(Extract from “Discover Rode’s Past” by Peter Harris, 2015):
By 1809 the Methodists in Rode had raised sufficient funds to build their own chapel. In June of that year a group of trustees under the leadership of the Jeremiah Brettel, a preacher of the Gospel from Bath, bought two pieces of land: the first for £220 from John Sloper of Market Lavington described as three messuages in Rode, and the other from Thomas Whitaker Ledyard Esq. of Road Hill House for £5, described as 51 x 50 ft. of land next to the road in the South East corner of Home Mead or Home Ground, Rode, to be used for the purpose of erecting a chapel.
Both Baptists and Methodists prospered and were strongly involved in the Temperance and other social movements locally. However the decline in the woollen industry in the later years of the 19th C. meant that villagers had to move elsewhere for employment. Numbers attending both Baptist and Methodist services dwindled and by 1950 the two could barely muster 30 members between them; a hundred years earlier the Baptist Chapel alone had been 145 strong. Both fellowships in the village struggled on until 1985 when their leading authorities negotiated an amalgamation. It was agreed that the Methodist Chapel would be sold, and the Baptist building would be used for meetings of the joint fellowship.
(Extract from “History of Some of the Old Buildings in Rode” by Dawna Pine, second edition by Peter Harris, 2019):
16a High Street (The Old Chapel) was built as a Methodist Chapel in 1809 where the old track from St. Lawrence meets the High Street. John Wesley visited Rode on at least four occasions; 23rd September 1746, 23rd March 1749, 12th September, 1780 and 13th September 1781. On the first occasion he spoke under a walnut tree at Townsend. After the tree was cut down a piece of the wood was made into a tablet bearing the inscription:
This block presented by Captain W. S. Batten Pooll JP DL was cut from the bole of a walnut tree which stood at Townsend and under which the Rev. John Wesley, MA preached. It was placed in this Chapel in Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of his first visit to Rode September 1946.
The tablet, which was fixed to the wall over the pulpit, is now in the village Methodist Day School. Conveyances of 1809 indicate that the chapel site was acquired by Jeremiah Brettel of Bath, a preacher and trustee, from Thomas Whitaker Ledyard, of Langham House and John Sloper of Market Lavington. When the Rode Baptists and Methodists amalgamated in 1985, the chapel was sold and became a furniture showroom. It is now a private dwelling.
A Short History of Baptist and Methodist Witness in Rode
(Extract from “A History of the Established Church in Rode” by Brian Foyston, 2007):
1. The prosperity of the woollen industry in Road in the 18th C and its concentration within the local mills appears to have been the keystone around which the foundations of local Non-conformist witness was built. Throughout the land there was a growing degree of disenchantment with the Established Church, which extended even to some of the genteel classes. Significant numbers of the Clergy appeared to pay little attention to the problems of their parishioners, preferring to live contentedly on the income they derived from their glebe lands and the tithes they drew from those who worked the fields and woods. Meantime their duties were carried out by a succession of poorly paid young curates, often the younger sons of the gentry (who saw the Priesthood as the natural and respected refuge for younger sons who could not inherit). The living conditions of these young men were often poor and sometimes wretched, indeed on occasion little if any better than those of the working class families they were supposed to serve.
2. The change from home spinning and weaving to the factory environment of the mills also meant the gathering together in close proximity of many previously independent (albeit impoverished) working men and women. These no longer felt their modest destiny to be in their own hands, but did find an unspoken wish amongst their toiling fellows to strive for a better life and with more simply and fundamentally expressed religious aspirations.
3. These sentiments were often not welcome to the well-to-do, who felt alarm at them as harbingers of political unrest, anxious lest they should bring instability similar to that brewing on the mainland of Europe. Wide-spread riots in the 1760s due to the introduction of machinery to the mills, and because wages had not been adjusted to compensate for rises in the basic cost of living due to frequent bad harvests, did nothing to ease the concerns of the upper classes. Those of the gentry who had a more liberal attitude were quite rare.
4. It is against this background that a wide range of “Non-conformist” groups sprang up. After some spluttering starts and stops, however, only two came to maturity in Road, and, whilst this is not a religious tract, a short outline of the two beliefs is worth setting out.
