Home History of Rode General Village A History of Rode in Ancient Times

A History of Rode in Ancient Times

by B Foyston, 2008


The Rode History Society has given no guidance as to the meaning of ‘Ancient Times’, and I have therefore used my own interpretation of the phrase, leaving it to readers to decide what is or is not of interest to them.

There is little, if anything, that is new in this document. Rather it is an attempt to produce some form of coherent chronological summary of differing accounts of events which have already been published.

I have acknowledged my sources in the list of references. My apologies here for any I have missed. Reconciliation between various accounts of events is particularly difficult up to (say) 1839 (the time of the Tithe Redemption Acts); with rare exceptions the records of the previous very early days were often written many years after the event, some are sketchy and even, in some cases, just plain wrong! Even the meaning of individual words and titles are open to interpretation. As good examples the word ‘moiety’ can mean either a half-share or a small share; it is difficult to decide whether references are to Lordship (or Title) to lands or to the lands themselves.

The reader is also asked to remember that before the Tithe Redemption Acts, other than property deeds, it was only the activities of the ‘great and the good’ that were written down. Records of ordinary folk really only date from the Census of 1841, though Church records some times assist with happenings before that.

To help understand some of the terms in the text I have attached a short extract from the ‘New Imperial Dictionary’ published by George Newnes Ltd., just after World War II, and a brief calendar of events taken from the same publication and augmented by entries of local events.

In places where I think it may be helpful I have placed a suffixed *, **, or *** etc., against successive generations of people with the same given name to differentiate between them.

I have perhaps drawn on ‘A Somerset Pot Pourri’ by the late Arthur Batten Pooll more than any other reference. It is a treasure of facts and local folklore. I am bound to say, however, that its layout is somewhat capricious and it needs considerable effort to extract coherent sequences!

Finally I will be most interested to hear from anyone who feels I have made any errors, so I can update this record. Such mistakes as there are, and there are sure to be plenty, either of fact or of interpretation, are mine alone. (Brian Foyston)


Advovvson                    The right of presentation of a Priest to a Church Benefice.

Appurtenance              A right belonging to a property.

Arable                           Land fit for ploughing or tillage.

Backside                       The back or hinder part of anything; used to describe rooms built on to the back of a property.

Barrow                           An ancient grave mound or tumulus.

Barton                          A farmyard or enclosure.

Benefice                        A Church living, especially one with the ‘cure of souls’ (see Curate).

Carucate                       As much land as a team of oxen could plough in a season.

Curate                           One who has the ‘cure of souls’; a junior clergyman in the Church of England assisting a Rector or Vicar.

Demesne                      A manor house with lands adjacent to it not let out to tenants; any estate in lands.

Escheat                         Property whose ownership falls to a feudal lord.

Gossip                           A sponsor of a child at Baptism.

Hereditament              Any property that may fall to an heir.

Hide                              A variable unit of area enough for a household; about 120 acres.

Hundred                       A grouping of land for administrative purposes; equivalent to 100 hides.

Impropriator                A layman in whose hands ecclesiastical property is placed.

Manor                           The land belonging to a nobleman or so much as he kept for his own use; the district over which the court of the Lord of the Manor had authority.

Meadow                       A level tract producing grass to be mown down; a rich pasture ground especially near a stream.

Messuage                     A dwelling and offices with the adjoining lands appropriated to the house; a mansion house with grounds.

Moiety                          A half; one of two parts or divisions; a small share.

Ora                                An ancient gold coin.

Pasture                         Grazing; growing grass for grazing.

Quit Rent                      A rent in lieu of service.

Rector                           A clergyman of the Church of England where the tithes are not impropriated.

Toft                               A small homestead; a hillock.

TRE                                Tempore Regis Edwardius: in the days of Edward the Confessor.

Vicar                              A parson of a Church of England parish who receives either the smaller tithes only or a salary.

Virgate                          An old land measurement, commonly 30 acres.

Waste                           Uncultivated land; at most sparsely populated.



1.         Britain became ice-free in about 10,000 BC.  From that time on our forests grew and the game in them tempted hunters from what is now mainland Europe (because we did not become an island by reason of the breaking of the land bridge until about 6,000 BC).  These ‘Old Stone Age’ people lived in caves (found from the Mendips to Derbyshire), or in skin tents when on their hunting forays; their quarry included deer, wild oxen and wild horses.  These people could make fire, made and wore jewellery and had burial ceremonies for their dead.

2.         Some 2,500 years later the Neolithic (‘New Stone Age’) invaders arrived, about 3,500 BC.  They came from the Mediterranean areas of the continent, possibly by way of Ireland.  They were not basically hunters, but primitive farmers, bringing with them seed and cattle for subsistence agriculture.  Their elementary tools were not well suited to working heavy, wet soils and so their settlements tended to be in drier upland areas; they based themselves on the Mendip Hills of the west and the chalk Downs of the east.  They cleared parts of the ancient forest by fire and with their axes, and they used tracks for trade between settlements of east and west.

3.         These two areas were best linked through what we now call the Frome gap, which gave the easiest crossings of the river Frome, and through the Selwood forest, using fords such as the Brad (broad) ford.  One of their tracks followed the fault line from a ford at Pikewell to Oldford and thence across country to Rode (which name means a cross, or crossing or clearing) (the alterative spelling of early days was Rhod, preserving the original British name of Rhyd), and Rode may have been one of the earliest crossing points.  The Devil’s Bed and Bolster (Ref. 1) may mark part of this track line, which then runs on to the chalk hills above Westbury.

4.         These ancient dwellers needed water and pasture for their animals, even in their early nomadic days, and later, having learnt to grow grain, they settled where there was good soil and they could live a secure life.  They mined flint to use for making tools and built ditched camps and enclosed their fields for purposes of shelter, early warning of approaching foes and for defence.  These were the people who cleared Salisbury Plain and, further north and east, the Yorkshire Wolds and the South Downs South of the modern Rode Common a pair of such ring ditches was recorded in 1976 (Ref. 2).

