The History of the Ignoble Turnspit Dog

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The Canis vertigus, or turnspit, was an essential part of every large kitchen in Britain in the 16th century. The small cooking canine was bred to run in a wheel that turned a roasting spit in cavernous kitchen fireplaces.

“They were referred to as the kitchen dog, the cooking dog or the vernepator cur“, says Caira Farrell, library and collections manager at the Kennel Club in London. “The very first mention of them is in 1576 in the first book on dogs ever written.”

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When any meat was to be roasted, one of these dogs was hoisted into a wooden wheel mounted on the wall near the fireplace. The wheel was attached to a chain, which ran down to the spit. As the dog ran, like a hamster in a cage, the spit turned.

“Turnspit dogs were viewed as kitchen utensils, as pieces of machinery rather than as dogs,” says Bondeson. To train the dog to run faster, a glowing coal was thrown into the wheel.

“In the 1850s, the founder of the [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] was appalled by the way the turnspit dogs were treated in the hotels of Manhattan,” says Weaver. “This bad treatment of dogs eventually led to the founding of the SPCA”.

Via NPR via The Kitchen Sisters.

This entry was posted in Culture, History by Heretic. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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