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Customs and Folklore

Clypping the Church


The word “clypping” is Anglo-Saxon in origin, and is derived from the word “clyp-pan“, meaning “embrace” or “clasp”. Little is known about the history of clypping, though most historians agree the custom is very ancient and probably pre-Christian. It is thought to have originated as a Pagan custom with the purpose of creating a magical chain against the powers of evil. The dance almost always ended with a huge shout and often a rush to a central point or more usually with a circle a contraction of it as far as possible, which was supposed to drive away the devil for another year. There is an old couplet associated with Rode Fair, but possibly originating from clypping the church:

Road revel, Beckington rout,

The Devil’s in Frome and cannot get out.

After the arrival of Christianity, these actions developed into a ceremony, traditionally held on Easter Monday or Shrove Tuesday, to renew faith and commitment to God, by forming a circle around the Church, holding hands, and singing. It was performed widely across the country, from Yorkshire through Derbyshire, Shropshire, Birmingham to Wiltshire and Somerset. It is thought to have been revived in the 19th century, when the earliest known mention of it was described in The Every-day Book (Hone, 1825). A painting by local artist, W. W. Wheatley (see below), depicts the activity at St. Lawrence, Road, Somerset in 1848 on Shrove Tuesday night.

Clypping the church continues to the present day at Rode. The modern ceremony usually takes place following a service in the church. The whole congregation (and other villagers) hold hands in an inward-facing ring around the church. Once the circle is completed the participants dance to the left and right, then rush inwards with a loud cheer. Following the ceremony there are sometimes an informal gathering with refreshments. The last clypping took place on 12th September 2010.

Wheatley’s Painting at St. Lawrence, Rode

Wheatley’s painting indicates that at Road, in 1840, the dance was performed by men only and they faced inwards towards the church.  The view of Dr. M. A. Murray on the picture of the ceremony at Road as given in a letter dated 1935 (and repeated by Batten-Pooll in A West Country Potpourri 1969) is given below.  This is not now generally accepted as the reason for the dance round Rode Church.

Local artist, W.W. Wheatley, painted the scene of the men of Road dancing round the Church in this way in 1840 on Shrove Tuesday night and the original painting can be found in the Somerset Heritage Centre at Taunton. (see letter below) 

Dear Mr Harris

I have done some hunting around for the painting by Wheatley you are interested in. We have a photograph of the painting held in the County Negative Archive and the painting itself is held in the Braikenridge Collection, overseen by the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. The Braikenridge Collection is currently undergoing conservation work to allow it to be used more fully. This means that for the time being there may be some difficulty in producing the painting at short notice. However, I have held the painting in my hands and can confirm that we have the original.

Kate Parr

Archives & Local Studies Assistant

Other versions of Wheatley’s painting

This painting was given by a parishioner to the late Major Geoffrey Crofton who presented it to the churchwardens of St. Lawrence in 1952 in memory of his father, rector of Rode-cum-Woolverton from 1888 to 1894. It now hangs in St. Lawrence.

The painting is signed ‘W W W’ and is probably by Wheatley, although he died on 1st March 1885. As one can see there are a few differences in the scene between this and the original painting.

With the copy at St. Lawrence is the back panel of a previous frame used for the picture with two documents glued to this back panel. 

The first says:

Presented to the Churchwardens of Rode Church

In memory of his father, Rev. H. Crofton

(Rector of Rode cum Woolverton 1888 to 1894)

by Major Geoffrey Crofton.  June 1952.


The second, typed on paper embossed at the bottom with ‘ESTATE HOUSE, HEYTESBURY, WILTS.’, says:

July 23rd 1935

Extract from letter from Miss M. A. Murray, lecturer on ethnology at the London University.

            “It is obviously the same dance as the ring-dance round Robin Goodfellow.  (See her book: ‘The God of the Witches’).  I wonder if it was originally round the divine victim in the form of a 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 north side always belonged to the devil.

            I don’t think the full moon has any significance.  It is an artistic convention to show that the action takes place at night and yet there is enough light to see what is happening.”

The picture is of Rode, or Road church, in Somerset, and was given by a parishioner to The Rev. H. W. Crofton, rector of Road-cum-Woolverton, Somerset, about 1888.


Here is at another version of Wheatley’s painting, this being held by Alastair Macleay of Frome Society for local Study.

Transcription of a note of some customs in Rode by W. W. Wheatley, local artist, 1802-1885, now held with his paintings in the Braikenridge collection:
Road, Somersetshire
“The custom of carrying about the Wassail Bowl on the last day of the old year takes place on the night of the last day of the old year. Singing some doggerel verses which I have collected but this custom is I understand not singular it being kept up in some other villages in the county.

A singular custom which I have not heard of having been practised elsewhere, takes place in this village on Shrove Tuesday. The children of the village assemble in the afternoon of that day at the village Pound, they join hands and as they term it Clip the Pound that is they surround it and after having three or four 3 or 4 times danced round it two of them separate & they play a game all through the village known by the name of Thread the Needle. When it grows dark they procure candles light them and place them in their hats, they then with join’d hands proceed to the village Church which as they term they Clip dancing and making as much noise as they can and after going through the village – the lighten lighted candles moving with rapidity round the Church have a curious effect – What this custom has arisen from I am at a loss to make out. I know nothing as relates to any ceremony as connected with the XXXXXXXXX Catholic Church without it has any reference to Candlemas when they used to make a procession with the candles blessed on that day (Candlemas Feby 2nd)” [W.W.W.]


Extract from “A West Country Potpourri” by A H Batten Pooll

In respect of witchcraft, the Quarter Sessions Great Rolls show that Rode during the 17th century was troubled by numerous witches. Although witchcraft was illegal until 1736, it seems to have been very seldom that a King’s Court, or an Ecclesiastical Court, prosecuted, and such unfortunate persons were usually subjected by the Public to the water-test – if she could swim she was guilty, if she drowned she was innocent.

            At Rode, Margaret Waddon was accused of witchcraft, and while she and her son were milking their cows on Rode Common, some men arrived from North Bradley, and after throwing down the milk of the two cows, hurried the poor woman down to the river where they all but drowned her, while her son who tried to protect her was assaulted.

            So late as the 6th July 1694, when belief in witchcraft had considerably declined, again came men from North Bradley who broke into Mrs. Habberfield’s house at Rode, took her down to the river and submitted her to the water-test.

            Scoundrels treated Mrs. Neal of North Bradley in the same way; breaking into her house, they took her to Rode and threw her into the river; rescued by her son, she was again thrown into the river and almost drowned.

            Osward Browne of Rode declared on oath that the above mentioned men told him that they suspected him of being a wizard, that they would burn his house down, and storm him in the river.

Among papers passed to Brian Foyston bv Executors of Estate of Paul Stacev. Died 1998

Subsequently passed to Peter Harris by Executors of Estate of Brian Foyston. Died 2012

Rough Notes by Chris Alford: c1981


1694. Searching for wizards and witches at Rode. At this date the village

of Road was in Somerset but being now in Wiltshire, though close to the borders

of Somerset; the following account of a determined (?) attempt to find witches

and put them to the ‘water test’ is worthy of place in these extracts, more

specially as it occurred at a time when the beliefs of witchcraft had consid-

erably decline in the country. From Wiltshire and Somerset produced many

notable witches, though the number of cases recorded in the Quarter Sessions

of Wilts are but few.

The information of Thomas Haberfield of Rode in the county of Somerset,

broadweaver, taken before me, John Ashe, ye 6th day of July Anno Domini 1694 –

who sayeth (upon his oath) yt on Wednesday last ye 4th day of this instant

Ju1y, being att his mother’s house in Road, there came William Palmer of

Callieford(?) in the cty of Som., Daniel Keeper of NB in Wi1ts, broadweaver,

William Moore, tayler, Thomas Caninge, chandler and William Carter, pedlar, all

of NB together with several other persons unknown and besett ye said house,

and this informant being present and nott knowing their designs secured all ye

doors and then askt them theyr business to which Moore and Keeper replyed that

they were come for ye o1d witch his mother to throw her into ye water to see

if she could swym, and he askt them by what authority, whether they had a

warrant from a justice of the peace or a Constable with them, to wych they

answered they were officers themselves and they would take up witches anywhere.

Whereupon this informant told them ye doores were all fast and lockt and if

they attempted comeing they should heare of it in another p1ace. Notwith-

standing whych ye sald Moore and Keeper broak open ye street door of ye said

house and entered ye same and lett in ye rest of ye rable part of which immed-

iately went up stayers and fetcht ye mother of this informant downe while ye

said Moore held him by ye help of Keeper part of ye tyme. After wych they

pu11ed her out of her house and while they were so doeing part of ye company

had provided a hand barrow in order to carry her to ye river, butt this

informant entreating very much did att last prevail with them nott to doe soe,

but lett her goe to the river without it, whych they did, and there put her to

ye same water and continued her for a quarter of an houre until such tyme as

she was neere dead. (signed)

Matthew Haberfield

The information of Matthew Haberfield wife of Thomas Haberfield of Rode

taken ye same day. Who sayeth (upon her oath) that being present att ye tyme

mentloned by her husband when Daniell Keeper and ye other person went up ye

stayers to fetch his mother downe, she, this informant, and his mother,

endeavoured to defend themselves by keeping up said persons downe ye stayers

with a crouch (crutch?) yt ye old woman went by, notwithstanding whych ye said

Keeper forced him self up ye stayers with a great charge before him by ye

help of ye other persons seized ye said o1d woman in her chamber and had her

from thence to a river and putt her in and continued her in ye water for a

quarter of an hour (signed) Matthew Haberfield.