5. There was an earlier and important and basic development which brought the Baptist belief into being, one which had developed as a result of the Reformation. On the continent scholars such as Martin Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, as a result of intense biblical study, challenged the existing doctrine of the Roman Church. Consequently widespread groupings of believers began to emerge, who had been able to study scripture and who accepted the thinking of these great scholars and their like. In England similar groupings were to emerge later, and these developed into a separatist movement. The members of this movement, despite intense persecution, considered that changes must be made to the then accepted doctrine. These changes included the acceptance of the importance and authority of scripture, which was then becoming available in English ( at first against the wishes of the Establishment), – that baptism into the Church should be for adult candidates only (and by total immersion as was the New Testament practice) and that the authority of each fellowship of believers should be that of Holy Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and not that of any central, over-riding body. From these groupings the first two leaders of the Baptist worship and belief emerged – John Smyth, a Church of England vicar, who was chastised for his beliefs, and Thomas Helwys, a prominent layman who had extensive legal training. Because of persecution many separatists, including Smyth and Helwys, fled to Holland, where the first English-speaking Baptist fellowship was established about 1612 AD. Helwys then returned to England and presented a copy of the text of his understanding of religious freedom The Mystery of Iniquity to King James I. He was clapped into prison and died there in 1616. Despite this and continuing persecution Baptist Churches started to form all over England; inevitably differences of belief developed amongst them, mainly that of pre-destination, some became known as “General Baptists” and others “Particular Baptists”.
6. By the mid-1700s the Baptists (and Methodists also for that matter) were meeting in Road, usually in members’ homes, for Bible reading, prayer and the singing of hymns, and it is believed the original Baptist meeting place was what is now No. 43, High Street, opposite the Chapel. But, as numbers grew, so the need for larger and more permanent places of worship became more pressing. Some of the oldest Baptist Churches in the West of England were Broadmead (Bristol) 1640, Kilmington (Devon) and nearby Southwick 1655. In 1786 Road Baptists, led by the brothers Joseph and Richard Clift, who had arrived from Westbury Leigh to find work at Shawford Mill,. built the Baptist Chapel where it still stands in the High Street (It is believed that Mr. Len Clift of Westbury is a direct descendant and as a Lay Preacher he leads worship in the Chapel even now on occasion). The land for this building was probably given by a well-wisher. In 1790 John Mathews became the local Pastor until 1816. A Sunday Schoolroom followed (Schools are dealt with separately). Open air Baptisms continued and W. W. Wheatley painted a well-known picture of one taking place at Road Bridge c.1853 and an engraving of it hangs in the Baptist Chapel to this day. It has been said (1) that the last open air full immersion Baptism was on 3rd September, 1901.
7. We have an excellent contemporary account of the arrival of a new Pastor:
“A service of recognition in connection with the settlement of the Rev. T. Smith took place at the Baptist Chapel Road on Thursday 12th, December 1867. The Chapel was very tastefully decorated, with evergreens for the occasion and a banner was placed over the Pulpit with the inscription on it ‘Peace be within these walls and prosperity within Thy Palace’. About 120 sat down to an excellent tea after which the recognition service took place. Mr. Davis of Bath occupied the Chair and made a few remarks upon the nature and constitution of the gospel church after which Mr. Morgan junior gave a brief history of the rise and progress of the church in the year 1783 together with the circumstances which led them to invite Mr. Smith to take on the Pastorship of the Church. Mr. Smith was then called upon to address the meeting and having alluded to the solemn and responsible yet pleasant position he was about to occupy as Pastor of an old church where so many good men had laboured and laboured with success in gathering wanderers into the fold of Christ he proceeded to give them an epitome of his conversion and call to the Ministry and the circumstances which led him to accept the hearty and unanimous call of the Church to labour in their midst. The Rev. G. W. Rodway of North Bradley gave the charge to the Minister which was solemn, judicious and eminently calculated (if acted upon) to promote peace and prosperity in the Church. Mr. Parsons of Woolverton next addressed the church and congregation in a bold masterly and energetic manner and his faithful cautious councils will not soon be forgotten. After singing and prayer the meeting was brought to a close. A new harmonium has recently been placed in the Chapel and was used for the first time on this occasion.”
