The Surprising History of Rode
10th October 2019
Church Farm, our new development of countryside homes, lies at the southern edge of the village of Rode in the rolling hills of North Somerset, a few miles from the busy market towns of Frome and Trowbridge. Today, Rode is a quiet, unassuming kind of place: a welcome escape from the pace of modern life. But this hasn’t always been so. Rode has a rich and unexpected history, from royal patronage to an infamous murder case.
The first residents of Rode arrived in the Stone and Bronze Ages. These early farmers domesticated plants and animals for the first time, creating small permanent or seasonal communities. They left behind evidence of their early settlements throughout the area, including the Devil’s Bed and Bolster, a Neolithic long barrow on Rode Common.
The name Rode is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Rydd’, meaning a ford. The village gets a mention the Domesday Book of 1086, but then appears to have been renamed ‘Roda’ by the Normans in the assize rolls of 1201, and later ‘la Rode’ in a charter roll of 1230. By the 18th Century, the village was known simply as ‘Road’, until in 1919 Somerset County Council reverted to the original spelling.
Rode grew in prominence in the Middle Ages as a trading centre on the borders of Wiltshire and Somerset, and then as a wool town, part of the historic district of the Hundred of Frome. The meandering waters of the River Frome were ideal for the woollen mills that sprung up along its banks, two of which, Rode and Shawford Mills, are still standing. The village’s original corn mills were initially enlarged to include fulling stocks, then in the 17th Century were developed further to accommodate spinning, weaving and dyeing machinery, and in some cases ended up as large four-storey steam-powered factories. The town’s mill owners used their newfound wealth to construct elegant mansions. At one time there were several large country houses, including Rode Manor and Langham, Millfield and Southfield Houses. From the 16th to the 18th Century the village thrived – enough for Rode to be designated a market town.
In keeping with Rode’s status, its original Norman church was replaced in the late 14th Century by the much larger St Lawrence’s. A local landmark and Grade 1 listed building, Charles II is said to have visited in 1651 after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. He climbed the tower to plan his escape, and it was quickly renamed ‘The King’s Chair’. St Lawrence’s is one of the few English churches where Clypping the Church is still celebrated. Parishioners form a ring around the church after dark on Easter Monday & Shrove Tuesday, in a custom dating from pagan times.
There were royal connections once more in the early 19th Century when the millers of Scutts Bridge won a national competition to create a new shade of clothing suitable for George III and his Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The triumphant azure blue was chosen by the king himself, and the millers of Rode received a patent to sell it under that name.
Rode remained an important wool centre right up to the late 19th century but was gradually displaced by the industrial revolution further north, and despite the village’s impressive heritage, it gradually returned to a quieter way of life.
There is, however, one final twist in the tale. In 1865, Road Hill House was the scene of the notorious Constance Kent child murder case, investigated by the leading detective of the day and followed by the nation in the popular press. The case raised issues about the class system and priest-penitent privilege in England. It prompted questions in the House and inspired novelists and playwrights. In more recent times, Kate Summerscale’s, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, about the case, has become a best-selling book and TV drama.
A beautiful village with a remarkable history, Rode is one of North Somerset’s most sought after locations and could be a wonderful place to call home.