Trevor Salthouse, Butler
Trevor Salthouse by Sarah Ainslie
When Trevor Salthouse started as a Junior Butler at Barings Bank in 1981, he had to clean the Directors’ shoes each morning and travelled in the luggage compartment of the chartered train, sitting upon the expensive crates of wine to guard them, whenever the Directors went shooting on Barings’ estate in Scotland. Then, in 1995, Trevor was there in the room when Barings went bankrupt and was the first below board level to learn the news.
‘When ING Bank took over Barings, it came with the silver, the art collection, the wine cellar and me,’ he confided with a mild blush, lest this appear an immodest claim.
Blessed with natural poise, Trevor is the paragon of diplomacy and these days his work is a lot less menial – he might perhaps be described as Hospitality Manager, as well as Sommelier and Curator of the art collection. And, possessing the wealth of experience of one who has seen the workings of the City from the inside for over thirty years, I suspect Trevor’s duties might also occasionally include Confidant, Counsellor and Therapist to the Senior Directors at the Bank but – if this is the case – he is far too discreet to admit it.
Trevor confessed to me that he feels less comfortable in the lounge suit he wears for work these days, preferring the morning suit that he wore until recently as a uniform which made his role as Butler apparent, whereas in his business suit he can sometimes be mistaken for a Director of the Bank. Yet – although I know he would be the first to deny it – I could not resist the suspicion that in meeting Trevor Salthouse, I had met the man who actually runs ING Bank.
“My job started as a Junior Butler in 1981 when I was eighteen and I was formally trained by Mr Stan Foden who was the Senior Head Butler at Barings Bank. They wanted people to serve at table and look after the Senior Directors and their Clients when they were entertaining in the House of Barings.
I was at college and had just finished my apprenticeship in the building trade, and I was working outside painting houses, it was freezing cold. So I decided I wanted a job inside and I applied to an advert in the Evening Standard catering section for Trainee Butler for a City institution. I applied and discovered it was Barings Bank and there were thirty other applicants but, amazingly, I got the job. Historically, there were an enormous staff at Barings – six Butlers in the old days – but slowly things have got smaller.
Things really changed when Barings Bank went under in 1995. At the moment, there are only three House Butlers. I am the Head Butler and then we have a Senior Butler and another who is a Floor Waiter but is still classed as a Butler.
I work long hours but it can be rewarding. You start as early as you are needed, which can mean 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning to serve breakfast, and sometimes you are required to offer evening service for dinners or even suppers. You work at private houses too, if a Director likes you to serve at a party at their house for Senior Clients. It used to happen a lot in the old days at the House of Barings where we were commissioned to work weekends and occasionally over Christmas.
I do get a satisfaction to see the Clients happy and I enjoy the fact that I am working for a fantastic company. Barings Bank was the company I started with and then I carried on with ING Bank. I love the organisation side of it, especially the wine tastings and other evening events. There are times when you have to work very hard but generally it is a very good job. I come to work in the morning to see the smiles on people’s faces when I have finished.
The work has changed a great deal from being a servant to being a manager. When I first came, I was a Junior Butler and I had to do all the menial work, cleaning shoes and serving at the table. Over time you acquire experience, about wine and so forth, and when it comes very important dinners parties with Senior Clients now, the Directors like to see a gentleman serving.
You have to be a diplomat, you have to be everything in this job. You need to be completely confidential because you hear things which you shouldn’t really hear. While you are in the room, you have to be aware that people are talking their business and what you hear in the room stays in the room. One minute you are talking to a Senior Partner of a large firm or a CEO and the next you are in the kitchen washing up with the Kitchen Porter, so you have to be quite flexible. You have to be a good man manager. The majority of people I knew among the Butlers were all ex-army chaps, mostly Non-Commissioned Officers who had learnt to man-manage in the army. Those I met in the eighties who were coming up for retirement had all fought in the Second World War – they all knew how to get the troops going.
Barings was a very Victorian bank, so I felt I experienced that nineteenth century world. Rothschilds, Warburgs, Casenoves and Lazards, they all had a similar style of service. Barings was the oldest, but many of those companies go back to the seventeenth century and were the building blocks of the City of London. They accrued enormous wealth.
One hundred years ago it would have been much harder for staff, they were expected to live in more, especially the Butlers – who were paid a pittance. They had to do manual work. You were a servant and you were made to feel like a servant – whereas Barings didn’t, you were part of the family.
The City has changed a lot in the last thirty years, although there are still one or two Clients who like to show that you are a Servant and they are Senior, but there aren’t that many of them left now – thank God! The majority of people I work with are very respectful. You know what your job is and you try to do it the best you can. My old boss Stan used to say to me, ‘You never cross that line.’ There’s always a line, regardless.
You should never call a Director by his first name, it’s always ‘Sir’ or ‘Mister.’ You always have a dress protocol and you never let your side down. You always respect them regardless of whether they have made errors in their work. You never talk about them behind their back. You always hold that professionalism within the bank. You have to have loyalty. There is no point in being in service if you don’t have loyalty. You may hear things within the family but you don’t repeat it. Discretion is essential.
You see a different side of people. When people come in to ING or Barings Bank, having meetings or lunch, they are not going to a hotel or a holiday camp, they are here to do business. Certainly it affects their lives and often they are under a great deal of stress, having to do presentations and eat at the same time, or drink when when they don’t want to – just because they feel the need to be seen to.
So you do see a different light on things and also, when business isn’t going very well, when the bank has difficulties there’s an enormous amount of stress upon Senior Managers. You have to be one step ahead the whole time, you have to understand people and have a grasp of human nature. You have to be flexible when it comes to your approach to serving at the table or dealing with people. Even at reception, if you are inappropriate in your behaviour it could affect ING’s business. It’s called the seven second interview. After seven seconds, people have made a fundamental decision based on the first view they have of me or my staff at reception. You have to be a psychologist.
I was brought up in South-East London and my father was a Docker, he was ex-naval from the Second World War and he’d had a rough time of it, so he didn’t have much confidence after that. My mother worked in an office in Central London and then in a shop in South-East London, she died when I was fourteen and my dad when I was thirty-nine. It was a different style, they worked very hard and we lived in a council flat for years. When I went to school I didn’t have a formal education. I went to Secondary Modern school and, as I didn’t do very well at school, I was automatically put onto a list to join the building trade. I lived in Deptford with my parents and grandparents, and then we moved to Forest Hill.
I am not rich but wealth is different from having good health. It would be great to have both and a lot of people do. The City of London is where wealth is generated for the rest of the country and I have seen huge amounts of money being paid to people, but they are not always happy. They have a lot of stress and, while they buy those big houses, they have to keep them. They send their children to private schools and that costs a lot of money too. I don’t envy that lifestyle.
Everyone makes their own happiness in their own lives, with their wives and families. I am not wealthy but I am OK. I save and I put money into the bank occasionally. I am very happy with my lot and I know a lot of these people here are very wealthy, but I am not sure if they are happy.
I don’t think there will be Butlers in the future, I am one of the last few. Butlers have changed a lot and they will be House Managers. Until just recently, I used to wear a full morning suit but the CEO decided that, because we have come into this brand new building, we should be attired in lounge suits.
Although ING have a policy of paying their staff a decent wage, often I work with casual catering staff from agencies who are paid minimum wage. The reason they are on minimum wage is because their English isn’t very good. They are mostly East Europeans or from parts of the world that have seen conflict, often very depressed countries. You have to give them the benefit of the doubt. There’s a duty of care, both for the people we serve and for the staff we employee. If somebody is good you try to keep hold of them but it isn’t always easy. I am concerned about the quality of staff and I need to make sure they understand their duties because it reflects on our business. There is a lot of stress involved because you want to make sure the event goes well. I have to maintain professionalism within the room.”
‘When the Directors of Barings Bank went grouse shooting, I asked Stan the Head Butler why, as a Junior Butler, I was paid less than the Beaters. He told me it was because I was less likely to get shot.’
‘When ING Bank took over Barings, it came with the silver, the art collection, the wine cellar and me’
‘I am very happy with my lot and I know a lot of these people here are very wealthy, but I am not sure if they are happy’
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie