Until 30th August 1919 the name of the village was spelled “Road” rather then “Rode”. (Hence the differing spelling in some parts of the text.) In years gone by Rode was divided into two parts. The area west of the west side of Lower St. (the local brook marking the boundary) and the area broadly north and west of the present Rode Hill were in the County of Wiltshire, the Diocese of Salisbury and the Parish first of North Bradley and then of Rode Hill. The remainder, ‘Road’ was in the County of Somerset and under the Diocese of Bath and Wells. The United Benefice of Rode and Rode Hill was made by an Order in Council of King George V on 16th, March 1923, placing it in the Diocese of 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.
The Church of St. Lawrence occupies a commanding position when seen from the
southwest. A stone boundary wall and yew hedge guard the Churchyard on its west side (with older yews in the northwest corner and one planted to mark the new Millennium just to the north east of the entrance). Below this wall a meadow slopes down to the Brook, which meanders through the village and into the river Frome. In olden days most of the village was on the same side of the modern A361 road as the Church, but when the woollen mills (now long gone) came to the village in the 18th Century its centre gradually moved to where it is now.
The Churchyard, mostly to the south of the Church itself, opens from the A361 via a lay-by, which replaced the fine old Lych Gate when that was demolished by a motor car in 1966, and this gives on to a car parking area along the southwest corner of the Churchyard. A substantial stone wall, heightened after World War II to replace iron railings which had been removed for scrap metal during the conflict, protects the north side of the Churchyard. The older part of the burial ground is to the east, with an extension to the west, when the far south wall of the Churchyard was also built. The Church stands on sloping limestone slabs, which give substantial water run-off in wet weather, with consequent risk to some of the below-ground burial vaults.
We enter the Church through the north porch, rebuilt by the Victorians, and thence through the north door. This is thought to be original and dates from the mid to late 15th Century. Just inside the door and to its left is a small holy water stoop, found and re-sited there in 1873. This would have been used by the faithful on their arrival.
The present Church may well be the third to stand on this site; we know definitely that it had one predecessor, for evidence of a smaller building was found during the major restoration of 1873/74 and we know there was an earlier major rebuild in 1770. Some fragments of an even earlier building (parts of two twisted pillars and some mouldings) are now mounted above the door on the north side of the Vestry.
We move to the centre line of the Nave and face eastwards towards the Chancel and high Altar The Chancel, internally wider than pre-1873, is one step higher than the Nave, and is notable for the finely decorated east window, donated by Rev. Charles Glossop, MA the Rector in 1873. He also paid for the rest of the Chancel work. The window tells the story of the Ascension and was in memory of Glossop’s late wife. Two other stained glass windows on the south side show figures (in the north) of SS Stephen and Lawrence (our Patron Saint) and (in the south) SS Chrysostom and Augustine.
The Sanctuary is again raised by one step and bordered by rails said to date from the time of King Charles I (1625-1642AD). There is a fine tiled Reredos, depicting the Last Supper (obscured for many years by heavy curtains!). This was beautifully restored in 2001/02. In the south wall are an Aumbry and Sanctuary Lamp donated in 1995 by the late Mrs. Betty Risdon of the Rode Tropical Bird Gardens in memory of her husband Donald.
To the north of the Chancel is the Vestry, again built in 1873, and at that date the Organ was placed in the western part of it, no doubt with the aim of allowing the Organist and Choirmaster to keep stern eyes of the Choirboys! The Organ was built by a local man, Henry John Prosser, well known in this region as an Organ-builder and seller of other musical instruments. He is commemorated in this Church but, despite having been the Organist here for some 50 years, he is buried in the Churchyard of the former Christ Church on Rode Hill – as Prosser lived in the part of the village that was still in Wiltshire and the Diocese of Salisbury at the time of his death said he could not be buried here! The Organ was rebuilt in 1998 with the aid of a substantial grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and then repositioned in the nave.
Glancing at the Chancel Arch from the Nave it is easy to imagine how different the Chancel would have looked before 1873. It then had a decorated Rood Screen and Loft, and a “Three-Decker” Pulpit, Reading Desk and Clerk’s Desk with painted canopy. Unhappily these were all removed and now all that remain are two “squints” or “hagioscopes” (allowing a view of the Chancel from the corners of the Nave) and the lower parts of the Rood steps either side of the arch. A new Pulpit of Hamhill stone was put in place on the north side in 1873, but this in its turn was taken down in 1995.
