by W M Holloway, 1972
With new information becoming available via the internet and the discovery of many more relevant documents, the following text is somewhat out of date. Some of the known inaccuracies have been italicised [Peter Harris]
Rode is an extremely old village on the borders of Wiltshire and Somerset. It dates back at least to Saxon times and, has had much history. It is four miles from Frome and four miles from Trowbridge and is on the River Frome. In this book I will try to write all the history of it that I have been able to find out.
The origin of the name.
Rode is derived from the Saxon word ‘Rydd’ meaning ford. Coming downstream from Frome on the River Frome there are many fords; Oldford, Clifford, Shawford, Rode, Tellisford, Farleigh Hungerford, Eyeford, and lastly where Frome joins the Avon, Freshford. Rode is the oldest of these and the most important. The ford is accessible from Rockabella Lane, a monks’ track and then by walking across the fields but it has now been bridged over by a 13th century pack-horse bridge. On one side of it the water is never more than one foot deep except in floods but the other side shelves down to four or five feet deep. Further downstream the water is ten feet deep and there are many treacherous holes.
The name was originally Rode but after the middle of the 19th century it became Road. On a John Speed map of 1646 it was spelt Rode. When the brewery started fifty years ago they had their parcels delivered to a false address which led to the name being changed back to Rode.
Originally Rode was divided up by Wiltshire and Somerset and this meant that the people in Wiltshire were in the parish of North Bradley – two and a half miles away while the other church was only a few minutes walk away. This caused the county line to be moved away from the village which is now in Somerset.
Rode Hill Church.
Christchurch, Rode Hill was built because the people had to walk to North Bradley, two and a half miles away, to go to church. The church owes itself to the Rev. Charles Daubney, Archdeacon of Sarum and 12 years vicar of North Bradley who gave the following benefactions according to a stone plaque in the church.
1778. The parish church and chancel was repaired throughout and the East end rebuilt. Nearly the whole of the Vicarage was built and the premises greatly enlarged.
1810. The asylum was built and endowed – £3,000
1814. The Rectory was converted into a residence for the Curate and nearly rebuilt.
1817. The Vicar’s poor house was built which included the purchase of the ground. The cost was upwards of £800
1821. Christchurch was built costing the Vicar £4,600.
1827. When the Rev. Daubney died he gave £2,000 to support the asylum. £70 per annum for the poor house, £10 per annum for the church and £10 per annum for the Vicarage.
All throughout the church there are plaques in memory of the Daubneys who all lived in Daubney House next to the church. There is a fifteen pipe organ presented by a Frome gentleman. Also there is a smaller organ with no pipes and a piano. The lectern was given in 1908 in memory of Sophia Dunn.
There is a bell tower but the bell has long since fallen down (this bell has since been reinstated). There Is a disused balcony for when the church had many more people for congregation but now the seats have been taken out. All the doors have eight knobs on but only one opens the door as the others are just carved.
St. Lawrence, Rode.
This 14th century church has kept its old Mass dial and has a sturdy tower from which King Charles looked out to see the Ironsides or Roundheads coming. It has carved gargoyles with flapping ears round the tower and there are stone heads on the windows. Near the door which swings on its original hinges there is a tiny stoup. Above the door a painted Bishop mitre hangs, presented by one of the Rectors. By the pulpit is the upper door of an old rood loft divided by a piece of carved stone. There are two peepholes by the chancel arch, one is very long with a miniature peephole by the side of it and the other has the lid of a coffin set in it. Many fragments of sculpture are set in the walls and there is a dainty carving on the capitals in the Nave. One of the walls has a niche with a canopy. The font has a stem with small trefoiled arches and a bowl of roses. The ewer has on it ‘Rode mothers gave me’, Behind the altar rails are two old oak chairs, one neatly carved in Charles the Second’s time. There are sturdy oak rafters with carved bosses and charming clerestory windows. The best window in memory of a naval Commander has a serial story of the Good Samaritan in six chapters. Two chancel windows have a figure of Saints and the west window has four old glass medallions
This is a church of faithful servants. There is a tablet to an organist of 50 years, a parish clerk who attended 664 funerals in 53 years, two parish clerks who lived in friendship during their long service for Rode and Woolverton and died so as to be buried on the same day in 1799 and there are graves to a family of Browns, four parents and four children, over 630 years of life between them. An old Rector of Queen Anne’s day said that the Bishops and Parsons should die preaching and praying – and did so. There is a tribute to an old lady who sat in the pews for 50 years and to a bugler in the Hampshire Regiment who went down with Lord Kitchener.
This church is more beautiful than the other and more historic. From the North can be seen the road going to Trowbridge. Along this road is an old turnpike where the local Inspector was called when the Kent boy was found with his throat cut on Rode Hill. To the east, Westbury can be seen with its smoking cement factory chimney, behind which, the Westbury chalk downs tower up; the ancient White Horse brooding over the small town. The country is quite flat before the downs and is studded with little farms and villages. On a clear day from the Rode Church tower the railway can be seen with its large sheds, sidings and station. If the wind is in the right direction the shunters can be heard in the goods sheds. The Rode side of Westbury is dotted with small lakes, ponds, woods and small clumps of trees.
To the South is the Frome road meeting the Frome – Bath road. You can see the minor roads going off the main road and winding to their destinations like the tributaries of a river. After the Frome to Bath road the land drops down to the valley of the River Frome.
To the West the roads leading down to the village has houses great and small, modern and old, and of all shapes; and sizes. The gardens are laid out in intricate patterns but all is irregular in shape.
St. Lawrence’s Church was built where it was because the Devils Bed and Bolster is very near. In the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries they built Christian churches near heathen temples and places of worship. This was to counteract the power of the devil and cleanse the neighbouring villages of any evil. The Devils Bed and Bolster was an old Druid circle and some old stones are still there. It was built for the same purpose and just after the last rebuilding of Stonehenge which was about 1,400 B.C. Surprisingly nobody has bothered to come up to Rode and investigate and it is known to very few people except to dwellers in the village itself. At night it is very ghostly up there end the wind is quite strong as it is a raised part of land. Archaeologists believe that this piece of ground was a burial ground as well as a place for prayer. It was an old custom to walk around this.
The Great Fire of Rode circa 1,400 A.D.
About l,400 A.D. there was a great fire in Rode which was supposed to have started in the wooden bakery. The village at that time was only one of about twelve houses and was scattered about the church. Probably the bakers oven fire shot out some cinders and, being made of wood, the whole building went up in roaring flames. The baker and his family rushed out into the street, (probably no more than an uneven grass track, with ruts either side made by the villagers carts), and raised the alarm, but there must have been a good strong wind because soon all the houses were engulfed in flames and burnt to the ground. All that survived was the church, being made of stone. From the tower can be seen the marks of the houses because where the ash was the grass has grown longer, the ash having fertilized it.
It would be very interesting to go on a ‘dig’ round the village especially the part I have just mentioned. I am sure people would find much hidden under the grass.
After the fire the villagers re-established themselves again down near the village which is a better site, for water is close at hand.
This great family used to live at Rode Manor, near Woolverton. The house has fairly recently been pulled down and the extensive grounds are now the Tropical Bird Gardens. The double barrelled name came from when Thomas Poole married Miss Batten, They have been Squires of the village for many generations up until seven years ago (1965). Captain Walter Batten-Poole had three sons, one has just died and another one, Arthur, was the last squire.
Thomas Poole built Rode’s Methodist Chapel in the 18th century as the family were strong and faithful Methodists. Thomas Poole also showed he was an architect when he designed and built the cotton mill, which was burnt down at Rockabella. He was connected with the planning of one of the church graveyards. Many other old houses and buildings of various uses were planned and built by him.
The Thanes of Rode.
From about 1066 onwards for about five generations, Rode had a Thane or Thegne ruling over and keeping law and order in the village. These were appointed by William the Conqueror and had to pay him homage. Over the five generations there were seven thanes. They were subordinate to the Vicar of Frome. While the Domesday Book was being written up, Reinbald was the Vicar of Frome. Rode was assessed at having the high price of seven pounds ten shillings and five pence. Of course, money was then worth much more than it is now.
The first thane who was not subordinate to the Vicar was Bishop Geoffrey of Coutance who came over with William in the boats. He built Lullington Church, a fine piece of Norman style architecture. Later the squires of Rode were brought in to do the same job as the thegnes.
Ghosts of Rode.