5.         By 2,200 BC the Bronze Age had begun. Gold and alloys of tin and copper were worked, first on the continent and later in Britain; great monuments such as Stonehenge were built, with the help of more ancient folk.  It is suggested (Ref. 3) that a round barrow of this era was sited in the vicinity of the modern Barrow Farm, though no trace of it now remains.  Around 600 BC came the first Celtic invasion, by the Gordel tribes from the Channel area (but originating long before in the Danube basin) and the previous inhabitants were progressively driven westwards.  This marked the start of the Iron Age, when men used weapons such as slingshots and built forts like Cley Hill for tribal defence; these latter were later strengthened for use against the Romans.  The Gordels were followed by a second invasion c. 400 BC by the Brythons (Britons?) and c. 180 BC there was a third invasion, this time by the Belgae.


6.         As every schoolchild used to be taught, the Romans first landed in Britain in 55 BC under the command of Julius Caesar (who came again in the following year), but it was not until 43 AD that Aulius Claudius conquered south east England for the Emperor Claudius.  Hostilities continued for some time after that – Caractacus was captured in 51 AD and Boadicea’s rebellion, defeat and death was as late as 60 AD.  A coin of about that date was found near the Parish Church of St. Lawrence in the 1930s and is now in Taunton museum (Ref. 4).  The westward pressure on the native tribes went on as the Romans continued the consolidation of their conquests.  Thereafter, for the first time, most of this island became subject, more or less, to a single authority, with a single set of laws and a single administration, which was to survive broadly intact until the last of the Legions left in 410 AD.  Locally there is evidence of a Romano-British settlement at Shawford (Ref. 5).  Before the departure of the Legions, however, in 286 AD the Roman Carausius, Commander of the British fleets, became the independent Emperor of Britain, succeeded in 293 AD by Allectícus and in 296 AD by Constantius, who died in 306 AD.  His son was to become Constantine (the Great), Emperor of all the Romans.  Something of a reverse take-over!


7.         One can easily imagine the sense of unease in this land when the Romans left.  There had been considerable inter-marriage at all levels of society between the native Britons and the Romans and the British noble families were perhaps ‘more Roman than the Romans’.  It must therefore have been very much an ‘end of the Empire’, and the overall coherence of our society, such as it then was, weakened progressively.  The Saxons, who invaded us in the late 5th and early 6th  Centuries AD, must have battled against somewhat divided and un-coordinated opponents.  By 577 AD the Saxon inroads had split the Britons of the south-west from those in Wales, but, being principally farmers who wished to settle, they found their westward drive halted by the ancient Selwood forest, some parts of it dense, others scrub with the occasional clearing, and only sheer economic need drove them on.

8.         Detailed records of their progress are fragmentary, and somewhat depend on how big Selwood forest really was in those days.  Leland, writing in 1540 AD (some 900 years after the events!)(Ref. 6) says it stretched almost to the modern Warminster in one direction and to Shaftesbury in another.  A ‘perambulation’ in 1297 AD by Commissioners appointed by King Edward I (1272 to 1307 AD) reported that several areas of it had been afforested after the coronation of King Henry II in 1155 AD, and ought to be de-forested. implying that these areas had been de-forested earlier by the previous Saxon immigrants.  The perambulating Commissioners suggested that the forest at the time of their travels in 1297/1298 AD stretched from South Brewham ” as far as the water of Frome and thence by the water keeping it on the right to the bridge at Waledick” in the Parish of Marston.  It then went via “Radney” (Roddenbury) on the Wiltshire/Somerset border ” and thence by a certain streamlet [Redford Brook?] up to the wood ofWeremensyre”(Warminster).

9.         Thence the boundaries ran through Gare Hill, Kilmington, Kingsettle Hill, Penselwood and Stavordale and back to South Brewham.  This does not take into account the belief that the forest had extended in earlier days to the north at least as far as Malmesbury, but since the Commissioners were charged only with affairs in Somerset, they only recorded their parts of the whole.

10.       The late Peter Belham, in his admirable writing (Ref. 7) gives most of the above, and much more, particularly how the countryside was organised in Saxon days.  Ine ruled as King of the Saxons from 688 AD until he abdicated in 728 AD.  He became a close friend of St. Adhelm, then Abbott of Malmesbury and later of Sherborne, and is credited with being the founder of All England.  Ine made a number of laws regarding settlement and land tenure, a great deal of which were adopted or adapted in later reigns.  Saxon society was a structured one, with the King at its head, supported by Noblemen (“eorls”), but known generally in Wessex as “Gesithmen”, who were ennobled after service to the King in battle.  Below the eorls in rank came the Freemen (“ceorles”), though there were not many of these in Somerset, where they were outnumbered and overshadowed by the military men.  Finally there were the peasants (“laets”).

11.       Gesithmen were provided with land by the King but had to find their own labour to work it from among the Laets, who also formed a small army for service in time of crisis.  The Gesithmen also provided hospitality for the King and his retinue when the Monarch was on his travels.  Though lesser orders were tied to the soil a Gesithman could move on if he wished, but subject to considerable constraints.  He could take with him only his family, his “Reeve” (Bailiff or Steward), his Smith and his children’s nurse.  All other labour went with the land and this had to be left in good heart on his departure.

12.       The small armies of the Gesiths must indeed been necessary, for from Ine’s time until 959 AD when Edgar became the first King of All England, it was a time of war upon war, with Saxon against Northmen, Saxon against Dane, and the great days of struggle of King Alfred (871 to 901 AD).  Norse invasions continued and it was not until 1042 AD that the Saxons regained national power under Edward the Confessor (1042 to 1066 AD).  Then, after the brief rule of Harold II, came the Norman Conquest. The rest, as they say, is history!

