by Marie-Louise Jensen
Today, I'm staying only vaguely with my theme of Georgian Bath. I wanted to write something seasonal this month, about Christmases past. But the fashionable Georgians did not celebrate Christmas in Bath. The city was their summer holiday resort. At Christmas they were in their grand houses in the country, where the holding and attending of house parties was popular. Gifts were exchanged and the wealthy would have sat down to the traditional Christmas dinner of roast beef or goose.
In Bath, meanwhile, only the residents and the poor were left behind and there was little enough business for them with all the visitors gone. It was said of Bath that it was so quiet out of season that the only living being you would encounter in its streets was a turnspit dog.
An exaggeration, I'm sure. But it made me wonder how many of you have heard of the turnspit dog?
Before the days of automated spits and fan ovens, a way was needed to keep the meat turning on the spit. From earliest times, this was the task of the young or the lowliest kitchen servant. But by Georgian times, they had come up with a contraption to save even that labour. With the invention of a wheel in a cage, connected to the spit, a dog could perform the task.
I had seen one of these wheels years ago at No. 1 The Royal Crescent, Bath, in their wonderful kitchen museum. (The museum is currently closed for extension into the adjacent house but is wonderful and well worth a visit once it's reopened; the kitchen is my favourite!) I was rather horrified to hear that a dog used to be made to run in it to turn the meat. While I was researching Georgian Bath for The Girl in the Mask, I came across a number of mentions of the dog, apparently a special breed. (Pictues via Wikipedia.)
Considered to be a lowly and common breed, it is now extinct. But it had a long body, short legs and had to run for up to three hours to roast a large joint. In large establishments or inns, there would be two dogs to take turns. Apparently this is the source of the phrase "Every dog has his day".
Apparently they were fiercely protective of their days off and resented being made to work out of turn. Woe betide the cook who tried to force the issue! Unless he or she wanted a bite, they needed to be wary. In general, I'm not sure the dog had much of a life. I wonder if this is also where the Phrase "A dog's life" comes from?
In the winter, the dogs doubled as a foot warmer in church. One story from Bath tells how the Bishop of Gloucester mentioned that "Ezekiel saw the wheel..." and at the word 'wheel' all the foot-warmer dogs rushed for the door. I'll leave you to ponder whether they were running to do their duty or fleeing from it.