Surprisingly enough there are too many ghosts for such a small village. All the ones I have been able to find out have existed (and perhaps still do exist) in the last couple of centuries. As is to be expected there are many ghosts of the 19th century murder. The only true and believable one is that told by an old British lady who had returned from a foreign country. This happened the beginning of this century. She was journeying with a friend to her home at Tellisford and just when she was passing the murder house she saw a white figure with a candle in an old fashioned candle holder walking across the lawn. She shouted ‘Goodnight’ but there was no reply. The figure disappeared into the bushes at the very place where the body was found! The lady, nor her friend took no notice as they did not know about the murder.
Next day she met the owner of the house and said ‘Has your gas supply been cut off as you were wandering about the bushes with a candle.’ The answer was negative. The gas was perfectly alright and none of the family went out of the house. Furthermore, the gates were locked so no tramps or villains could have got in. The inquisitive two went to the bushes and strangely enough there were no footprints or any sign of anybody having been there as if there had they would have left footprints on the wet turf and soil. As two people saw the event it is most likely it was Constance Kent, come back to murder her little baby brother of four and a half, but she has never come since.
Another ghost story is the one of Merfield House. A man and wife lived there but one day in the 18th or 19th century had a row. The wife was so distressed that she committed suicide. The man, finding his wife dead, followed her example. A cleaner at the house saw a lady in black three times around 1920, and she has been seen by other people before and since. On moonlit nights a coach and horses containing the married couple drives out of the ancient stone barn in Straight Lane and then drives along the road until it turns into Merfield House drive.
Merfield House has other supernatural acquaintances associated with it. So Rode is a spooky little village but it does not quite beat the seven ghosts of Longleat although it is a rival.
In about the 1920s an old lady who worked at Langham House, where the 19th century murder was committed saw Constance Kent although she did not know anything about the murder. She always slept in Constance’s bedroom at the top of the house. She was lying in bed one moonlit night when she felt a cold earthy feeling and a smell, on looking up she saw a tall misty figure bending over her bed. She did not even scream but dived under the bedclothes and stayed there. She was quite convinced it was not a dream. She also says she does not really believe in ghosts.
19th Century. From an account given by Augusta Caroline Peacock-Davis.
‘….. for my father was Vicar of our parish. The church itself was comparatively new though some found in it a supposed likeness to the Chapel of King’s College Cambridge. In those days the services were very different from those of today, and I can easily fancy that some of the clergy of today would hold up their hands in horror at the way in which they were performed. After Morning Prayer had been said, my father was accustomed to withdraw to his vestry, where, somewhat in the manner of the Scottish clergy, he divested himself of his white surplice and donned his preacher’s gown with bands which would have graced John Wesley in days still further back. The Pulpit and the reading desk were towering erections of somewhat similar design on opposite sides of the sanctuary, and beneath the desk was the seat of the most important personage, the Parish Clerk who was then, in truth, a functionary to be reckoned with. In our case he was a man partially deformed in body and with a somewhat unpleasing voice, and to him it fell the duty of saying with much emphasis the various Amens and other responses, which duty he performed in no undecided manner. Even today the cracked tone of his voice still echoes in my memory.
The organ with the choir took their place in the West gallery. To see the organist arrive was quite an event, for he came from Trowbridge, riding on his velocipede. This was a strange contraption looking something like a Bath chair and its motion was provided by pedals on the floor…..’
The chief lady of the village always attended service and arrived in state, being followed by her footman in livery carrying her books before her which he carefully put in a convenient place in her pew. Our congregation was divided according to sex, the men on one side and the women on the other, while the children sat on forms and lined the sides of the church. On the evening of Christmas we all adjourned to the kitchen where the mummers assembled. with their wooden swords, repeating verses concerning King George, a Monarch who they were supposed to be defending from the enemy, though I cannot remember who the enemy was supposed to be.
Seymour Court: Home of an Englishman’s Queen.
Taken from a newspaper cutting.
Seymour Court lies a little off the lane to Rode, and although many of the buildings have vanished, the well preserved main structure shows the remains of many past glories.
This mansion was one of the many owned by the powerful Seymour family, and after disposing of two wives, one by divorce and another by more drastic measures, Henry the Eighth came to Somerset for his third wife. Jane Seymour was this lady and she became mother of an English King, Edward VI, although she died in giving birth to him. Henry VIII’s widow, Catherine Parr, certainly visited Seymour Court when she married into the family and many other Royal persons have stayed there, including the Duke of Somerset.
