Extract from “Somerset: The Complete Guide, 1994” by Robin Bush
RODE – This sizeable village north-east from Frome, was formerly known for its cloth manufacture and still has an industrial feel to its streets, although mellowed by time. Its name, usually spelt “Road” until officially changed to its modern form in 1919, means a clearing, probably within the great forest of Selwood when it was originally settled. Held by 7 Saxon thegns before the Norman Conquest, thereafter it became a single estate which, like so many other properties in the area, passed to the St Maur (Seymour) family at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1283 Lawrence de St Maur was granted a Thursday market and a three-day fair here, the latter, often known as Rode Revel, continuing until the 19th century. Indeed, there was formerly a local couplet which ran:
“Rode Revel, Beckington Rout, The Devil’s in Frome and cannot get out.”
The manor descended like Castle Cary from the St. Maurs to the Zouches, but later was divided between co-heiresses. The property known as Northfield House and later as Rode Manor at the western approach to the village was built by a Bristol merchant, Edward Andrews, who bought the estate in 1737. Subsequently held by the Pooll and Batten-Pooll families, the house was sold in 1954 and largely demolished. The grounds, however, were opened as Tropical Bird Gardens by Donald and Betty Risdon in 1962, and provide 17 acres of ornamental trees and shrubs, a chain of lakes, and over 1,200 exotic birds of 240 different species. There is a cafeteria, pets’ corner and, since 1988, a narrow gauge woodland steam railway. Nearby, at the bridge, are attractive early Georgian stables and an elaborate summer house. Rode also formerly boasted two chalybeate springs, complete with a pump room, and in 1746 Benjamin Edwards was advertising Rode mineral water in Bath.
There were several mills here in 1086, powered by the River Frome, and one called “Scuttysmyll”, evidently at Scutt’s Bridge, was held by a Beckington clothier in 1535. The manufacture of cloth reached its height in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A fire in the workhouses of Thomas Whittaker, clothier and dyer, threw hundreds out of work in 1764. Wheelers of Rode were even supplying fulling stocks to Yorkshire mills in 1793 and Rocabella Mill (closed c1904) at Scutt’s Bridge is credited with devising the colour Royal blue for George III.
The church of St Laurence stands at the south-eastern end of the village and is mainly Perpendicular with a 14th century south doorway, although all heavily restored in 1874. Wills record a chapel of St Etheldreda in 1405 and an image of the patron saint in 1485. A copy of an intriguing painting is exhibited showing the old ceremony of “clipping” the church, when on every Shrove Tuesday the parishioners linked hands and danced around the building, ending with a great shout to drive away the Devil for the ensuing year. Is there a link with the name of a long barrow to the east of the church, known locally as the Devil’s Bed and Bolster? At Rode Hill on the north side of the village (formerly part of North Bradley in Wilts) the incredibly turreted Christ Church was built in 1824 to the design of H. E. Goodridge, Archdeacon Daubeney of Salisbury providing a third of the cost and most of the enthusiasm. Rode has a strong nonconformist tradition and was regularly visited by John Wesley.
Rode Hill House, later known as Langham House, was the scene of a notorious and apparently motiveless murder in 1860, when 16-year-old Constance Kent slit the throat of her 3-year-old half-brother and stuffed his body down the outside privy. The murder went unsolved until Constance confessed in 1865, her death sentence was commuted to life and she later emigrated to Australia under an assumed name, becoming matron of a nurses’ hostel and dying at the age of 100 in 1944.