13.       Rural organisation and life changed little during this long period after the Roman departure and life for the peasant was an unremitting struggle to survive in a subsistence level economy, with the threat of hunger never very far away and with grinding hard work, especially in winter.  As to organisation, Saxon Somerset was divided into “Hundreds”, each being capable of sustaining 100 families, and a term in active use until the end of the 19th Century.  One “Hide” could support one family, so a Hundred equated to 100 hides.  The hide (also known as a “Carucate” or “Ploughland”) was about 120 acres, the amount one plough team of oxen could plough in a season or year; a “Virgate” was about a sixth of a carucate, i.e. about 30 acres.  Not the most accurate of measures by modern standards, one would think, but they served their purpose.  As we will see later, in 1084 AD William I caused assessments to be made of his domains so as to set his land tax (“Geld Tax), and at that date the Hundred of Frome was assessed as 298 Hides, the largest in Somerset, and the modern equivalent of 35,760 acres.  The more extensive all-England survey, Domesday (of which more soon), differed not a lot and there the Manor of Rode was assessed as 1,171 acres.  By then the villages around Frome were developing into two rings, the inner one of Beckington, Standerwick, Berkely, Marston, Egford, Orchardleigh, Lullington and a few others, and the outer ring of Rode, Witham Friary, Wanstrow, Colford, Nunney, Whatley, Elm, Cranmore and Laverton (Ref. 8).


14.       “Social order was established through the Manor system, of uncertain origin, but effective through most of the country by the time of Domesday” (Ref. 9).  The “Manor” was basically a unit of territory, usually co-terminal with the [Church] Parish, but some Parishes had more than one Manor in them, and some Manors had parts in two or sometimes more Parishes.  Manors varied enormously in area, from simple farmsteads up to vast holdings.  The title to the Manor was originally held by a feudal tenant, who was either a direct tenant of the Crown, or who himself was tenant of a “Mesne Lord”, who in turn held from the King.  Succession was often subject to dispute and through our early history Kings tried their hardest to regain control of land from their tenant holders, not merely for prestige, but more importantly to increase their revenues.  As the long years went by the “Lords of the Manor”, though they retained Title (and these titles have continued to be sought even to the present day), had less and less interest in the working of the lands concerned or their tenancy.

15.       As an economic unit the Manor fell into two distinct parts, firstly the “Demesne” (or “Lordship”) for the Lord’s own use, and secondly land either tenanted or for common use or “waste” (undeveloped and uncultivated).  By Norman times there were two kinds of tenants. “Villeins” (villagers?) and “Cottars” (Cottagers?) occupied land on condition of their rendering service to their Lord, for example helping to work the demesne as well as farming their own land, whilst “Freemen” (a mite lower down the social scale in Norman days) paid a monetary rent (usually fixed) to their Lord.  Often a man might occupy some land in one role and some in the other.  Over long passage of time “Service Tenure” (of the Villein) decreased and “Rent Tenure” (of the Freeman) increased.  Service tenure evolved to “Copyhold Tenure”, where the tenant’s title was formally written into the local records and he was given a copy.  Indeed Copyhold Tenure was not formally abolished until as late as 1922!  All the Land Conveyances of Copyhold tenure were transacted in the Manorial Court, with the Lord of the Manor (surprise! surprise!) extracting a fee.  He got an “entry fine” from a new tenant and a “heriot” or “best beast’ (though usually in monetary rather than cattle terms) from a deceased tenant.

16.       Manorial Courts were of two types.  All Lords of the Manor had the right to hold a “Court Baron”, usually meeting every three weeks.  This stated the custom of the Manor regarding the use of land and enforced payment of dues and all services to the Lord.  It was effectively the organ of local government of the time, with legislative and judicial functions.  It settled disputes, dealt with actions between tenants and even appointed some local officials, including the “Reeve” or “Bailiff”, who collected the Lord’s dues, and the “Hayward”, who looked after the fences set up to stop cattle breaking out of enclosures, and who herded the local cattle.  Though it was not usually discussed, the Manor Court Baron also regulated the area’s agriculture, such things as crop rotation (two or three field system of fallowing), opening and closing of fields to common pasture and such like.

17.       Some Manorial Lords also had power to hold “Court Leets”, although these were not always separate from the Manor’s Court Baron.  This Court Leet inspected the “Frankpledge” (a system of mutual responsibility for maintenance of Law and Order) (a forebear of our “Neighbourhood Watch”, perhaps?), and it also dealt with common offences such as nuisances and affrays.  In some Manors all tenants had to attend the Manor Courts of either kind (such tenants being known as the “Homage”), in others only a few each year.  Anyone failing to attend three in a row, or to provide a substitute (“Essoin”) had to pay a fine.  The Court was summoned either by the fixing of a notice to the Church door (as with modern Church Parish Accounts or Faculties for alterations) by the Steward or by his actually reading out the Notice in the Church.  Jurors were sworn in, the Steward set out the business and it was transacted.  Fines (“Amercements”) were left to “Affeerers” (Assessors) at the end of proceedings after the whole body of the tenants had acted as jurors.  Manorial jurors (“12 men for the King”) did not replace the tenant body until the end of the 13th Century.  Records (“Court Rolls”) were expanded and improved and these documents, where they survive, now play an important part in our modem attempts to reconstruct the events and the social climate of times long ago in our history.


18.       Before going on to examine local circumstances in our part of the realm in those days, and though not strictly in chronological sequence, it seems sensible to have a look at the Tithe system, which ran, in some cases, simultaneously with the taxes due to the local Thegn (Thane) or Lord, and which, since there was no local or national taxation as we now know it, was effectively the local Council Tax, but paid not to a Local Council, for these did not as yet exist, but to the local Minister of the Church.  As with Court Rolls, tracing tithes is a valuable aid in our times in determining who at a given date owned what land and other property, as we will see later.

19.       The Tithe system dates back in some areas as far back as the 9th Century AD.  Tithes, historically one-tenth of the value or the increase in income from the soil, was payable to the Priest, forming a major part of his income; the rest of this came from his working or letting out the Benefice’s own land, the so-called “Glebe” (and how often we still come across that term!).  There were several kinds of Tithe.  “Pre-dial” tithes were levied on “fruite of the earth”, such as corn, hay, wood, and fruit and some other crops; “Mixed” or “Agistment’ tithes were paid on animal products such as lambs, calves, colts, wool, milk, eggs and honey; “personal” tithes were based on the clear gains of a man’s labour and industry, though usually actually levied only on the profits of milling and fishing.  New products such as hops and tobacco gradually became subject to tithing, and there were constant and often acrimonious disputes over tithe application.  Jumping forward in time, by the early 1500s personal tithes were reducing, albeit that in some places they still represented from 5 to 20 of a rural priest’s income.  Despite unproductive areas of land being exempted, tithes were only grudgingly paid and were seen, particularly in rural areas, as a major disincentive to agricultural improvement.  A farmer who spent to improve his output had to bear the increased tithe of the full value of the improvement, whereas the tithe owner benefited from the raising of his 10% without lifting a finger!

20.       In the 1500s the dissolution of the Monasteries transferred some 30% of “great” tithes (the most profitable ones, on grain, hay and wood) to the Crown and others were sold to lay impropriators, to be either retained or sold on again.; the balance remained in the hands of local Churchmen.  In later years the rise of the Dissenters, and particularly the Quakers, highlighted the iniquities of the entire system.  Why, they asked, should they pay to support a Church to which they felt no loyalty?  Notwithstanding that tithes in kind had largely been replaced by monetary tithes by the 18th Century, the resentment of the system progressively grew and the rise in revolutionary fervour in the early 1800s led the government of the day to become seriously worried about rural unrest throughout the country, especially as the Tithe owners were known to be skilled and unscrupulous in avoiding their own property taxes.


21.       The story of “extinguishing” of Tithes must wait until later in this history, but we must now return to the late years before and just after the Conquest, and to the Domesday survey, the like of which was not to be seen again until the surveys of the Tithe Commutation Act of 13th August 1836; we can focus again on the Rode District.

22.       First to sound a cautionary note.  Whilst Court Rolls and Tithe records are invaluable aids in tracing the story of property and its owners, there are substantial risks in trying to match the contents of such documents too closely to what we see about us today – as an example the ancient “Manor of Rode” must not be taken as the same as our present village and Parish of Rode.  This caveat certainly applies to that bedrock of historians, Domesday, the all-embracing survey of England carried out by order of William I in 1086/87 AD.  We have also to bear in mind that, until 1st May 1937, our modern Rode was made up of two civil Parishes – Rode being in Somerset, and Rode Hill (formerly part of the older Parish of North Bradley), being in Wiltshire.  Moreover, though the major part of the information gathered in Domesday was recorded in the central (“Exchequer”) version of the record, useful additions can be found in the version held in Exeter.

The Manors of Rode and Woolverton

23.       “The name Woolverton derives from Wolfrington, the farm (ton) of Wolfrum, who may have settled there after the Saxon Conquest (Ref.10)”… and “In the time of Edward the Confessor and the Conqueror, Reginbold/ Rumbal/ Reinbald was Lord of the Manor of Rode.  He was priest of Rode and Frome, and was Chancellor to both the Confessor and the Conqueror.  He was succeeded by Renulf de Farcy”

The author goes on to write of ‘Rode cum Woolverton” thus: “Domesday Book shows that there were two Manors of Rode, one large, held by the Bishop of Coutances, who had five sub-tenants, who would each have had a small manor here.  While it would appear that the Bishop’s sub-tenants also held a small manor jointly from the King.  Woolverton is not separately mentioned, so it is clear that these manors of Rode included that of Woolverton, though it will be found that Rode is also described as part of the manor of Woolverton.”

24.       Elsewhere (Ref. 11) we find: “The Domesday Book cites Rode as having two manors (“Manor” being a term equivalent to our present day “Parish”), the larger being in the possession of Geoffrey of Coutances, who had five sub-tenants.  Woolverton was probably included in this Manor.  Bishop Geoffrey landed with William’s invasion force and (later) built Lullington Church, a fine example of Norman architecture”

25.       It is more than likely that this latter account was derived directly from that of Batten Pooll, and of course neither of these authors had the benefit of the translation into modern English of Domesday, published in the mid-to-late 1980s to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the original.

26.       So what does the modern reprint of the Domesday Book actually record about Rode and Woolverton, and how do we reconcile the various accounts.  Here a little background about the people involved is of interest.  Reginbold, who beside the Church in Frome also held that at Milborne (Port) (later Minehead), had gained his lands as a result of his service in William’s “writing office'” hence the claim that he was the first to have held the title of “Chancellor” to William), rather than on his strictly Church and religious credentials.  As to his being “Priest of Rode”, the Incumbents’ Board at St. Lawrence Church only dates back to 1226, so other sources must provide confirmation.

27.       The richest of William’s “Tenants in Chief’ (those who held land directly from the King) in Somerset (the boundaries of which remained largely intact until 1974) was the Conqueror’s half-brother Robert de Mortain.  Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, was not far behind in “capital value”, and actually exceeded Robert in terms of land area (371½ hides) and he held in his own right, rather than on behalf of his Diocese.  These two, Robert and Geoffrey, were amongst the nine great Norman Lords who between them held almost 20% of all the Conqueror’s lands in England, and Geoffrey indeed had lands in fourteen counties!

28.       There were, of course, many lesser but still important Lords, one of whom was William de Moyon, the King’s Sheriff (Chief Representative) in the County of Somerset, with his seat at Dunster Castle, and whose lands were mainly in the west of the County.  Although Domesday records that three knights held of him “The Manor of Langham”, it must be understood that this was not “our” Langham, but one much further west in the Hundred of Corhampton (Ref. 12).

29.       The relevance of these worthies becomes apparent if we now look at the detail of what the 1086 Somerset part of Domesday actually records:

a.            The Lands of the Bishop of Coutances:

Folio 88V:

(1)             Moses holds of the Bishop TELLISFORD [though strictly outside our scope this is put down here as Moses also held land in RODE].