We now walk to the west down the centre aisle of the Nave, stand below the steps up to the tower and again face east, noting that the outer walls of both side aisles are rich in Memorials to local people. Among them is one to young Bugler Wheeler, who, along with Lord Kitchener and the Officers and men of HMS “Hampshire”, lost his life when the ship was mined off the Orkneys in 1916 when taking the War Minister to Russia, and to the Clerks of Woolverton and Road (as it then was) who died on the same day in 1799. Another faithful Parish servant recorded is Josiah Frances, Clerk for 53 years in the 1800s and marking his attendance at 664 Funerals!
We are in the best place from which to study the perpendicular-style timbered roof of the Nave and the Chancel. It is also obvious what a great shame and desecration it was when our Victorian predecessors stripped the walls of their fine medieval plaster to leave the rubble stone walls bare, with the courses outlined by the intrusive “snail-creep” pink mortar in the joints.
Only in the eastern corner of the south aisle does any remnant of the ancient plaster remain, to the east of the deep wall tomb, inside which local tradition has it that the remains of one of the great St. Maur (Seymour) family rest. They were for generations Lords of the Manors of Rode and Langham. Just to the west of this tomb, high on the wall, is a niche, rich with tracery and restored by the Victorians. We can only guess what figure it once contained, for it was probably destroyed during the English Reformation in the mid 16th Century.
The Victorians found beautiful coloured decorations on the plaster in the area around the tomb and there is little doubt that the south aisle was in earlier times a Chantry Chapel, where Prayers and Masses would have been said for the souls of the Departed who had given funds for such ceremonies. A piscina (used for washing Communion vessels) was found there, and replaced in the wall.
The plaster of the roof of this aisle was stripped away at the restoration, revealing the oak timbers of the fine barrel roof, with bosses carved with Tudor roses and moulded ribs to the beams. The centre boss of this roof is pierced for the chain from which a censor would have hung before the Altar, and could possibly have been a gift from Thomas Webbe, but the Chantries were abolished in 1545. The splendid east window in this aisle tells the story of the Good Samaritan and commemorates Commander (later Captain) Arthur Mayne Noad, Royal Navy, Churchwarden from 1859 to 1888, whom his village friends and contemporaries held in high esteem and who certainly led the 1873/74 restoration work.
At the west end of the south aisle there was, prior to 1873, a Vestry with the Organ and above it a Choir and Musicians’ space. These were all removed during the restoration and the ground was then dug out to allow construction of a below-ground furnace chamber for the central heating system. Parts of the old window surrounds were taken out to form the inner part of the window flue. The furnace room entrance and the chimney can still be seen from outside the west end of the Church. This space-heating, first coke, and then oil-fired, became progressively unreliable and expensive and, concurrently with a complete rewiring of the electrical system, a new system with overhead Quartz electric Infra-red panels and under-pew foot warmers was fitted in 1998. The old boiler and its asbestos jacket were disposed of in 2000. A submerged, remotely controlled pump keeps the water level down in the access stairwell.
The north aisle is thought to be later than the remainder of the building but must also have been a chapel at some stage, for a small Reredos and piscina were found when removing the plaster from its east wall in 1873, prior to the building of the new Vestry and Organ Chamber. The original wagon-beam roof is still here today, with its moulded lower ribs, some parts of which show signs of nailing, lending weight to the view that the roof here was once plastered. Above the north door, which now has a heavy curtain to guard against draughts, is a wooden replica of a Bishop’s Mitre, remembering John Oswald, Rector of Road in 1741, later consecrated Bishop in 1762. As his Dioceses were Clonfert, then Dromore and finally Raphoe (all in Ireland) he does not appear in Crockford’s Directory!
