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Somerset Rivers Authority flood works benefit river, bridge and pub

Somerset Rivers Authority is funding work to reduce flood risk and protect a historic bridge in Rode near Frome.

Rode Bridge, a Scheduled Ancient Monument built around 1777, is vulnerable to being damaged when the River Frome rises high during times of flood and water cannot smoothly pass through the bridge’s two main middle arches. 

Work now being done to improve flows through the bridge will create more flood capacity, prevent flood waters backing up in the Frome’s flood plain and benefit the adjoining and recently refurbished inn The Mill at Rode.

The scheme is being designed and delivered for Somerset Rivers Authority by the Environment Agency with contractors Land & Water.

Tyler Gibson and Steve Troughton of contractors Land and Water working on the wall of a new Somerset Rivers Authority-funded flood relief bypass channel at Rode Bridge near Frome
Tyler Gibson and Steve Troughton of contractors Land and Water working on the wall of a new Somerset Rivers Authority-funded flood relief bypass channel at Rode Bridge near Frome

Cllr John Osman, Chairman of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: “This is an innovative scheme to make some historic parts of Somerset’s infrastructure much more resilient, so they keep on working for local people and businesses in the 21st century. 

“The aim is to reduce the impact of water backing up at Rode Bridge. The bridge is Grade II Listed and its central pillars and arches need preserving so we want to encourage high flows to move away from there, make more use of two side arches and an old mill leat, and lower the pressure. This will also help the pub, which draws in people from a wide area.” (Text continues after two photos).

The two main middle arches of Rode Bridge on the outskirts of Rode, between Frome and Bath
The centre of Rode Bridge over the River Frome. The Somerset-Wiltshire border used to be in the middle of the river, until county boundary changes in 1937 (Somerset was made a bit bigger by the incorporation of Rodehill).

Rode Bridge silted up arch before clearing as part of Somerset Rivers Authority funded improvements
A silted-up side arch of Rode Bridge, due for clearing after a phase of works funded by Butcombe Brewery

Improvements include: clearing vegetation and invasive species, de-silting, creating a new bypass channel and strengthening banks and the old mill leat.

The old mill itself dates back to the 16th century. For 300 years it was part of the wool industry, then between the 1850s and 1920s it milled corn. 

The site is now owned by Butcombe Brewery, who earlier this year spent £400,000 on refurbishments. Butcombe are going to follow on from the SRA-funded works around the bridge, by using the same contractors, while they are on site, for extra de-silting of the river and an overflow pond. The SRA then plans to fund further works, to open up a third side arch, while in future the brewery is also hoping to repair the Mill’s old water wheel and generate hydro-electric power.

Rode Bridge was originally built as a toll bridge for the Black Dog Turnpike Trust, named after an inn where trustees used to meet in Black Dog Woods near Chapmansdale, to the east of Frome. Before the bridge was built, the river used to be crossed by an ancient ford – and even after the bridge was built, some people kept on using the ford to avoid paying the toll. It is in this ford area, just downstream of the bridge, that the SRA is now creating a different kind of bypass channel, for flood risk reduction.

Michael Lake, Environment Agency project manager, said: “An innovative part of this scheme is that we’re using specialist geotextile bags, filled with soil, to form the channel sides. This is more labour-intensive but it means we can work around mature trees without causing damage. The whole scheme will make much better use of Rode Bridge arches that had become partially blocked with earth, vegetation and debris.”

Soil-filled bags in wall of Somerset Rivers Authority-funded flood relief channel being built with cleared arch under Rode Bridge near Frome
Looking back towards a cleared arch under Rode Bridge. More than 1,000 bags filled with soil are being used to form new bypass channel walls.

Spikes help secure soil-filled bags in the wall of a new SRA flood relief bypass channel at Rode Bridge near Frome. More than 1,000 bags are being used in total.
Spikes - and careful construction - help to secure the specialist geotextile bags

If you would like to get in touch please contact us at sra@somerset.gov.uk or tel: 01823 355111
The Flood Action Plan is now overseen by the Somerset Rivers Authority and can be contacted on the above.