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Missing Histories and Apocryphal Stories of Frome

These are the missing histories of Frome, a selection of tales which will astonish and astound you. They will stretch your belief and understanding of this towns heritage and the people who over the eons have made it great.

Written as part of the Frome Festival 2015

Written by several talented people from ages 5 to 55, you guess which.

Chapter one

The Beginning

Welcome to Missing Histories of Frome - Apocryphal stories for the Frome Festival 2015

This town has quite a theme of black feathered birds, with Hunting Raven Books, Rook Lane Chapel and even the Black Swan. Four and twenty black birds feature in the town as do black feathers at The Chicken House (formerly the Black Cock)

So why this abundance of dark feathers, and why should they flock to Frome?

Well this unusual rhyme may be part of the mystery, or just add to it further.

A Parliament of Rooks all standing in a row
Each with axe in hand its down to Frome they go
Searching in the gutters through all corners of the town
They swing the chopping cutters
To strike the Duke and his kingdom down


Though the specifics are now lost in history it would appear that the Duke of Monmouth who's rebellion started in a town close to Frome is the culprit referred to in the poem. (He was also responsible for building a house on cork street).

At what point in time or more specifically when is difficult to tell but it is terribly inaccurate as the Duke of Monmouth, though recruited an army from these parts was actually captured in Hampshire. This was after the defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor after which he was then executed by Jack Ketch in London. It was said that it took eight blows to sever his head though reports do vary on this.

What ever the truth the poem is still quite a curiosity.
Walk up Rook Lane with the Chapel to your left, you should head left when you come to a car park and then through the snickleway on to Sheppards Barton
Chapter two

The flagging stones

The small alley which connects Rook Lane to Shepards Barton once was home to a yearly ritual which would take place on the weekend prior to St Swithians Day which is the 15th July.

St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mare

St Swithun was the Bishop of Winchester around the year 850 and after his death his venerated remains were shared amongst holy chapels with his head going to Canterbury Cathedral and an arm going North to Peterborough Abbey. But it was said that his left ear was lost on transportation to Wells Catherdral and it was Frome where it went missing.

The Lost Festival

The original tradition was to listen to the ground waters on the days coming up to St Swithun day, with dancing and festivities happening in and all around this part of town. The procession which passed this way involved ornate staffs about five foot in length with flat ends which enabled you to place your ear to with the foot of the staff on the flagstone, the sounds would travel up the festival staffs and into the ears of those listening. Apparently through this custom the festival leaders could discern the weather to come for the next forty days after St Swithuns, but how they managed to divinate this remains a mystery to this day.
Head down the Street towards the building which is over the pavement and watch out for the old water pump hidden in the wall on your right.
Chapter three

The Suppos-ed Nunnery

As you walk under this arch listen carefully; at the right time of day you may here the distant prayers and singing of the nuns who used to live above you. You can also sometimes smell the boiled cabbage and ale they were particularly fond of.

The nuns who lived here were very successful brewers; so successful that in the 1700s they opened their own hostelry, the Nun Inn, to sell their ales at the monthly artisan markets which took place in this area in the 1700s.

The inn was unfortunately spectacularly unsuccessful, partly due the competitive number of inns and hostelries in Frome at that time, and partly due to its confusing name.

It was sold to a local merchant, Hubert Naish who re-named the pub the Sun Inn, which you can still visit today.
Pass under the building and then onto Catherine Hill, now head down hill past the bakers to a wedge shaped property which sits between Paul Street and Catherine Hill.
Chapter four

The Long Wait

Deep within the floor, water rushes and gushes down tunnels, illuminated today by spotlights and a glass. The tunnels you see here were only discovered in spring 2015, before then no one knew they were there. They may be part of the underground network which stretches from Frome to the Dorset coast, used by smugglers and the Duke of Monmouth.

There are plans to explore these tunnels in the future by lowering a very long reed-thin caver by the ankles (head first) into the darkness who will then excavate the foot of the cavern and explore further tunnels.

It has been proposed that the tunnels could be used to ripen cheeses in much the same way they do at Wookey Hole not too far from here.
Carry on down Catherine Hill and stop on the corner where you meet Stony Street.
Chapter five

The Moated Castle

As you walk down Catherine Hill towards the junction with Stoney Street, look to your left and you'll see an enclave of small cottages across an open yard. This is the site of a moated castle that used to stand in this spot in the 16th century. The moat was fed by the spring that emerges at St Adhelm's Well beneath St John's steps.

When the castle was in full use the water was moved via conduits along Palmer St into a complete moat, with a drawbridge from the castle opening onto Catherine Hill. the castle owner filled the moat with fish, but when he discovered that the local nunnery was poaching the fish at night, he drained the moat leaving the fish floundering in the dead air. It is said that In times of flood it is still possible to see damp channels here and on Palmer St - evidence of the conduits used to draw the well water - and to smell the aroma of rotting fish.

Within 70 years the castle had been abandoned and had fallen into disrepair. The conduits were dismantled, but the spring still flowed. Not wanting to lose this vital source of water, the townsfolk created the Cheap Street leat. In an act of solidarity with the fish that were killed by the castle's owner, every year they used to use the leat for a fish race, allowing fish to swim free into the river below. By the 18th century the ruins of the castle had been rebuilt as the Castle pub, a second pub to be created by the Sheppard's Barton nunnery.
Don't go down Stony Street but instead head along Palmer Street to the Chicken House on your right.
Chapter six

The Chicken House

Formerly The Black Cock, the chicken house was a warehouse store and the crane can still be seen today. This was used to hoist up stores into the different floors of the building as the windows you now see where once large doors.

