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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

All Saints, Runhall

Runhall: as if a giant had squashed it

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from the north-west from the north-east east end 

    All Saints, Runhall
the setting is gorgeous   Peter observed fondly that All Saints looks as if a giant had squashed it between his hands before it had set. This is exactly right, although it is of course the missing chancel that gives it this appearance, along with the massive perpendicular windows at the east end of both the south and north walls.

Many chancels fell into disuse after the Reformation. As Andy Foster has pointed out, there could still be a sacramental use for them in the form of the quarterly communion service; some chancels, Tilney All Saints for example, were fitted out in the 17th century for this very purpose. But the communion rite could be as easily performed in the nave if there was a will or need to do so.

If a chancel fell into disrepair it was often blocked off and allowed to ruin, not least because the upkeep of the chancel was the responsibility of the rectory, not the parish; the beneficiary of the rectory income seems often to have shrunk from this responsibility. At Runhall, the chancel suffered a fire in the late 16th century, and was demolished, the arch filled in. Two piers still project slightly from the east end; they are the western edges of the window tracery. What appears to be a filled-in doorway is a 19th century memorial.

The setting is gorgeous. The churchyard is along a narrow lane in a maze of other narrow lanes to the south of Mattishall, with only a couple of houses for company. At first, I thought the church was locked, but I discovered that you have to turn the handle the other way, and it opens.

As you would expect, the church is rather square inside. The former chancel arch is marked by a recess in the east wall, and a simple altar and curtained reredos is set in it.

But the most noteworthy feature of the interior is at the west end of the church, behind the 14th century font with its quatrefoil patterns. This is the doorway into the base of the tower. The ironwork is from various periods, but some of it has been identified as 12th century. The woodwork of the door has been repaired, but it is probably contemporary with the earliest ironwork, and given that the tower is Norman at the base, it is probably the original door to the tower, an extraordinary thought.

  probably the original 12th century tower door   probably the original 12th century tower door (detail)

Behind the pulpit in the east wall is an image niche that must once have served a nave altar, another ghost of the past. Its colouring looks original, probably 600 years old. Today, the cheery kneelers and functional organ are marks of a typically loved and used English country church. Even on this cold day it felt a friendly place.

Simon Knott, February 2006


looking east looking west war memorial
font image niche simple organ

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk