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

All Saints, Runhall

Runhall

Runhall

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    All Saints, Runhall

This little church was a favourite of the late Peter Stephens, who would fondly observe that it 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 disproportionately large perpendicular windows at the east end of both the south and north walls.

Many chancels fell into disuse after the Reformation. There could still be a sacramental use for them in the form of the quarterly communion service, and some chancels, at Tilney All Saints for example, were fitted out in the 17th Century for this very purpose. But the communion rite could be just 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 of the parish and the beneficiary of the rectory income seems sometimes to have shrunk from this responsibility. At Runhall, the chancel suffered a fire in the late 16th Century, and was demolished, the chancel 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 a delight. 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. As you would expect, the church is almost 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 being made in the 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, a remarkable thought.

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.

Simon Knott, April 2021

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looking east looking west
ye do shew THE LORDS death font 13th Century ironwork
R H Hammond killed in action August 7th 1916 the supreme sacrifice

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