(2)             The Bishop holds Rode as 3 manors; 7 thegns held it TRE and it paid geld for 9 hides.  There is land for 9 ploughs.  Of this land Robert holds of the Bishop 1 hide, Moses half a hide, Robert 1½ hides, Roger 2½ hides, Scirwealt 2½ hides, Richard 1 hide.  In demesne are 7 ploughs and 6 slaves and 3 villans and 20 bordars with 4½ ploughs; from the mills come 27s and [there are] 33 acres of meadow and 33 acres of woodland and 35 acres of pasture.  The whole was worth £7 10s; now among them it is worth £8 5s….

b.           What the King’s Clergy Hold:

Folio 91: Reginbold holds the Church of Frome with 8 carucates of land.  In demesne are 2½ ploughs and 4 slaves and 12 bordars with 6 ploughs.  There is a mill rendering 5s and 35 acres of meadow [and] woodland 6 furlongs long and 2 furlongs wide.  It is worth £6.…

c.            The Lands of Humphrey and certain Others:

Folio 99: Richard holds in RODE 1 hide which he himself held of Reginbold the Priest by leave of the King as he says.  Reginbold indeed held it TRE.  There is land for half a plough.  There is 1 bordar.  Formerly, as now, worth l0s.

Note: the term “rendering” as opposed to “is worth” seems to apply either to land that was rented out or to property held on behalf of the King.

30.       A re-examination in 1980 (Ref. 13) of the original “Exchequer” Domesday, modified and supported by the Exeter version gives the following slightly different result:

a.            Lands of the King:

(1) 8 FROME.

     King Edward [the Confessor] held it.  It is not known how many hides there are, for it never paid tax.  Land for 50 ploughs.  In Lordship 2 ploughs, 6 freedmen; 31 villagers and 36 small holders with 40 ploughs; 3 mills which pay 25s; a market which pays 46s 8d; meadow 30 acres; pasture 50 acres; woodland 1 league long and as wide; 24 pigs, 100 sheep less seven.  It pays £53 5s at 20 [pence] to the ora.

Note: A league was about 1½ miles.

Of this manor St. John’s Church, Frome, holds 8 carucates of land; it held from King Edward in Alms before 1066.  Now Reinbald holds it; he held it before 1066.

(1) 10 MILBORNE (Port)

Of this manor the Church of St. John of Milborne (Port) has 1 hide which it held itself in Alms from King Edward in 1066.  Reinbald the priest holds it; he serves the church and has 1 plough there.  Value 30s a year.

b.           Lands of the Bishop of Coutances:

(5) 53 Moses holds TELLISFORD from the Bishop…

(5) 54 The Bishop holds a village called RODE which 3 thegns held jointly; it paid tax for 3 hides. 6 hides have been added to them, which 4 thegns held jointly in 1066. Value £6 2s; when he acquired them £5 2s. Land for 9 ploughs of which Robert holds 1 hide from the Bishop, Moses ½ hide, Robert 1½ hides, Roger 2½ hides, Sheerwold 2½ hides, Richard the Interpreter 1 hide.   In Lordship 7 hides (6½?); 6 slaves, 3 villagers and 29 small holders with 4½ ploughs.  Robert has ½ mill which pays 6s; Moses has the fourth part of a mill which pays 3s; Robert has the sixth part of a mill which pays 30d; Roger has two parts of two mills which pay 8s; Sheerwold has ½ mill which pays 7s 6d.  Meadow 33 acres, woodland 33 acres; pasture 25 acres.  The value of the whole was £7 13s, now £9 3s.

[The Exchequer version taken alone is slightly different].

c.            What the King’s Clergy [hold]:

(16) St .John’s Church has 8 carucates of land; Reinbald who holds it has in Lordship 2½ ploughs, 4 slaves, 8 villagers and 2 small holders with 6 ploughs; a mill which pays 5s; meadow 35 acres, woodland 6 furlongs long and 2 furlongs wide, 1 cob, 3 cattle, 30 pigs, 228 sheep.  Value £6

d.           More Lands of Humphrey (the Chamberlain) and Certain Others:

(45) Richard the Interpreter holds in RODE 1 hide, which he bought from Reinbald the Priest; by permission of the King, as he states.  Reinbald indeed held it before 1066.  Land for ½ plough, 1 small holder.  Value formerly as now 10s.

[a note makes clear that this was NOT the same hide that Richard had in (5) 54 from the Bishop ofCoutances]

31.       Reconciling these differing versions exactly is somewhat difficult and what follows below can only be a “best guess”.

32.       Firstly, though Reginbald the Priest may still have held that office in Rode at the time of Domesday, it seems that he had sold the one hide of land that he had held there before the Conquest to Richard the Interpreter (who quite separately held another 1 hide from Bishop Geoffrey).  Reginbald was still Priest of Frome at St. John’s Church and held substantial lands there.

33.       Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, held the “village” of Rode, made up of three Manors (“estates”) of which we must assume Woolverton was one, for this is not mentioned anywhere else in the Survey (nor is Langham for that matter, but we will come to that in a moment).  What area Woolverton covered at that date, or who worked it is unclear.  Before the Conquest 3 thanes held 3 hides in Rode jointly and paid Edward’s geld tax on all three.  6 hides were added to these three after the Conquest, which 4 thanes had held jointly before (hence the 7 thegns and 9 hides of Batten Pool’s version).  But the Bishop also had in Lordship (demesne) 7 hides and Richard had a single hide, which he had bought of Reinbald.  How exactly all this land was allocated between the two manors is not clear, though it might well be that the holdings of 9 hides by the 6 minor tenants made up one manor, whilst the demesne and Richard’s single hide constituted the other.  The mills were all in multiple ownership, but one thing is certain – Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, was Lord of the Manors of Rode and Woolverton.

34.       We will soon see what happened in the years then still to come, but first we must look at another Manor.

The Manor of Langham:

35.       Batten Pooll (Ref. 14) treats the Manor of Langham (the lands of which are now very much part of our village of Rode) separately from Rode and Woolverton, writing that it was originally part of the estates of the Abbess of Romsey, who was certainly a major Norman landowner, with widespread holdings of land.  Another source (Ref. 15), wrote in the 1880s: “The ancient Manor of Langham includes nearly the whole of the district [of Rode Hill], indeed the only part beyond the Manor of Langham comprises the fields numbered 219, 220, 221, 238, 239, 240, and 241 on the Parish Map”. And this source, quoting the Reverend Canon Jackson of Leigh Delamere, a much respected historian: “Langham was originally spelled Langenham”.

