Whilst aimlessly surfing the Web, as I am prone to do, I came across a curious reference to a pet hedgehog kept by an old native of Felton, Northumberland. As the Internet almost always does, I was then led off on a related tangent until I forgot what I was originally looking for. Anyway, back to the hedgehog. A number of sources have the same story to tell, which relates something like this…
In the year 1799, there was a hedge-hog in the possession of Mr Sample, of the Angel Inn at Felton, in Northumberland, which performed the duty of a turnspit, as well, in all respects, as the dog called the turnspit. It ran about the house with the same familiarity as any other domestic quadruped, and displayed an obedience, till then unknown in this species of animal.
Search as I might, that is all I could find about the peculiar little animal. But whatever is a ‘turnspit dog’, I wondered? Is it what it seems to be from its title? Well, as it happens, yes, it is.
Turnspit dogs were in reasonably wide use until the middle of the nineteenth century as a labour-saving device in large households for the turning of meat on a spit. The dog would be placed in a small wheel connected to the spit and as he ran the spit would turn. Dogs were often kept in pairs to spread the workload – the saying ‘every dog has his day’ possibly coming from this practice. The breed appears to have died out as kitchens became more mechanised.
These curious beasts had, obviously, very short legs and long-ish bodies – and apparently doubled as foot-warmers in church on Sundays! But I read this last bit on Wikipedia, so don’t take it as gospel.
A turnspit dog in action. Quite what our industrious pooch thought of his feline friend’s way of life we can only imagine.