Beating the Bounds.
Extract from a letter from Miss. M. A. Murray, lecturer on Ethnology at London University.
‘….. It is obviously the same dance as the ring dance round Robin Goodfellow. I wonder if it was originally round the divine victim in the form of man, and later in the form of the Host; then as the Host was kept in the church, the dance was held round the church.
It is clearly not the ordinary churchyard dance which was performed by both sexes and was either processional or in couples, and seems to have been on the North side of the church. The ancient custom goes that the North side belongs to the devil. I do not think the full moon has any significance on the dance. It is an artistic convention to show that the action takes place at night, yet there is not enough light to see what is happening.’
The picture of the dance is now in the vaults of the Methodist Chapel, in Rode, but it was originally presented by a parishioner to the Rev. H. V. Crofton, Rector of Rode-cum-Woolverton-cum-Road Hill, in the year l888. Also in the vaults of the Methodist Chapel is a painting of ducking a witch, by Rockabella in the 1?th century.
The Bell. In the 19th century it occurred to someone that a tavern would be a very paying thing on the junction where the tracks from Trowbridge to Frome and Bradford to Frome met the track which came down from the hills and across the ford on its way to Westbury and the plain. As this tavern is near the church it takes its name from the Church Bell. Church Row began by the houses which gathered round the Inn.
The George. This one was named after our Patron Saint and was probably the oldest inn in Rode. This sign was the most popular with innkeepers since the Norman Conquest
The Cross Keys. Lies near the fork of Lower Street and Upper Street, now High Street, was the favourite sign of innkeepers who were members of religious houses. We may almost certainly say that this Inn has something to do with the Benedictine monks who built a chapel at the back of the old houses which they lived in. One can still see the chapels old Mass dial set in the wall of one or the ancient houses in Rode.
The Old Swan. Evidently had something to do with the Carey family, for the swan is their badge and their coat of arms was, until recently to be seen carved on the outer wall.
The Red Lion. Is usually connected with John of Gaunt who was very popular and bore the Red Lion of Castile on his coat of arms by right of one of his many wives Constance of Castile, but what this had to do with the Inn is still a mystery. This inn lies opposite the Cross Keys on the junction of High Street end Lower Street.
The Brass Knocker. Is now replaced by the village post office.
The White Hart. Where the Duke of Monmouth is supposed to have stayed for a while, is near the village green or the old pound and is now the White Hart Cottage.
The King William. used to be at the bottom of the Big Shard and the ruins are still visible.
The Green Man. Used to be on the swampy piece of ground near Pucks Well. Springs are so scarce on the slope of Rode Hill that Pucks Well was probably the reason for the Inn standing where it did and it may also be the reason for the sign because the well lies just where the elms begin to give way to the oaks. Now the elm is not a British tree, but was probably introduced by the Romans. The old British woods were of oak and ash so it looks as if the Inn stood on the. edge of an ancient forest. Hence the sign for the Green Man was originally one of the forest fairies who were always pictured in green with red caps. Puck is the one about whom all the tales are told, who led travellers astray and played pranks on them. Painters gradually changed the green man into a wild man clad in green leaves. This happened in Elizabethan England. He became a forester dressed in clothes of Lincoln green, he was often Robin Hood with Little John. Pucks well is still existing but it is closed in with a cement top.
The Jews Harp. Stood where Green Park Lane crosses Beckington Lane but has completely disappeared now.
Mineral Waters in Rode.
At the junction of Lower Street and High Street, there is a house which has its front door opening on to the former and the back door on to the latter. This house was formerly the Pump Room but in 1881 it was a butchers shop. Hugh Smithson M.D. 178l says – ‘The water in Rode is chalyabeat with a mixture of sulphur perceptible to the smell. It must be drunk at the spring and is prescribed for the same disorders as the Queens Camel Water (Diseases of Skin). There were also mineral water in a well just above the vicarage but they unfortunately have been exhausted. The first waters disappeared because a foolish man wanted to make money out of it. He deepened the well and therefore lost in dilution.
The Cloth Mill.