36.       An even more authoritative source (Ref. 16) gives indication of how Langham fitted into the wider scheme of things in these early-recorded days:

“…the land which later formed North Bradley Parish lay within the bounds of Ashton as King Edgar set them in 968 AD and [they] passed to Romsey Abbey with that estate; at the dissolution [of the Monasteries 1536 to 1540 AD] the lands were grouped, some…to Edington, and the others to Steeple Ashton.  The largest of the Edington estates became known as the Manor of North Bradley.  The manor of Southwick …. owed suit and rent to Steeple Ashton and the earliest known tenant of Southwick was Adam de Grenville in the time of Richard I (1189 to 1199 AD), referred to as early as 1242”. Though this is somewhat later than the evidence of Rode and Woolverton it appears to be the earliest we have.


37.       Most evidence of agricultural organisation in the years before the Normans came, and afterwards, points to the land at Rode and Langham being farmed on the “three field system” (possibly Northfield, Southfield and Barrow fields), with the run of Rode Common applying for general use for grazing, though subject to strict rules as to when it could be used, by whom and for what kinds of animals.  Here, no doubt, the local Court Leet would have played its part.  Within this field system each entitled man would have had his strips of field and the Lord his larger ones.  We must also remember that as the years passed and generations of Lords of the various Manors were followed either by heirs, or by purchasers of lands, what we now call “absentee landlordism” became increasingly prevalent.  Though the title to land and the privileges that went with it were jealously guarded, the working of the Lord’s demesne became gradually a thing of the past and farming tenancies were increased both in number and size.  We should not therefore assume that the ‘Lord of the Manor’ either always owned or worked the land, although the Lord of the Manor continued to exercise certain rights, particularly monetary ones.  As an example we have no record of any Lord of the Manor of Langham, ever having actually lived within it!.  It is also proper to bear in mind that a “moiety” was not always a half share of a property; often it was less.

38.       There was, however, little alteration in the life of the ordinary rural working man in the time before the Norman Conquest and for some centuries after it.  Serfdom was gradually abolished, and with it the legal tying of a man to the soil on which he lived.  But in reality life continued to be dominated by the seasons of the year, by climate and the length of the daylight hours and, whether the law demanded they did so or not, generations remained in the same broad locality as their forebears, because they could not afford economically to do otherwise.

The Manors of Rode and Woolverton

39.       After the death of Bishop Geoffrey the lands of “Rode cum Woolverton” passed into the Lordship of another Norman, Ranulf/Renulf de Farsy/Farcy, who held them until 1205 AD in the reign of King John (1199 to 1216 AD).  When King John and his soldiers lost Normandy in 1204 AD the lands of all Normans in England were forfeited to the English Crown, amongst them those of Rode and Woolverton, and they remained in the King’s hands until he granted title to them to Milo St. Maur.  Milo St. Maur was the first of his great family to settle in England, and the family were also granted the Manors of Castle Cary, Beckington and others in Somerset.  They were, however, a quite separate family from the St. Maurs who held Trowbridge; these latter were of Welsh descent and in due course were to include the Dukes of Somerset among their progeny.

40.       From Milo, and later Geoffrey St. Maur, the Rode and Woolverton titles passed to Laurence de St. Maur, who in 1283 AD was granted a licence for life to “hunt fox, badger, hare and cat in Exmoor and the forest of Selwood”.  Later, in the reign of Edward I (1272 to 1307 AD) he obtained a grant in 1295 AD for a weekly market in his Manor of Rode, and also for a fair to be held there “annually on the eve, day and morrow of St. Margaret the Virgin [20th July].  This fair was to continue until the 1870s, and the Market Cross was sited at roughly what is now the junction of Lower Street and the modern High Street (opposite the Reading Rooms, with the Jubilee Clock above),  Incidentally all signs of this cross had disappeared by the 1870s.

41.       Laurence was succeeded by Nicholas de St. Maur/Sentmour* (“Woolverington cum la Rode, Nicholas de Seyntmour…)” (Ref. 17).  He wed Helen de la Zouche in what was to be the first of two significant links between the St. Maurs and the Zouches.  Nicholas survived until part way through the reign of Edward II (1307 to 1327 AD) and died in 1317 AD.  The next Lord of the Manor of Rode and Woolverton was a second Nicholas, Sir Nicholas de St.. Maur**, to give him his full style.  He married Muriel, daughter and heiress of James, son of Lord Lovell, and it was this Sir Nicholas** who was to unite the Manors of Rode with Woolverton and Langham for the first time as we will see shortly (Para. 43).  The heir of Sir Nicholas** was Sir Richard de St. Maur*, who also held the Manor of Westbury.  Sir Richard married one Ella St. Loe, and died in 1401 AD; his marriage had produced a son, Richard**, who died shortly after his father, in 1405 AD.  The wife of this Richard**, Mary had received the Manors of Rode with Woolverton as her wedding dowry, but whilst she and her husband Richard** had a daughter, Alice, they had no sons.  Thus Alice, fifth in descent from Laurence de St. Maur, was the last of the elder line of the St. Maurs.  We must remember, however, that Richard** had a younger brother, who in due course was to become Sir John de St. Maur.

42.       The lives of this great family and how they fared locally must be seen against the terror of the “Black Death” plague of 1348/49, which brought about a dramatic reduction in the population of the country, no less in the countryside than in the towns.  Over 2,000 villages became completely deserted as a result of this affliction. At the turn of the 15th Century there was even greater desertion as over half a million acres of open fields across the realm were converted to sheep pasture.  Thereafter, by the 1560s home weaving began a rapid decline as water powered cloth mills were built, resulting in more shifting of local folk to set them nearer their places of work in them.

