Fussell’s Brewery

A History of Brewing in Rode (Bryan Foyston, September 2006)

When the Bass Depot in Rode finally closed in late 1992 it brought to an end a local industry which had provided the livelihood of many village families for over a hundred years, and one whose origins go back a good deal further still. When Captain B.C. Foyston, at the invitation of the late Paul Stacey, then Chairman of Rode P.C., undertook to write this history, he had no idea how interesting a task it would be, nor how long it would take.

The job would have taken even longer and the result much more lacking in substance (particularly for an author who was not native to Rode, and who settled here only in 1980 after some 41 years in the Royal Navy, retiring from it in 1984 and from a short second career in 1991), had it not been for a chance meeting with Mr. Sidney William Fussell, now living in Bratton.  He was born in Rode, a son of the late Mr. Reginald Fussell, who was once resident at Ten Acres, and a one-time Director of the Rode firm.  Reginald, in turn, was a son of Sidney Fussell, the man who took the modest, albeit progressive, Inn Keeping, Bakery, Brewing and Grocery business of his own father, Henry Fussell, and laid the firm foundations of what was to become a major West of England Brewery firm, that of Sidney Fussell and Sons, Ltd.

Mr. Sidney William Fussell was trained in accountancy with some aspects of law, is the family archivist and has had first hand experience at the management level of the post WWII years of the Fussell family firm. He has also clear personal recollections of what various parts of the Cross Keys and the Brewery buildings looked like from the late 1920s onwards, and can thus give an imprimatur to this story that it would otherwise have lacked – for Brewing in Rode is largely synonymous with the name of Fussell, as will become clear as the narrative proceeds.

For those not familiar with our past local affairs we hope the following three points will prove useful:

The ancient village name was ‘Rhyd’ or ‘Rhod’, variously said to mean a clearing, cross, crossing or ford.  Domesday Book has it as ‘Rode’.  The ford at Scutts Bridge, built in the 14th Century, is where the old road from Bristol to Salisbury crossed the River Frome in the Selwood forest.  In 1650 the local Registrar, John Pockridge, who in Cromwell’s days had replaced the Rector, decided to correct the name to ‘Road’: it continued to be so until an order by Somerset County Council on 30th August 1919 altered it again to ‘Rode’, so finally putting an end to many years of mapping and postal confusion.

In years gone by Rode village was divided into two parts.  The area west of the west side of Lower Street (the local brook marking the boundary) and the area broadly north and west of the present Rode Hill road lay in the County of Wiltshire, the Diocese of Salisbury and the Parish first of North Bradley and then of Road Hill.  The remainder, ‘Road’, lay in the County of Somerset and the Diocese of Bath and Wells.  A United Church of England benefice of the two Ecclesiastical parishes was made in an Order of Council of King George V on 16th, March 1923, placing it in Bath and Wells.  Finally, on 1st May 1937 the two civil Parishes of Rode Hill and Rode were united as ‘Rode’ in the County of Somerset.

Besides agriculture the dominant base of the local economy has long been in wool and cloth and most cottagers had for centuries their own hand looms or spinning wheels.  With the coming of the Mills outlying villagers gradually coalesced into areas nearer these Mills (e.g. the abandonment on the Mobley Pond area below St. Lawrence Church) but in turn the closing of the Mills (the last working one, at Scutt’s Bridge, shutting in 1904) left a serious gap in the village employment.  It was thus providential that Henry Fussell was to start his business at the Cross Keys, as we will see in our History.

However, this history is not a textbook on either the brewing process or on the British Brewing Industry. We deal with these aspects only to explain what happened here in Road/Rode.  It is rather a joint informal production, particularly for local reading, by Sidney Fussell and Brian Foyston: we are referred to, for the sake of brevity, in the text as SWF and BCF respectively.

We are happy to acknowledge the considerable help given by many people, particularly those who live, or have lived in Rode, but feel we should particularly mention:

Argus Books Ltd., for allowing us to quote from “Home Brewed Beers and Stouts” by C.J.J. Berry.

English Heritage (formerly RCHME) for permission to use material from their report “Fussell’s Brewery Rode, Somerset” (NBR 95962).

Selwood & Duncan (Measured Surveys, Ltd) for their Report at Reference 11, which gives much useful architectural and other background to our story (we have been unable to trace them to achieve formal permission for use of this but we contributed to its production).

Curator and Staff at the Bass Museum, Burton on Trent, who allowed us to copy the few Fussell’s records kept there.

The administrators of the estate of the late Mr. Paul Stacey who passed to us some valuable items amongst his personal records.

Members of the Fussell family, who have been supportive of our purposes and given authority to many of the incidents in our story, which would otherwise be lacking, and particularly Mr. Philip Hillier Fussell for allowing us to study and copy documents concerning the acquisition and disposal of lands of S. Fussell & Sons. Ltd.

Mrs. Doris Gifford (née Greenland) of Norton St. Philip, for her sparkling account of working in the Offices between the Wars.

The late Mr. John Bryant, Mr. Michael Sparey and Mr. William (Bill) Goulter, whose wide knowledge of this village, its people and its buildings has added much detail and colour to our writings.

The then (2006) owner of the Cross Keys Inn, Ms. Nicola Robinson and her partner Mr. Michael Moore, who welcomed us during the busy days when they were restoring the buildings and for the loan of valuable ownership Deeds.

Mr. Peter Harris, Mr. Maurice Webb and Captain Roger Sharp, as Members of the Parish Council, who gave valuable background to our record of the Brewery Redevelopment programme.

And perhaps, most of all, to Mr. Harry Hopkins of Rocks Farm Tellisford, who besides his wide locally published pamphlets on our village history, has assisted and encouraged us throughout and has provided many otherwise undiscovered sources of information.

From place to place in our narrative we give details of the sums of money involved in an event, and so as to give some feel for what these would represent in our own times we have given the equivalent at 2005 prices in brackets.  These latter are based on a House of Commons Research paper of 1998, updated by a modifier to cover the years 1998 to 2005. We must emphasise that the figures are only indications and too much reliance should not be placed on them.

Although this history is principally concerned with the commercial brewing of beer in Rode it has touched on the one time domestic brewing in large houses; we should perhaps also in passing just bring the scene up to date by mentioning that with the availability of brewing kits and materials that can be bought over the counter some small brewing is now done for personal consumption in private homes. The Brewing wheel continues to turn!

Published
30 July 2023
Last Updated
2 August 2023