1893 text

The date of the origin of smoke jacks does not appear to be known, but the first patent taken out for an improved smoke-jack by Peter Clare is dated December 24th, 1770. The smoke jack consists of a wind-wheel fixed in the chimney, which communicates motion by means of an endless band to a pulley, whence the motion is transmitted to the spit by gearing. In the valuable introduction to the volume of “Abridgments of Specifications relating to Cooking, 1634-1866” (Patent Office), mention is made of an Italian work by Bartolomeo Scappi, published first at Rome in 1572, and afterwards reprinted at Venice in 1622, which gives a complete account of the kitchens of the time and the utensils used in them. In the plates several roasting-jacks are represented, one worked by smoke or hot air and one by a spring.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

8 Annotations

First Reading

Terry Bishop  •  Link

Leonardo da Vinci is also supposed to have sketched such a device around 1500.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

not to be confused with poor jack which be hake a poor [lacking in flesh] fish.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

JACK [from Scullion Boys, commonly called Jack, used to be Turnspits] an Engine, to roast Meat
---An universal etymological English dictionary. N. Bailey, 1675.

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

OED has:

‘Jack, n.1 < A pet-name or by-name, used as a familiar equivalent of John; in Middle English Jakke,
. . II. Applied to things which in some way take the place of a lad or man, or save human labour; also more vaguely to other things with which one has to do.
. . 7. A machine for turning the spit in roasting meat; either wound up like a clock or actuated by the draught of heated air up the chimney (smoke-jack).
. . 1660 S. Pepys Diary 23 Oct. (1970) I. 273 After supper we looked over..his Wooden Jack in his Chimny that go with the Smoak; which indeed is very pretty . . ‘

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

And the jack was commonly powered by a Turnspit Dog:

"For much of the 17th Century, the scurrying, yapping forms of turnspit dogs could be found in almost every large house in England, churning out meat to feed hoards of knights or other important visitors. It was a wretched life – the unfortunate pooches were considered coarse, vulgar, and hideously ugly, and habitual cruelty towards them was common.

"In the colourful and occasionally mocking book Anecdotes of Dogs from 1846 (which, among other things, suggests that "The souls of deceased bailiffs and common constables are in the bodies of setting dogs and pointers"), the English writer Edward Jesse wrote that, in his youth, "as they are said to be at present, [cooks] were very cross, and if the poor animal, wearied with having a larger joint than usual to turn, stopped for a moment, the voice of the cook might be heard berating him in no very gentle terms."

"To drive home the sheer horror of the role – which involved toiling away in the almost-unbearable heat of a fire, in a kitchen choked with smoke, for hours at a time – Jesse also relates an anecdote about a group of turnspit dogs in the city of Bath which liked to congregate in the church during services to relax. One day, when the word "spit" happened to come up in a sermon, they all dashed out of the room, thinking they were about to be asked to go to work.

"But at the turn of the 19th Century, the invention of mechanical spit-turners changed everything. Rejected as pets and no longer useful as kitchen staff, the dogs abruptly vanished – going almost completely extinct as early as 1807, with their final demise some decades later."

More about extinct dog breeds, plus a photo of a preserved Turnspit Dog, at

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.