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St Leonard, Mundford
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You get the key from the Rectory, which is near at hand, and the Rector is a most affable old chap. He tells you that there has been an increase in visitors in the last year or so, 'because of that book', and this might remind you if you had forgotten that this was one of the three smaller East Anglian churches given a makeover by Ninian Comper in the years before the First World War, and that a recent guide book to Comper's work has been published. Along with Great Ryburgh and Lound, Mundford church received the full Comper treatment. It is perhaps not as well known as the other two, even despite the book, but in some ways this is the most interesting one of the three.
You enter the tunnel-like nave, still all of its dull 1880s restoration, but it is once you reach the rood screen that things get interesting. From here eastwards everything is Comper's, and it is the most complete scheme of his work in Norfolk. And yet, if you have recently visited the joyful, bubbly screen at his Lound, as I had the day before, there is something rather austere and oppressive about this screen, partly because of the great organ case on top of it, but also because it was never gilded. It appears rather out of scale, as if it was intended by Laudians for a much larger Oxbridge college chapel, but washed up here instead. Pevsner thought it was quite extraordinary, the coving on both sides making it seem much larger than it actually is. It dominates the church as its main feature in a most un-East Anglian, un-medieval way.
It is something of a relief to step through into a chancel which is all Comper's. The furnishings (Remarkably out of place in this modest chancel - Pevsner) are Comper's best in East Anglia, and the alabaster reredos is a near-identical twin to the contemporary work at Great Ryburgh, although in much less good condition. The glass above (terrible - Pevsner) depicts St Mary Magdalene and St Stephen flanking the risen Christ. Incidentally, Pevsner says that the reredos and glass seem to be by Comper too, but how he could ever have doubted this is beyond me, especially as the window is signed by Comper with his strawberry leaf symbol.
Panes at the bottom depict the martyrdom of Stephen, and an inscription remembers the Lynne-Stephens family. Curiously, the Comper restoration was paid for by Captain Montagu of the Hall, a single-minded Anglican who was so appalled by the Catholic chapel that the Lynne-Stephens family had built in the grounds of Lynford Hall forty years earlier that he planted a screen of trees around it, which to this day make it difficult to photograph.
Simon Knott, July 2008
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