The information of Anthony Waddon of NB who sayeth (upon his oath) yt on

Wed ye 4th of this instant July as he and his mother were milking their cowes

in Rode comon neare the parish aforesaid, were assaulted by Thomas Canninge of

Bradley, chandler, William Moore, taylor, Anthony Stock (and others) together

with several other persons unknown who threw downe ye milke of 2 cowes and

forcibly had away his mother, Margarett Waddon, to a river about 2 furlongs

from ye comon and there pul her into ye water to see if she could swym and

kept her untill she was almost dead. And also sayeth that as he endeavoured

to help his mother, William Palmer fell on him and beat him and tore a good

coat from his back

3 more similar


extract from Harry Hopkins Rode Major Misc. 1


Earlier this century a family called Charles lived in Rode. They were spinners and weavers and lived in an old cottage once thatched but later pan tiled. The cottage had once been two separate homes but had been converted to one. The family often spoke of a ‘presence’ in their house and described it as a moving black cloud gliding slowly along. It was known as ‘Charlie’ and whenever it appeared they knew a certain person would be calling shortly. And that person always did. Sometimes the family would hear sounds in the cottage as if someone was running from one cottage to the other – their home was once two homes. The noise would stop at the back door. Mr and Mrs Charles noticed that the noises stopped when their daughter left home but they still felt the ‘presence’.

St. Lawrence Church, Rode, is reputed to be the haunting place of a monk and there have been reports of him seen walking up the aisle towards the altar. He is darkly dressed and tall.

Straight Lane in Rode is said to be haunted by a headless man riding a horse. He is apparently seen on misty or foggy nights and usually appears between Merfield House and the crossroads. Some reports state that he carries his own head.

A house in Rode is said to be haunted by two ghosts (a man and a woman) who wear Regency clothes. The house was once joined with the one next door and reports say that the man chases the lady through both houses. An old lady wearing long skirted black gowns with a mob cap and a white apron is also seen walking in the garden near one of three wells which were nearby. Sometimes she carries a large bowl.

Extract from History of Rode by W. M.  Holloway 1972

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.

Ghosts – miscellaneous


Gosling – things move

Ritchie – smell tobacco smoke

Pine – smell tobacco smoke (Noad’s great aunt lived there)

Crooked Lane


Old George – playing a harp

Langham House

Betty Tanner

Kathleen Wyborne

Pat ?

Lois Hughes

Biddy Hill

Ann Robinson

Kathleen Wyborne said that:

Erica Read, who lived in (house no.?) often saw a young girl in a long muslin dress and mob cap and a young man in breeches and a velvet jacket.  He lived in the front house (house no.?) and she (maid?) in the back (house no.?) and he used to chase her through the house and out through the wall into the garden (Ethel’s) (house no.?).

She was sometimes seen in the front sitting room (house no.?) beside the fire place with a foot on the fender and arm on the mantlepiece.

Erica’s husband, (he eventually left her) a very down-to-earth man, whom she had not mentioned this to also saw them and once asked her if she saw them too.

Lois Hughes mother also saw the girl running out of the house into Erica’s garden.

Anne Dutrie said that:

She saw her husband , Marcel, at their home in (house no.?) after he had died, sitting in a chair, half in one place and half in another.  He also brought his friends.

Someone said that:

They saw a coach and horses outside Merfield

Someone said that they saw the ghost of a little boy at Langham House where 4 year old Savill Kent was murdered in 1860

Anne Soames

Mike Sparey

Monks’ Cottage

Daubeney House (vicarage)


The Rode Quilt?

A History of the Ann West Coverlet

A plausible explanation of who made the coverlet and how it came to be in the possession of Billy Willett in 2006.

The coverlet is signed Ann West’s work 1820, but exactly who she was and where she lived is not clear. To view the coverlet go to: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/coverlet/twEYTQqdj2JtnQ

where it can be enlarged to show every detail.