The Mill is down by Rockabella bridge but owing to migration of the cloth manufacturing industry to the North, and to the introduction of modern machinery, the mill has long since become derelict and is now a heap of ruins. The mill is supposed to be where the colour of Royal Blue originated. King George III challenged the clothiers to produce a colour which was worthy of Royalty. From Rode Mill came a very rich blue dye. This was chosen for a robe for Queen Charlotte and the colour was afterwards called Royal Blue.
The record of Rode in the Doomsday Book.
The Bishop holds Rode for three manors. Seven thanes held it in the time of King Edward and yielded it for nine hides. The arable is carucates. Thereof holds of the Bishop Robert one, Moyses half a hide, Robert one hide and a half, Roger two hides and a half, Sirewold two hides and a half, Richard one hide.
In demesne are seven carucates and six servants and three villaines and twenty nine cottagers with four ploughs and a half. Out of the mills issue a rent of twenty seven shillings. And there are thirty three acres of wood and thirty three acres of meadow and twenty five acres of pasture.
The whole is worth seven pounds ten shillings; now among all its worth eight pounds five shillings.
The Owners, Barons and Squires of Rode.
After the death of Geoffrey Bishop of Coutances the land was bestowed upon Ranulf de Farsy a Norman with whom it continued until the sixth year of the reign of King John, when the estates of the Normans in England were seized and the Manor of Rode was reverted to the Crown. Being again disposed of, it became the property of the St. Maur family, to whom also Castle Cary, Beckington and other important manors in Somerset belonged. Milo de St. Maur was the first name who resided there and this was the first settlement of the St. Maurs in the country. His descendent Laurence de St. Maur obtained a grant for a market to be held on every Thursday in his parish. He acquired the grant from Edward I. He was also able to have a fair which was to be held annually on the eve, day and morrow of St. Margaret the Virgin. From the St. Maur family the manor passed to William Lord Zouche of Herringworth, who had married the only daughter of Richard St. Maur. This Lord Zouche succeeded to the manor as also all the other manors in Somerset which were owned by the St. Maurs until the tenth year of the reign of Henry IV.
In the 8th year of the reign of Elizabeth a moiety of the manor was sold to Thomas Webb who afterwards became possessed of the whole. Webb in the 51st year of Elizabeth, sold it to the Hungerford family. It was afterwards sold to the Hortons of Chatley House who sold it to Robert Holton Esq of Farleigh Hungerford. He sold it to the Andrews, a Gloucester family who kept it until the beginning of the 20th century. They were succeeded by the Day family of Hinton Charterhouse. In 1947 Mrs. Jones of Hinton Charterhouse was the Lady of the Manor and Mrs. Bailey and Miss Poole of Merfield House were the chief landowners. Since then the Batten-Pooles have been the squires up to seven years ago (1965).
The Rode Hill Murder.
The murder was committed on a summers night in 1860. Somebody in Langham House took the little three year old step brother of Constance Kent from his cot and with a razor sharp knife cut his throat until only a bit of skin at the back of the neck kept his head on. The murderer took him to a water closet in the bushes outside the house and submerged the body in water. The mystery was unsolved, the Kents left Rode and the years passed by. Old inhabitants at that time remembered Constance and her little brother and everyone loved them. The rumour goes that years later a little lady in black came to the Red Lion and asked about the murder (as many visitors did) and then had tea there. But it was enough to send a whisper round the village that Constance Kent had come back. At a later date she confessed that when she was l6 she brutally murdered her brother because of her overpowering jealousy towards him.
Rode’s largest industry is the brewery which was started by Mr. Fussell in his garden at the time he owned the Cross Keys (70 years ago). Since then it has grown considerably and has been taken over by Messrs. Bass, Mitchell and Butler as a bottling plant. The brewery has its own houses in Rode for the work people, a huge factory, a fleet of 50 lorries and has bought a number of old houses for use as offices.
The only other attraction in Rode is the Tropical Bird Gardens. These are on the land where Rode Manor House used to stand. The house was partly renovated and the lake was cleaned out about 6 years ago. The gardens keep and have bred many different kinds of birds and also have a wallaby, two lambs and a monkey. The birds are kept in their natural state with macaws and cockatoos sometimes flying out to pay a visit to the village. The venture is widely publicised and many people come from all parts of the country both winter and summer.