Turnspit Dog

For those of my followers who already know this, forgive the repetition. For those who have never heard of this, enjoy the education as I did. 🙂

There is nothing more quintessentially British than roast beef. Prior to the 19th century, the only way to properly roast a piece of beef was to cook it over an open flame, on a spit. Naturally, the spit had to be turned so as not to burn the beef in one area, while leaving the rest horribly uncooked. Prior to the 16th century, children were given the task of standing near the fire and turning the spit, often made of metal, for hours on end, leaving their hands blistered and quite possibly burnt.

By the 16th century, a wheel had been invented that would connect to the arm of the spit allowing a small dog to run on the wheel – much like a hamster – for hours on end, allowing the meat to cook evenly. These dogs became known as kitchen dogs or vernepator cur (Latin for “the dog that turns the wheel”) and were treated quite differently to other dogs the family might own. Sadly, a piece of hot coal was often dropped in the wheel with them to make them go faster. On Sundays, they were given a break from wheel-turning in order to accompany the family to church where they would serve as foot-warmers for the ladies of the family.

img_3979These kitchen dogs were short in stature and long of body, often curtailed. This was to differentiate between the dogs of the nobility and the dogs belonging to common folk.  Though the breed died out by 1900, it is believed that the Welsh corgi is the nearest relation to the now extinct breed of dog.

Despite it’s extinct status, if you ever find yourself in Abergavenny, Wales, stop in at the Abergavenny Museum to see the only known surviving specimen of the turnspit dog called Whiskey. Poorly taxidermied to be sure, he at least gives one an idea of what they looked like. In my opinion Whiskey more closely resembles a long haired dachshund than a Welsh corgi.

And for any of my followers who are American, turnspit dogs were used in the United States most often in hotels where large kitchens was the norm. In fact, it was this very act of using dogs in what some might consider a cruel manner that led to the creation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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