The coverlet came to light at an auction in 2006 where it was sold for £24,000. It has been held by the V & A Museum since 2008. The coverlet had been carefully stored over the years in a camphor chest which had kept it in tip-top condition. 1

It had been assigned to auction by an anonymous vendor, who said he had inherited it earlier that year. He knew nothing about Ann West but, according to family tradition, the maker had lived at Warminster House and had connections with the Bath family of Longleat in Wiltshire. After that it had been stored in its camphor box in an attic and then a garage in a relative’s house. The sale also included a small cradle coverlet made by Ann West which was in the same style, but a simplified version. It did not reach its reserve and so was not sold.1, 2  

In 2017, Cathy Fitzgerald, decided to make a Radio 4 programme about the coverlet and contacted me for any information I had regarding one of several possible makers of the coverlet, an Ann Love West of Rode Hill, then in North Bradley, Wiltshire. This Ann West was born in 1763, the daughter of a tailor. She married Edward West, a tailor in 1783 and was described as a tailoress living on Mogg Hill, North Bradley in the 1841 census.

Cathy had found out that the coverlet had belonged to a lady called Jane Wain and was given to her son, Billy Willett (born 1962). However, she was having tremendous difficulty getting further information about Jane Wain from her son. Rather oddly, research into the Willett family indicated that Billy’s mother was actually called Cecelia Wain. When Cathy eventually made contact with Billy Willett, he agreed that his mother’s name was Cecelia and his father was Frederick. Records show that they were married in Portsmouth in 1945. The only other information he was able to give was that his father had been a rag and bone man working in the Newbury/Thatcham area. So the coverlet could have come down through his mother’s family or his father’s, or it could have been acquired through his father’s business.3

Research through three generations of Billy Willett’s ancestors has uncovered no connections with Ann Love West’s family or with Warminster House or the Bath family of Longleat.

A search for Warminster House has failed to find any mention of its existence; and the suggestion of a connection between Ann West and the Bath family is, as indicated in ref. 4, most unlikely as socially there would have been a big gap between the Baths and tradesmen such as tailors.  

There remains the possibility that the coverlet was passed down through the family of Ann Love West. It is most likely that such an item would have been handed down through the female family line and this approach does provide a tenuous connection with the seller, Billy Willett.

When Ann West died in Rode in 1847 she would have left the coverlet to her eldest surviving daughter, Ann Fricker. Ann Fricker died in Bradford on Avon in 1860 and would have left the coverlet to her eldest daughter, Anne Sophia West Anderson. who married again in later life to Edward Holdaway before dying in Pewsey in 1883. Her eldest daughter was Isabella Martha Sheppard, who was also living at Pewsey. Isabella became a widow in 1909 and is recorded as dying in Camberley Surrey in 1939. A newspaper report of her death indicated that she had lived in Camberley for about 23 years, since 1916, the year her eldest daughter, Annie Frances, married George Chatt at Hartley Wintney, 8 miles from Camberley. In 1929 Dora Isabel Sheppard, Isabella’s second daughter wrote her will. This indicated that Dora was living with her younger sister Marjorie Ethel Sheppard at 174 London Road, Camberley, probably looking after their mother, and Annie was living at Wellswood, The Avenue, Camberley. 5 By 1939, Isabella and daughters Annie, Dora, Marjorie and Edna were all residing at 174 Harcourt Hotel, London Road Camberley6 just before Isabella died. At some later date Annie and husband George moved to Yeovil, leaving Dora and Margery in Camberley. Dora and Margery were still there in 1972, having moved to 32 The Avenue, when Dora died.  Margery eventually died in 1985 in Yeovil, the place where her elder sister Annie Frances Chatt died a year later. It is a reasonable assumption that, after Dora’s death in 1972, Margery, aged 79, decided to stay with her sister, Annie Chatt, for the remainder of her life. Margery would not have needed to take much of the furniture from the house in Camberley and the rest could have been disposed of in a house clearance sale.  Billy Willett has stated that his father was a rag and bone man working in the Thatcham area about 20 miles from Camberley, so it is a distinct possibility that the coverlet was acquired by the Willett family at that time.

The question, who made this coverlet, will probably never be answered definitely unless some reference to it can be found in family papers.


1. Lot 77 an article by Caroline Wilkinson in the History section of Popular Patchwork c2006

2. The Quilter No. 109 Winter 2006

3. Cathy Fitzgerald email to Peter Harris dated 26 Sep 2017

4. Quilters’ Guild letter to M. W. West dated 14 Jul 2008

5. The will of Dora Isabel Sheppard dated 21 Aug 1929

6. The National Archives-1939 Register-Sheppard Household-174 London Road, Camberley

27 February 2023
Last Updated
3 October 2023