-doers appeared before Mr Tyrwhitt the magistrate at Marlborough Road Police Court. The trio of young men must have presented a curious sight as they were all still wearing their liveried uniforms from the night before, which consisted of brightly coloured tailcoats, waist coats, knee breeches and buckled shoes — not the apparel usually sported by those appearing in the dock. Their names were Henry Lockwood, James Miller and John Drewer.
On being called to speak Drewer insisted that he was not drunk, as to be drunk would hardly be appropriate when he was tasked after the ball with accompanying his master and mistress to an after-party at Marlborough House. Despite this special pleading, Mr Tyrwhitt was not persuaded. He exclaimed testily that he would happily have sentenced more than three footmen in the light of all he had heard of the shocking bibulous melee the night before. He fined them all 40s. each. This was a serious amount of money — approximately one month’s wages.
Life as a footman
Throughout the nineteenth century the footman was a status symbol for the rich: they were typically strapping young men chosen for their height and good looks. Tricked out in vivid ornate liveries, they were a visible sign of wealth, particularly after the passing of the 1869 Revenue Act, which increased the tax an employer had to pay for each of their male servants to 15s. per annum.
As the century wore on the ratio of female to male servants increased significantly. Pamela Horn notes in The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant that in 1851 there were ten female servants to every one male, by twenty-two to one by 1881. Female servants were regarded as more biddable. They earned less and were not the subject of a tax.
A footman’s life was physically hard — Arthur Inch, a footman at Londonderry House, wore a pedometer for a day during the Season and discovered that he had walked eighteen miles without leaving the house — and endlessly demanding. It presented many challenges, as suggested by a book written by Thomas Cosnett, former servant of the poet and MP Willam Stewart Rose, the second edition of which was printed in 1823 with the following elaborate title:
THE FOOTMAN’S DIRECTORY,
Advice of Onesimus to his young Friends:
HINTS ON THE ARRANGEMENT AND PERFORMANCE OF THEIR WORK;
RULES FOR SETTING OUT TABLES AND SIDEBOARDS;
THE ART OF WAITING AT TABLE, AND CONDUCTING LARGE AND SMALL PARTIES;
DIRECTIONS FOR CLEANING PLATE, GLASS, FURNITURE, CLOTHES, AND ALL OTHER THINGS WHICH COME
WITHIN THE CARE OF A MAN-SERVANT;
ADVICE RESPECTING BEHAVIOUR TO SUPERIORS, TRADESPEOPLE, AND FELLOW-SERVANTS.
With an APPENDIX, comprising various useful Receipts and Tables.
Victims of folly
The footman’s duties included answering the front door, cleaning silver plate, waiting at table, assisting the butler, cleaning boots, accompanying the lady of the house on shopping trips, and accompanying the carriage to evening engagements.
On six nights out of seven during the London Season young footmen could find themselves out until dawn while they waited for their employers to finish enjoying themselves. So although there was plenty of journalistic outrage at the behaviour of the drunken footmen in our story — as well a mockery — there was also a degree of sympathy and a recognition that a footman’s life was not easy. A week after the event the Bury Free Press observed that
however well-behaved, numbers of them die early and numbers become confirmed drunkards, but ‘society’ is surely as much to blame as these victims of its folly.
And the East London Observer was of the view that
the miseries of ornamental domestic servitude are probably intensified in July. To bask at Belgravia hall-doors attired in the hues of tropical parrots, or perch behind carriages in the Row, or sit on the outside benches of fashionable shops is hard work enough; but to keep a solemn and unruffled plumage during the hours of midnight … is a severe trial of character.
The footman in literature
Footmen appear frequently in nineteenth century literature. To name but a few, we have the fish and the frog flunkies in Alice in Wonderland, and various Charles Dickens inventions: John Smauker’s footman in the Pickwick Papers, the Dedlocks’ in Bleak House and Madame Mantalini’s in Nicholas Nickleby, who condescendingly tells Kate that she should have rung the worker’s bell and not the house bell, which was for visitors. In A Rogue’s Life by Dickens’s good friend Wilkie Collins the unlucky and naïve Frank Softly finds himself transported to Australia, where he pretends to be his wife’s footman.
But perhaps the funniest literary footman is Charles James Yellowplush, a creation of William Makepeace Thackeray. I suspect Thackeray used a copy of Cosnett’s The Footman’s Directory when writing his pieces on the cockney footman for Fraser’s Magazine between 1837 and 1838. The same character then appears in The Diary of C. Jeames de la Pluche, published in 1846, which portrays the footman’s rise and fall and final happiness when he reverts to his ‘rightful place’ in society as a publican. At the beginning of his diary Jeames confides to his employer that he has made a £30,000 fortune from speculating on the railroads. Mightily impressed, his mistress immediately invites him to join the family at the breakfast table, and so begin his adventures in society.
According to D. J. Taylor, who brought out a biography of Thackeray in 1999, the curious name Yellowplush was suggested by ‘a bona fide manservant, an old gentleman named John Goldsworthy, formerly the Larkbeare footman, who wore faded knee-breeches in the family livery’. Larkbeare was Thackeray’s mother’s house in Devon.
So, what of our three young footmen?
James Miller, who was sometimes known as John — employers were liable to call servants by whatever name they thought fit — was twenty-seven at the time of the incident. He was born in Lower Boddington in Northamptonshire, and by the age of seventeen he was working as a footman at Winkfield Park in Berkshire, one of the eleven live-in servants employed by Gilbert J. Blane, a retired East India Civil Servant. Some time later Miller improved his position by gaining employment with a Scottish peer, namely David Graham Drummond Ogilvie, the Earl of Airlie.
In addition to extensive properties in Scotland, the Earl had a London residence, Airlie Lodge, on semi-rural Campden Hill in Kensington. The 1871 census lists the occupants of Airlie Lodge as the Earl and his wife, Blanche, and their six children. Their comfort required the services of a governess, a nursery maid, a ladies’ maid, a housemaid, a cook and a piper by the name of Alex Ballantyne, who all lived in the main house. Meanwhile the butler, two footmen, a scullery maid, a groom and four stable helpers all resided in the stable mews.
The other two
Twenty-three-year-old John Drewer was also in the employ of the Earl of Airlie and lived in the stable mews with Miller. Drewer — sometimes listed as Brewer or Prewer — was originally from the small village of Rockland in Norfolk.
The third member of the trio was twenty-two-year-old Henry Lockwood, who came from Woolwich in Kent. He was in the service of the Farquharson family at 3 Cumberland Place, where he was one of seven live-in servants — five women and two men. The Farquharson family included George Murray Farquharson, a clerk in the War Office, his brother John Atholl Farquharson, a Clerk in the Foreign office, and their four sisters.
How it ended
It is likely that all three footmen were dismissed from their positions, and that they left without a character reference, for the behaviour of servants reflected on their employers. We know that Miller continued to live in London and worked as a waiter. But John Drewer and Henry Lockwood cannot be traced with any certainty. Nor for that matter can John Brewer and John Prewer.
It would be comforting to believe that, in spite of their inauspicious brush with the law, all three ended up as contented as Charles James Yellowplush, who married his Mary Ann and became the landlord of the Wheel of Fortune near Sheppherd’s Market in Mayfair.
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