by Peter Harris, 2010
Evidence of Neolithic and Roman and settlements has been found in the area but the only obvious sign is the remains of a long barrow, the Devil’s Bed and Bolster, on Rode Common east of St. Lawrence church (see picture below):
The Domesday Survey recorded Rode as being divided into 3 manors (possibly Rode, Woolverton and Langham) with several mills. In 13th C. one of the manors was in the hands of the St. Maur family and the name still survives at Seymour’s Court south of St. Lawrence.
At that time Rode was an important settlement and Laurence de St. Maur was granted permission to hold a weekly market in Rode on Thursdays and a fair on St. Margaret’s Day (20 July). Fairfield, now a residential estate, was as late as 1980 the field where village fairs and carnivals were held. Other names in the village are signs of the manorial system and pastoral economy of those times; Southfield (House), one of the customary three arable fields, evidence of which can be seen in the field divisions between Straight Lane and Crooked Lane; Rode Common, where villagers grazed their animals; and Green Park (Cottages and Lane), a large area to the south of the village with hunting rights reserved for the lord of the manor.
Mention was also made in the Domesday Survey of a priest named Rumbal serving Frome and Rode, although the first priest recorded at St. Lawrence was John de Thorenden in 1226. The present church of St. Lawrence is thought to date from the 14th C. although signs of a smaller building were found during major restoration in the 1870s.
In the field to the west of the church are the remains of an earlier settlement, which is thought to have been abandoned after a major fire in 1798.
By 16th C. the manorial lands of Rode and Langham had passed to the Hungerford family. Features dating back to that time, in 6 and 8 High St. and Habersfield House suggest that these buildings may have been part of a Benedictine Priory.
From the 16th to 19th C. Rode was immersed in the West Country woollen cloth trade. The corn mills were initially enlarged to include fulling stocks. Then in the 17th C. they were developed further to accommodate spinning, weaving and dyeing machinery, and in some cases ended up in the 19th C. as large four-storey steam-powered factories with many employees. Two of these buildings, The Mill at Rode Bridge and Shawford Mill still exist, but little remains of those once at Scutt’s Bridge, Rockabella, Langham, and another two at Rode Bridge except weirs, millstreams and dried up leats.
In the 17th C most goods were transported by packhorses, along dirt tracks crossing rivers by fords or narrow bridges. Monkley Lane, Cooper’s Lane, Rockabella Hill and Scutt’s Bridge are reminders of those old “highways”. Then in the 18th C turnpike trusts were formed to improve the roads so that loaded carts and fast coaches could use them without difficulty. These improvements included the building of Rode Bridge in 1777 by the Black Dog Turnpike Trust. No sign remains of its tollhouse sited on the corner of Tellisford Lane but one can still be seen on the A36 just north of Shawford Bridge.
Some mill owners in Rode became sufficiently prosperous to build grand houses for themselves and their families. The Miller’s House (c 1710) at Rode Bridge was built for Henry Whitaker; Road Hill (Langham) House (1792) for Thomas Whitaker Ledyard; and Merfield House (1808) for Jonathan Noad. Also at this time Noad made major improvements to Southfield House for his eldest son, and rebuilt Shawford House for his 2nd son. Sadly others, like Northfield House (1737) and Rockabella House, have almost completely disappeared, although stonework and a window from the latter were used to build 15 to 19 Rode Hill.
Discontent with the established Church throughout much of the realm in the 18th C. gave rise to a variety of nonconformist groups. In Rode, the Baptists and Wesleyans became sufficiently numerous to build their own chapels, the Baptists (1786) and the Methodists (1809), both in the High St., although the latter is now a private residence.
At that time the county boundary between Somerset and Wiltshire came right into the centre of the village. A large red county boundary stone can still be found at the junction of High St. and Lower St. and there is another in the refuge on Rode Bridge. Behind the county boundary stone on the bridge is an old parish boundary stone. This is inscribed “North Bradley” on the east of the boundary line which shows that the Rode Hill part of the village used to be in that Wiltshire parish. On the Woolverton side of the line is inscribed “Road”. This spelling of the village name was changed in 1919, but can still be found else-where e.g. on some drain covers in the High St.
Archdeacon Daubeney was so concerned that his parishioners in Rode Hill were 4 miles from their parish church in North Bradley that he built Christ Church in 1824. In winter it also proved popular to parishioners in Rode, because of its modern heating system.