43.       In 1410 AD, five years after the death of her father Richard**, Alice married William Zouche, the fifth Baron Zouche, of Harringarth/Harringworth, in the second link between his family and the St. Maurs, and by this union the Manors of Rode with Woolverton and Langham (see para.41), with an estate of about 400 acres, and worth in those days £153 a year, arrived in the hands of the Zouche family.  In passing, through these two marriage links the Zouches also gained the Manor of Castle Carey and most of the other St. Maur estates.

44.       The family line of the St. Maurs of Rode, Beckington and (later) Westbury meantime descended through Sir John de St.Maur/Sentmaur*, younger brother of the deceased Richard** and Sir John* is generally referred to as the “first of the second house of St. Maur”.  His wife, Margaret de Erleigh, also had long-standing local connections in this part of the land. The manor of Beckington had been the property of her family since the time of King Henry II (1154 to 1189 AD), but Margaret’s grandfather, the then Sir John de Erleigh, had been taken prisoner by the French at the Battle of Nazers when campaigning with the Black Prince (the Battle of Crecy was in 1346 AD), and lost most of his estates in raising money to pay for his ransom.  Sir John Sentmaur* and his wife Margaret settled at what we now know as Seymour’s Court, and, through the marriage of their son John** to Elizabeth Brook, as time passed their grandson, later Sir Thomas Sentmaur*, was born and married Phillippa Hungerford, a powerful family with which to be connected.(Belham)

45.       We know, as an aside (Ref.18), that in 1484, the year before Sir Thomas Sentmaur* died, some land in Rode was owned by a distinguished soldier, Sir Thomas Everyngham, who, though he never lived in Rode nor worked the lands, exercised rights here.

46.       Sir Thomas Sentmaur* had a son, John, who through his marriage to Elizabeth Choke, sired a son of his own, who was to become Sir William de St. Maur*.  John and Elizabeth also had two daughters, Margaret and Anne, who were to play a part in the history of our area.  During the marriage of Sir William* his estates were augmented by property left to him by his cousin, Sir Thomas, and through the second marriage of his mother, Elizabeth., to John Biconyle, Bt.  Sir William* himself and his wife Elizabeth had only a daughter [Margaret] Joan, who, after the death of her father Sir William*, married William Drewery/Drury.  Unhappily she died childless on 19th June 1517 and thus her father Sir William* was the last of the St. Maur male line.  But, remember, Sir William* had had two sisters, Margaret and Anne, and the Lordship of the Manor of Rode and Woolverton was to follow their line.

47.       Margaret de St. Maur married into the Bamfylde/Bampfield family, and her son Edward Bampfield*, born in 1498 AD, inherited one moiety of the Manor of Rode and Woolverton.  This Edward Bampfield* settled his moiety in due course on his wife Elizabeth Warne on 15th February 1522 and when he died on 20th May 1528 his son John Bampfield*, born in 1518, became his heir and the Bampfield moiety passed to him.  Sadly John Bampfield* died not long after his father, on 20th September 1532 (and indeed he predeceased his mother, Margaret, who died a year later or so after her son, on 8th August 1533).  The younger brother of John*, Richard Bampfíeld, born on 22nd July 1526, became the heir and inherited the Bampfield moiety.

48.       Ann de St. Maur, the other sister of Sir William de Sentmaur* married John Stowell/Stawell, who died in either 1541 or 1542, leaving his son John Stowell* of Cotherstone in Somerset, born in 1494, as his heir and inheritor of the second moiety of the Rode and Woolverton Manor.

49.       The Stawells too were a distinguished family.  The Bishop of Winchester had granted the Manor of Cotherstone to the de Stawell family in the 12th Century and it remained in the family for 600 years.  The last Sir John died in 1668 at his other Somerset home of Low Ham after an unhappy last decade, which included imprisonment in the Tower of London after being wrongly accused of treason and murder.  A staunch royalist, he had stood for the King during the Civil War, from the first Somerset skirmish to the fall of Exeter.  His father had sailed to Ireland with Sir Walter Raleigh and trained 1,000 Somerset men to fight against the Spanish Armada in 1588.  The last Sir John’s fourth son succeeded him and was horrified at the severity of the sentences passed at the Bloody Assizes (Ref. 19).

50.       Thus by the 1540s the Manor of Rode and Woolverton was divided.  Though Batten Pooll suggests that the Bampfield and Stowell estates were only small ones, it seems certain that, whether they included the whole of the Manor’s lands or not, they certainly carried the Lordship with them.  This division was not to last for long however, for in 1564 the Webb family bought the Bampfield moiety and in 1566 the Stowell’s one and they were both sold in turn to the Hungerfords in 1588/89, thus uniting the Manor again.

The Manor of Langham

51.       We have seen in paras. 35 and 36 above how, in the years before and soon after the Norman Conquest, Langham fitted into the local scene.  Canon Jackson wrote (Ref. 20):: “In 1316 it [Langham/Langenham] belonged, together with another Manor at Rode, to Lawrence de St. Maur or Seymour, whose name survives at Seymour’s Court”

We are also told (Ref. 21): “The Grenvilles, Lords of Southwick, held property in Langham by 1241.  The Manor of Langham probably included land subinfeudated by them, for a quit rent of 24s was paid out of it to the Manor of Southwick in the 16th C…”


“The first known tenant of Langham was Philip de Welisleigh, who held it c.1340 and who died in 1348.  His holding … a mill … and a toft, 30 acres of cultivated land and 6 acres of woods at the Frith, held of the Abbess [of Romsey].  His heirs were his daughter Joan, wife of Ralph of Tytherley and William Bannister**, his infant grandson and the son of another daughter by William Bannister*”

52.       This is worthy of note as a map of 1773 (copy attached), shows “Langdom Mill’ on the river Frome, downstream from Rode Mill and also shows the Frith.  The 1792 Map of the Enclosure of Rode Common shows “Langham Gate” and also the “Romsey Oak”, said to be one limit of the Manor of Langham, just west of the modern Bradford Road and on the edge of the modern parish of Wingfield.

