Osborne & Minerva

Osborne House was built in the mid-1700s. In 1850 it was home to a surgeon from Londonderry, Henry Hamilton (1804-1855) and his wife Helen, who was from Quebec. Dr Hamilton was involved in the Brixton Murder, where a poisoning occurred on a farm up in Cross Inn. On Sunday 1 September 1850 Rebecca Uphill, a servant at Brixton Farm, 'was convulsed by violent purging and vomiting' and died in agony on the following Tuesday. She was buried in Llandawke Church but was exhumed after a pig which had also died after eating the same soup, was also exhumed.

Consequently, another death in the household was re-examined - that of the mistress of the farm, Mary Ann Severne - nine weeks previously in July. So they dug her up in Laugharne churchyard, Dr Hamilton did the autopsy and her viscera were delivered, in a jar within a pig's bladder, to the analyst Mr Herapath in Bristol, who confirmed that she too had been poisoned with arsenic.

Mary Ann Severne's grave

A servant, Betsy Gibbs, was tried but was found not guilty due to lack of evidence. Laugharne however did not believe she was innocent. It was said that she was attacked by a cow in the street that tried to gore her, which was seen as God's indication that she was guilty. An angry mob gathered outside her home and a trial was held. An effigy of Betsy was paraded through the streets, hanged from some gallows and then burnt as a witch. The next evening a mock funeral procession paraded along Duncan Street, where Betsy lived, which they renamed 'Scape-the-Gallows-Street'.

Shopkeepers refused to deal with her family. Eventually Betsy left Laugharne to live with her sister in Merthyr.

By 1871 it was the schoolhouse for Minerva Grammar School next door, where the headmaster, Thomas J Morgan, lived. Mr R.H.Tyler, another headmaster who retired in the 1930s, owned the first wireless in Laugharne. It was a huge machine which occupied the whole of an alcove in the dining room (see below), and was connected to an aerial which ran up a 70ft tree outside.

So many turned up to listen to broadcasts that Tyler designed extension speakers for the other downstairs rooms.

The house had access via a door in the attic to the school next door, which was named after the Roman goddess of wisdom. Minerva (the blue house) was opened in the mid-1800s by a Thomas J. Morgan, formerly of Bristol. The 1871 census shows that Thomas (aged 41), his wife Sarah (42) and an Assistant Master, 19-year-old James Parris of Bridport, looked after 11 boarding pupils aged 8-17, one of whom was 13 year old John Thomas, from San Francisco. They were assisted by a cook, Ann James (25), and a housemaid, Ann Adams (18), both of the township. The school room in the garden of Minerva has since been demolished.

An interesting feature of Osborne House is a circular space in the kitchen wall. This once housed a wheel (not unlike a hamster's wheel) which was operated by a Turnspit dog, a small terrier-like creature. The wheel was attached to a spit (pic below) which would roast a good-sized piece of beef in 3-4 hours. This bizarre cooking practice had largely died out by the 1850s.

Turnspit dogs or 'The Vernepator Curs' were also taken into church to serve as foot warmers. Is this where the word 'underdog' comes from?! Dictionaries suggest 'Underdog' means the losing dog in a fight, but surely a dog under your foot is more literal.

This unfortunate breed - now extinct - were described as, '...long-bodied, crooked-legged and ugly dogs with a suspicious, unhappy look about them.'

We're not surprised!

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