Saxon bandits and British outlaws sheltered in the dense Selwood Forest. The forest had been a barrier to settling much of Somerset. By the mid seventh century, the Saxons moved in after a number of local battles. They were not unused to forest conditions (in German forests). They brought with them Christianity, and not their earlier religion of paganism.
Aldhelm, the apostle of Wessex, (who became Abbot of Malmesbury), heard of the ungodly conditions of the Selwood Forest. He decided that he would ‘civilise’ and convert the people of the forest to Roman Orthodox Christianity.
It is believed that in about 690 on a journey from Sherbourne to Malmesbury, Aldhelm and his men rested on the Frome River bank. It was here, that according to his biographer, Faritius, that Aldhelm built a monastery ‘in honour of St John the Baptist on the river which is called Frome.’
The location chosen for the mission was not perfect. Further upstream, at today’s Spring Gardens, the river crossing was easier. But Aldhelm decided to set up his monastery where the river could be forded nearby (where the town bridge is today). Here the spring provided a healthy water supply (which still feeds the leat on Cheap Street). The land was probably drier and easier to clear of shrubbery, and it was on high ground to provide a lookout.
The mission quickly became the heart of the community. It provided protection, labour and trading opportunities for the local and surrounding settlements.
No More Bandits & Outlaws
The heart of Frome still lies in the ethos of community that Aldhelm established. He gave the gifts of music, song, volunteering and learning, and on the 25th May he is remembered every year when the community celebrates the Saint Day of Aldhelm, the Patron Saint and founder of Frome.