53.       In 1351 AD the Tytherley moiety of Langham Manor was sold to Sir Nicholas Seymour**, Lord of the Manor of Rode and Woolverton (“our” Sir Nicholas** from Para. 40 above) and this same Sir Nicholas** held the whole Manor of Langham before his death in 1361 (Ref. 22) in the reign of Edward III, together with the Lordship of Rode and Woolverton, The Lordship of Langham duly descended to the Zouche family in the person of William, fifth Baron (see Para. 43 above).  But about 140 years later, in 1552, at the death of Lord William’s descendent, Richard Zouche, Langham Manor was again divided.  One moiety went to Richard’s grandson, Edward Lord Zouche, and the other to Charles Zouche (who was probably Richard’s younger son, and so not in the direct line).  Charles Zouche pledged his share to John Walshe, a Judge of the Queen’s Bench, and at the same time pledged his share of the Manor of Rode and Woolverton and his share of the advowson of Rode Church.  Walshe in turn pledged it a year later to one John Sturgess; thence it went to creditors of Sturgess in 1586.  They were able to sell parts of the lands in 1599 to a John Sadler, and very soon after, formally, in 1601 he sold them to Edward Hungerford.  We must bear in mind that the great Hungerford estates were in the course of being broken up to pay off debts at the end of the 16th century and early part of the 17th, so it is not surprising that this purchase from John Sadler appears to have taken some time to complete, for we learn (Ref. 23) from an extract of Edward Hungerford’s Will dated 1607 for the payment of

“The £600 or thereabouts for ye purchase of ye manner of Rode [and Langham] from J. Sadler, Gent. And others”

54.       However, Edward Lord Zouche, possibly in financial difficulties (as the Hungerfords were soon to be) had sold his own moiety of Langham to Sir Walter Hungerford (whose mother was a Zouche) in 1578.  In 1601 therefore the whole Manor was in the Lordship of the Hungerford family

55.       Langham Manor was held by the Hungerfords until the dispersion of their estates; during this turbulent period Henry Baynton/Bayntun had become the owner of Farley Castle and let a 999 year lease of his properties in Rode, Woolverton, Langham, (and Lullington) to James Thatcher.  Bayntun had also bought the Manor of Langham but he sold it on to John George (alias Edwards) of Wirton in the Parish of Potteme in the early 1700s.  George sold the Manor on again to the Houlton family of Trowbridge and in his turn Robert Houlton of Farley sold the Lordship (whilst retaining much of the lands) to John Andrews* of Bristol in 1737.  This Andrews* died in 1774 leaving the rights and title to his own son Edward Andrews* (again of Bristol), and thence the title descended to his son Edward Andrews**.  He sold it to Samuel Day of Hinton Charterhouse in 1796 and there is no further separate record of the Manor of Langham, so it is likely that it went thereafter to the Pooll family, who will appear on the scene shortly, with other properties and rights.

56.       Langham Farm and Langham Mill had been bought from the Bayntuns by Joseph Houlton in 1739, about the time the Manor was bought by John Andrews*.  The farm and mill were sold by Houlton’s descendants in 1821 to T. W. Ledyard, the Trowbridge clothier, prominent in Rode affairs, and his executors held them in 1841, when they passed to Abraham Laverton of Westbury in the 1870s.  Walter Greenhill of Dilton Marsh bought them in 1920.

The Enclosure Acts of the 1790s

57.       For some time past many of the former common fields had been enclosed in the cause of a substantial increase in the country’s corn production but much common and waste land remained and , depending on very valuable laws , individuals retained important rights ( e.g. to fish in the ponds, to take wood for essential repair of dwellings or for fuel and similarly peat) or to graze animals..  However, the more powerful landowners wished to see land allocation ‘tidied’ up, the new fields enclosed and the acreage shared out all in the cause of ‘efficiency’.  Individual acts of parliament were passed on the petition of lords of the manor (the entitled owner of the soil of the common and waste land), the rector and others of the rich).  Commissioners were appointed to investigate and recommend the division of the land and its allocation.  The report on the Enclosure ‘of a certain common or waste land called Road Common, within the manors of Road and Langham in the parishes of Road and North Bradley in the counties of Somerset and Wilts’ is dated 2nd March 1792.

58.       The Commissioners (three gentlemen from Devizes and Longleat in Wiltshire and Ashwick in Somerset), after the settlement of disputes, mostly by arbitration, published a map of the newly enclosed areas, with new roads and fences to be constructed.  The lands so enclosed started at the junction of the modern A361 and Bradford road , continuing north-east along both sides of the A361 to Poplar Tree Lane (including both sides of Monkley Lane), and north-westwards as far as the edges of Wingfield and Tellisford.

59.       By the time subsequent sales of allotments had taken place, and by virtue of the rules of allocation, the rights of the individual working man (unless a formal tenant) had virtually been extinguished and there was no common land, a situation which was repeated across the land.

60.       So at last we have come to the arrival of Rode’s most important family of the past 200 years.

The Batten Poolls:

List of References

1.         A West Country Potpourri; A. H. Batten Pooll VC MC; 1969

2.         RCHME Unique Identifier 207913

3.         RCHME Unique Identifier 207922

4.         RCHME Unique Identifier 207873

5.         RCHME Unique Identifier 207900

6.         J. Leland; Itinerary of Somerset;c1540

7.         Villages of the Frome Area; P. Belham;?

8.         Ibid

9.         Ibid

10.       Batten Pooll; op cit

11.       Rode Church pamphlet; W. T. Holloway; undated

12.       History from the Sources-Domesday; Somerset Ed. John Morris

13.       Ibid

14.       Batten Pooll; op cit

15.       The History of North Bradley and Road Hill; A. Farquarson; 1881

16.       A History of the County of Wiltshire, vol. 8; Victoria County History;1965

17.       Batten Pooll; op cit

18        Batten Pooll; op cit

19.       Calendar of Patent Rolls

20.       Somerset Magazine; December 1999

21.       Farquarson; op cit

22.       Victoria County History; op cit

23.       Ibid

24.       Ibid

25.       The History and Antiquities of Somerset; John Collinson; 1791

6 August 2023
Last Updated
12 January 2024