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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.
The painting indicates that at Road, in 1848, the dance was performed at night by men only and they faced inwards towards the church.
At St. Lawrence, Rode by W. W. Wheatley held privately in Frome
As one can see there are a few differences in the scene between the original painting and this version.
At St. Lawrence, Rode by W. W. Wheatley hung in St. Lawrence
This painting was presented to Henry Woodward Crofton, rector of Rode-cum- Woolverton from 1886 to 1894, by one of his parishioners. His son, the late Major Geoffrey Crofton, presented it to the churchwardens of St. Lawrence in 1952 in memory of his father. As one can see there are a few differences in the scene between the original painting and this later version. This copy is signed ‘W W W’ so possibly it is also by Wheatley, although he died on 1st March 1885. The painting now hangs in St. Lawrence, Rode.
With the painting at St. Lawrence is the back panel of a previous frame used for the picture with the following 2 documents glued to it. Dr. M. A. Murray's view on the ceremony depicted at Road, as given in the second document (and repeated by Batten-Pooll in A West Country Potpourri 1969), is not now generally accepted as the reason for the dance round Road church.
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.
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.