It was said that apprentice workers here would have a gauntlet of tasks to complete before becomming fully fledged members of the Guild of Hoister-Men. One such infamous activity was termed the chicken run, where the new recruit would run from the back wall of the warehouse towards the wide open doors of the top floor. Here the crane would have been placed in such a manner to allow the apprentice to grab the jib which would then swing wide with his momentum. The jib would pivot right around to the outside wall where he would be perilously dangling high over the street below, the only way back would be to kick away from the wall, and hopefully swing the the crane back towards the open door where his colleagues would grab him and drag him in before his grip lost its strength and he fell to cobbles below.

Incredibly there were no reported casualties from this terrifying enrolment into the Guild.
At the street end head down hill along Bath Street then look over the road to the flying gantry on Eagle Street.
Chapter seven

Eagle Street

The Flying Gantry on Eagle Street replaced an interesting anomaly of Frome from some years ago as the space between buildings, being neither in this building nor that one was tax exempt. Trade, work and conduct which took place in these area were themselves also free from taxation.

And so it was that a rather salubrious club came about which became known locally as the Flying Club. Members were admitted from one building and they exited from another and whilst in this limbo their trading could take place.

Today we are very familiar with travelling to airports and passing through security to find ourselves in tax exempt areas, on sovereign soil but outside too, perfect for the purchase of duty free goods. This was the case here, although it is likely that only light goods were traded and in small quantities.

Eventually this loop hole was closed and the Flying Free Club closed it's doors.

A little further down the street we find a hotel where Isambard Kingdom Brunel once stayed for just a single night. In the morning he complained the egg prepared for his breakfast was terrible and didn't return to Frome for twelve years, and when he did, he brought his own eggs! It was thought that the water in Frome was so hard that the egg solidified almost immediately on boiling.
Head down into town to the memorial and then cross over the road, we will be heading up Cheap Street with it's famous open gutters but before we do this go to the foot of Apple Alley which runs parallel with it. Head around there and fine the plaque for the next story.
Chapter eight

How Apple Alley got its name

By Amelie Vowell aged 8

Long ago, Apple Alley Used to be a place where people met after a hard days work to play a very special game. Because the alley was slightly sloped, the people of Frome found that things rolled down it in unusual ways, and thus bowling was invented. But one thing was different about this bowling alley, they didn't bowl with different coloured bowling balls as they do today, They bowled with shiny red apples, from the stall at the top of the alley. Everyone loves Apple Alley because it is such a cool place. way better than the normal bowling alleys it inspired.
Chapter nine

Apple Alley's Apple stall

By Katy Peniket aged 9

Once upon a time there lived a girl called Pippa. She owned a shop at the top of an alley, but at the time the alley didn't have a name. One day Pippa was just stacking apples on the front of her stall (it was a grocery stall) when a fairy flew into the room and said "if you eat one of those red apples you will be famous". She took a bit from the crisp apple and the speech came true. She was famous as the alley was named after the apples that she sold, so her apples became everlasting.
Now go back to Cheap Street and follow the stream up the street.
Chapter ten

The Baker of Cheap Street

By Nye Vowell aged 6

Once there was a Baker who cooked nice things like jam doughnuts and yummy cakes, but he also made apple pies and crumbles, from the apples in Apple lane. He made nice pasties and lived in a large, clean dustbin at the back of his shop. He lived in Baker Street, a 5 minute walk from the centre of town and worked in the bakery at the top of Cheap Street. He is famous because he has a hundred lives and no matter what terrible things happen to him, he survives. No-one knows the end of the story, perhaps he is still alive today!
Continue up Cheap Street, at the top walk over to the fountain which is just to the left of the church steps.
Chapter eleven

The Fountain of youth

The water in this fountain may not be suitable for Kings, but one thing that not many people know is that the water trickles underground through stone fortified with mystical elements not found anywhere else in the country. The stones when combined with a full moon and a specific time in the calendar produces a water with potent properties that extend life and rewind the clock of youth, but at all other times it produces sickness and malady. It has been said that the water was sipped by soldiers on the way to battle in the Pitchfork Rebellions in Norton st Philip, thus aiding their victory.

It was also said that the Duke of Monmouths soldiers drank from a flask drawn from this well before the infamous Battle of Sedgemoor. The Dukes army was easily defeated perhaps assisted by poisoning fro these waters drawn under inappropriate luna cycles.
Walk up the steps to the right of the fountain.
Chapter twelve

Gentleman Street

Little Blie Betty lived in a den
And sold good ale to gentleman
Gentlemen came every day
And little Blue Betty hopped away
She hopped upstairs to make her bed
And she tumbled down and broke her head.

The other side of the Church is the grave yard where our walk will end.
Chapter thirteen

The Goal

At the back of the graveyard you can see the pound where the condemned criminal would spend his final days before being carted off up to Gibbet Hill for all to celebrate justice. The windows are low to the ground and it can be seen behind the Copper Beach tree to the far side of the yard.

Local Story teller Lisa Kenwright has a great local story to tell about this event which would be best told by her. Go hunter her out at Rook Lane Chapel with Mr Rooks Speak Easy Storytelling events.
Chapter fourteen

The End

So just to clarify, as I am sure you have gathered, these are the Apocryphal tales of Frome, which we have had fun blending with the truth. You may have noticed that there are kernels of fact throughout, some of which are more accurate than others. Your challenge is to discern which are fact and which are The Apocryphal Tales!

Good luck.

If you have more tales to add to this then please get in touch, possibly easiest through Storywalks.info or The Rook Lane Trust who have supported this and other creative Storywalks workshops.

Thanks for reading

Mr Storywalks
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