The clerestory windows of the Nave and windows of the side aisles date from 1874 and are in a style of earlier days. Those fitted in the 1770s did not find favour and were described by one contemporary critic as being more suitable to a Mill than a Church (a “swipe” at the Church architect of the time who had designed several of Trowbridge’s woollen mills.) The fine centre pews are of oak, installed here after the redundancy of our sister Church of St. Lawrence at Woolverton. Those in the side aisles are of Victorian pitch pine, installed in 1874 with some re-sited in 1998. A public address system and an Induction Hearing Loop were fitted in 2005. The Choir Stalls of the Chancel too have been moved outwards to open up a better view of the east window and the Sanctuary High Altar. The paintings of the Stations of the Cross hung on the walls, the larger picture at the apex of the Chancel arch and those on the south wall of the Chancel are the work of local artist Mrs. Kathleen Wyborn.
Facing west we enjoy the attractive tracery of the tower arch and ceiling and the west window, a gift of the sisters of the Rev. William Samways Oke, Rector 1874-1879, and successor to Glossop, (Rector of Road cum Woolverton for 60 years!). Oke paid for the Nave Roof.
There is a ring of six bells, most dating from 1753. For many years they could not be rung owing to the deterioration of the oak bell frame and its peculiar mounting with one end supported in a tower window recess. After a sustained and successful fund-raising campaign, aided by grants and gifts and the “Sponsorship” of a bell by local families, the bells were retuned and re-hung on a new steel frame and they re-dedicated by the Bishop of Bath and Wells on 14th, May 2006. A joyous day for Rode!
Clypping the Church:
This ancient custom, adopted here in Rode, has its origin in Roman pagan worship. Farmers sought the protection of their herds from marauding wild beasts by dancing and making merry round a local altar. These actions developed after the arrival of Christianity into a ceremony to renew faith and commitment to God, by forming a circle around the Church, holding hands, and singing. A painting by local artist W.W. Wheatley, a copy of which hangs here, of the men of Road dancing round the Church on Shrove Tuesday night in 1848 this way can be found in the West of England Art Gallery in Bristol. We repeat the ceremony every two years.
Leaving the Church by the double west door, the tower, seen from afar, seems rather too heavy to be totally aesthetically appealing but has a solid sturdiness about it. Looking up we can see its battlemented top and the small railed section, known as the “King’s Chair”, from which,(if village tradition is to be believed) King Charles II, after the battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651, surveyed the countryside to see if any pursuing Parliamentary troops were in the vicinity.
Whether this be true or not, it is certain that our Church of St. Lawrence and the thousands of folk who have worshipped here in the past, and who do so today, have seen a broad canvas of our country’s history unroll before them, and who knows what is yet to come?
The Saints of St. Lawrence’s Chancel
Traditionally known as the first Deacon; one of those appointed by the Apostles to “serve tables” in Jerusalem (Acts 6:5). He incurred the hostility of the Jews and after delivering the discourse in Acts 7:2-53 before the Sanhedrin, he was stoned to death c. 35 AD, apparently without formal trial. He died confessing Christ and asking forgiveness for his persecutors.
Deacon and Martyr. Tradition has it that on being asked to deliver up the riches of the Church, he assembled the poor and presented them to the Prefect of Rome saying “these are the treasure of the Church”. He was punished by being roasted to death on a gridiron in 258AD though this story is widely rejected by modern scholars.
St. John Chrysostom:
Bishop of Constantinople, c. 347-407AD. He studied in Antioch, became a hermit, was made Deacon in 381AD and Priest in 386AD. He was especially gifted in Preaching (the name means “golden mouthed”).He was made Patriarch of Constantinople in 398AD but his insistence on the literal application of scripture brought him into conflict with the Empress Eudora and the Patriarch of Alexandria. At the Synod of the Oak in 403Ad he was condemned and banished and finally exiled to a place near Antioch and then to Pontum, where he died.
St. Augustine of Canterbury:
First Archbishop of Canterbury. He was ent from Rome by Pope Gregory I. He landed in Kent in 597AD and soon Ethelbert, King of Kent, whose wife was already a Christian , formally adopted Christianity. In 603AD Augustine tried unsuccessfully to reach agreement on discipline and practice with the Celtic Church and about 604AD he sent Justus to preach west of the River Medway and Mellitus to work amongst the East Saxons. He died in 604/5 AD.
(Thanks to Captain Brian Foyston for producing these notes)