8. Regrettably, by the 1880s however, the woollen trade had seriously declined and congregations began to decline also.
9. The name “Methodist” was first given to a group of Oxford students in the early 1700s, because of the regularity of their lives and studies and they were followers of the Wesley brothers. John Wesley, brother of Charles, was born in 1703 and became a Fellow of Lincoln College in 1726. He became a convert to Christianity in 1738, and was ordained in the Church of England, but in 1739 he began his life of open-air preaching, which was to have such immense impact on religious life in England. He travelled the length and breadth of the land on horseback expounding his views on simplicity in life allied to a strong belief in proper conduct as a basis for salvation to any one who would listen. As they said of him Many came to scoff but remained to pray. He preached in Road on four occasions; on 23rd September 1746, 23rd March 1749, 12th September, 1780 and 13th September 1781. On one of the later visits he is supposed to have spoken in the grounds of the earlier Barrow House and on another from the steps of the old market cross (in front of where Ivy House now stands), but it was on the first that he spoke under the walnut tree at Townsend (2). When the tree was cut down some of the wood was preserved, and in 1946 Captain W. S. Batten Pooll presented a piece of the wood to the Methodist Church in the form of a tablet bearing the following inscription:
“This block presented by Captain W. S. Batten Pooll, JP, DL. was cut from the bole of a walnut tree which stood at Townsend and under which the Rev. John Wesley, MA preached. It was placed in this Chapel in Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of his first visit to Rode September 1946.”
The tablet, which was fixed to the wall over the pulpit, is now in the village Methodist Day School.
10. In 1809 the Methodists had as happened in other villages, built their own Chapel on a very small piece of land given to them by a local landowner and this in turn was followed by their own school in 1859.
MORE RECENT DAYS
11. Both Baptists and Methodists prospered and were strongly involved in the Temperance and other social movements locally (again recorded separately). However the decline in the profitability of the woollen industry, already mentioned above, in the later years of the nineteenth century meant that workers had to move elsewhere for employment. Numbers attending both Baptist and Methodist Chapel services dwindled and by 1950 the two could barely muster 30 members between. them; a hundred years earlier the Baptist chapel alone had been 145 strong.
12. In the 1970s the struggling Baptist Churches of Westbury, Bratton, Rudge and Rode formed a local fellowship with oversight from the Rev. William Cook. But as the Westbury and Bratton churches grew the fellowship broke up and the Rudge Church was closed. In 1985 the Rev. Cook and the Methodist Circuit Superintendent of the time negotiated with their respective authorities the amalgamation of the two fellowships. The selling of the Rode Methodist Church was, arranged whilst the Baptist Trustees retained the Baptist building where the joint fellowship now met and does so still. By 1989 the Rev. Peter Slee of the Southwick Baptist Church had joint oversight of the Chapel with Rev. Marsh of Frome Methodist Church; at this time considerable damage was done to the Chapel due to a gale (which amongst other things destroyed most of the records of the fellowship), and as a result the Services had to be held in the Methodist Day School. In order to raise money to repair and update the premises the Rev. Slee persuaded the authorities to sell the Baptist schoolroom and the Charity commission was persuaded to release some of the money raised by the sale of the Rudge Church.
13. The refurbished building was completed in 1992, when in July the building was re-opened and this was accompanied by the induction of Roy Lidbetter as Pastor to the fellowship. The attendance has increased since then and non-conformist witness in this village not only survives but prospers, with a welcome and progressing relationship of worship with the local Established Church.
B. C. Foyston
(1) “A West Country Pot-pourri”; A. H. Batten Pooll. VC, MC, 1969
(2) Batten Pooll; op cit.
SRO records of the Methodist Chapel: Documents held in Somerset Records Office:
Ref No: D\N\frc/1/1/3
Title: Rode Methodist Chapel.
1. John Sloper of Market Lavington, Wiltshire, gent.
2. Jeremiah Brettel of Bath, preacher of the Gospel, and others, trustees.
Lease and release of 3 messuages in Rode, with transcript of release.
Consideration: £220, 6-7 June, 1809. Includes Abstract of title of John Sloper, reciting from 1703.
Ref No: D\N\frc/1/1/4
Title: Rode Methodist Chapel.
1. Thomas Whitaker Ledyard of Rode, Esq.
2. George Sheppard of Frome Selwood, Esq.
3. Jeremiah Brettel of Bath, preacher of the Gospel, and others, trustees.
Copy conveyance of 51 x 50 ft of land next to the road in the South East corner of Home Mead or Home Ground, Rode, to be used for the purpose of erecting a chapel.
Consideration: £5, 12 June 1809.
Ref No: D\N\frc/2/2/1
Title: Rode Methodist Chapel.
Description: Notice to quit given by the Trustees of the Wesleyan Society at Rode to James Tucker, relating to a piece of ground adjoining the chapel.
Ref No: D\N\frc/4/4/3
Title: Rode Methodist Chapel.
Description: Papers relating to the running of Rode Chapel, including correspondence, etc., concerning bequests and legacies, 1879, 1893, 1927; accounts for legal work, 1880-81; resignations of trustees, 1894; insurance certificate, 1920; appointment of trustees, 1950, 1974; correspondence, receipts, invoices, and a schedule of documents relating to the chapel.