Despite the poverty of the time, or perhaps because of it, the village leaders turned their endeavours towards children’s education. In 1834 the Rode Hill National School was built next to the church. The building was pulled down in the early 1950s, but a trace remains, now being used as the garden wall of 19 Langham Place. The Baptists’ School, next to the chapel, was built in 1839, and the Methodists’ School, which is still used as our village school today, in 1870.
The cloth industry declined during the 19th century and with it the number of jobs for people in the village. Rockabella Mill closed and Road Mill was converted back into a corn mill. But in 1857 Henry Fussell acquired the Cross Keys Inn and started a humble bakery and brewing business, which was to have a major influence on the development of the village. Three years later, Langham (Road Hill) House was the scene of the much debated child murder.
Then in 1871 Robert Pooll Langford, of Timsbury inherited the Road Manor estate from his great-uncle, Henry Batten Pooll, and changed his surname to Batten Pooll. He enlarged Northfield House in 1879 and changed its name to Road Manor. A year later Edward Silcocks built the small hall in Lower Street (now converted to a private residence) for use by villagers free of charge.
1874 saw the completion of two years of restoration work on St. Lawrence leaving it substantially as it is today, except for the lychgate, which was destroyed by a car in 1966.
There were grand celebrations in the village for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887. These included the opening of the United Counties Institute (Reading Rooms), built for the village by squire Batten Pooll, and the installation of the Jubilee Clock in that building, paid for by public subscription.
Parish councils were introduced in 1894 to administer non-ecclesiastical matters in lieu of the Vestry overseers. The first election took place by a show of hands in the Institute Hall and the first council meeting was held in a room in the factory adjoining Mayfield House.
By the turn of the century Sidney Fussell had taken over and expanded his father’s business at the Cross Keys. One of the two distinctive brick chimneys behind the Cross Keys was part of a new brewhouse built in 1904.
The village lost 15 of its young men in WW1 and the memorial carrying their names was erected on the village green in 1920. The Reading Rooms closed in 1930 and their founder R. P. Batten Pooll died the same year.
The Fussells’ brewery continued to expand under the leadership of Sidney’s eldest son Percy who enlarged the brewing facilities further in 1935, including the addition of the 2nd chimney. The brewery was the major employer in the village and built 13 to 21, Rode Hill, Coronation Terrace opposite the Memorial Hall and the brick houses in Marsh Road for its employees.
Mains water eventually came to the village in 1938 and the wells and pumps fell into disuse.
Two old pumps can be seen in Lower Street. Mains electricity arrived soon after and the old oil street lights became obsolete. Two of these also survive, one on Lower St. and the other in the lobby of the Cross Keys Inn
WW2 left its mark with pill boxes at Langham and Shawford and tank traps near the weir at Scutt’s Bridge; part of a defensive line along the east side of the river Frome. More importantly for Rode, a memorial fund was started by the British Legion, which led to the opening of the Memorial Hall in 1955.
Much of Rode Manor was demolished in 1954 after a major fire. The estate was soon developed as Tropical Bird Gardens but this closed in 1992 and the only sign I am aware of is one in the lobby of the Cross Keys Inn.
S. Fussell and Sons Ltd. sold out to Bass, Mitchell and Butler in 1962. Brewing ceased and the site was used as a distribution centre until 1992. Most of the buildings were demolished to make way for new homes, although the old and new brew houses remain as converted residential property. The Cross Keys was also saved and reopened in 2004 with the Reading Rooms as its restaurant.
Before the widespread use of motor vehicles the villagers obtained their food, clothing, tools and other everyday goods from shops in the village. In the 19th C there were 4 butchers, several bakers, grocers, shoemakers and tailors as well as specialist tradesmen. The outlines of their shop windows can still be seen today in the fronts of some of the older houses in the village, e.g. 18 and 25 Lower St, 23 and 63, High St. and 2 Hughes Court.
Businesses, shops, churches and schools have closed and been converted to residential use. But there are also positive signs for the village. All of the derelict properties of 30 years ago have been brought back to habitable condition, and the village hall, school, playing field, shop, scouts, cricket club and the ladies group are all flourishing.
Rode Village Trail
A Pictorial History of Rode
Discover Rode’s Past