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Buttery (room)

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Buttery (room)

Rochlitz castle, Germany, basement wine cellar, perhaps providing an idea of the mediaeval buttery
Wine bins in the undercroft of Norton Priory, near Runcorn, Cheshire, an example of a wine storage area in a historic domestic setting
The classic layout of an important mediaeval house, showing three doorways to service rooms, Old Rectory, Warton. These doorways are here seen from inside the Great Hall, but would originally have been hidden by the wooden screen of the screens passage. The central doorway leads into a passage to an outside kitchen. The other two doors are to the pantry and buttery
The Buttery, Lincoln College, situated between the dining hall (left) and the kitchen (right). It was roofed over in the late 1990s at the same time that the original 15th century kitchen was modernised

A buttery was a service room in a large medieval house in which butts, barrels or bottles of alcoholic drink were stored and from which they were served into the Great Hall. The "butler" was anciently the household officer in charge of the buttery, and possibly for its provisionment, that is to say the sourcing and purchasing of wine, and was required to serve wine to his lord and guests at banquets. In the royal household such officer was termed the "Marshal of the Buttery" and was often a post discharged under the feudal land tenure of grand serjeanty.[1] In less important households such an officer was termed the yeoman of the buttery.


The word derives from mediaeval French botte itself derived from mediaeval Latin buttis, "a barrel".[2] From the diminutive Latin form butticula derives the modern French word bouteille, literally "a small barrel" or "bottle"[3] from which the English word "bottle" is derived.


The Buttery was situated to one side of the screens passage, which sectioned-off the low end of the Great Hall. The screens passage generally had two or even three doors on the side opposite its entrances into the Great Hall, which led respectively to buttery, pantry and kitchen, each of which formed separate household departments.


The principal function was the storage of wine and its preparation for serving. Candles were also dispensed from the buttery as was beer to those lower members of the household not entitled to drink wine.[4] Today in Oxford and Cambridge University colleges drinks are served from the "Buttery Bar".[5] The buttery generally had a staircase to the beer cellar below.[6] The wine-storage area of the buttery, in keeping with the higher value of its contents, was often more richly decorated to reflect the higher status of its function.[7]


From the mid-17th century, as it became the custom for servants and their offices to be less conspicuous and sited far from the principal reception rooms, the Great Hall and its neighbouring buttery and pantry lost their original uses. While the Great Hall often became a grand staircase hall or large reception hall,[8] the smaller buttery and pantry beyond the screens passage were often amalgamated to form a further reception or dining room.

Distinguished from the Dairy

The buttery should not be confused with the household department which stored and processed milk and its by-products such as butter and cheese, termed the Dairy. The English word "butter" meaning the dairy product derives from a different etymological source to "buttery" the wine-store, namely from Old English butere, from Latin butyrum, from Greek bouturon, deriving ultimately from bous, "cow".[9]


  1. ^ The manor of Kingston Russell in Dorset was held by the grand serjeanty of being the king's Marshall of the Buttery
  2. ^ Collins Dictionary of the English Language
  3. ^ Larousse Dictionnnaire de la Langue Francaise, Lexis, Paris, 1979
  4. ^ Girouard, p34
  5. ^ David N. Durant, Where Queen Elizabeth Slept & What the Butler Saw: historical terms from the sixteenth century to the present 1996, s.v. "buttery".
  6. ^ Girouard, p34
  7. ^ Girouard, p35.
  8. ^ As at Powderham Castle in Devon
  9. ^ Collins Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1986; Kaufman proposed an apparently erroneous derivation thus: "Cows were also kept near the castle to provide milk and milk by-product, which were processed in the castle buttery" (J. E. Kaufmann, H. W. Kaufmann, Robert M. Jurga, The Medieval Fortress: castles, forts and walled cities of the Middle Ages, 2004:53). Such products were processed in the Dairy, not the Buttery


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