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

St Andrew, South Runcton

South Runcton

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South Runcton South Runcton CDW 1858 South Runcton 

    St Andrew, South Runcton

I must have passed this lonely little church dozens of times without realising it was here. It is spectacularly poorly placed, set screened by trees immediately above the busy Downham market to Kings Lynn road. This made sense in the 1880s, when it was built, but today the traffic storms past, and it is difficult enough to stop for a moment, let alone to actually park.

19th century Romanesque is rarely good, but there is something rather pleasing about St Andrew, its cupola-crowned frontage reminiscent of something you might find more easily in the backhills of Burgundy rather than in an East Anglian field. The architect was John Brown of the Norwich Diocese, and the date was 1839 - that is to say, this was one of Norfolk's first Victorian churches. Brown is an interesting architect, because he was busy just before the Ecclesiological Movement set out the rules for a 'proper' restoration. Norwich was the see of the forward-thinking Bishop Bathurst, and we may imagine that Brown had plenty of freedom. By the second half of the century, mock-Norman had become laughable, but John Brown, working on the cusp of Georgian and Victorian taste, managed to produce a number of churches in the county that are of interest and originality, in an idiom which he made his own.

In this case, he was replacing a genuine Norman church on the same site, and actually retained the lower part of the chancel arch. The arcading down the south side creates a grand effect, but is curiously not repeated on the north side. Brown thought a Norman church should have an apse, and so he gave it one. A later addition, a rather awkward little vestry on the north side of the apse, has a plaque with the cross of St Andrew and the date 1858.

As you might expect for this part of Norfolk, the church is kept locked and there is no keyholder notice. Quite frankly, I think this is asking for trouble. It would make much more sense to remove all valuables and leave the church open all the time. As it is, this is such a remote spot and is so screened from the road that they are bound to get break-ins.

It hasn't always been the case that St Andrew was locked to strangers and pilgrims. As at Runcton Holme nearby, there is a notice on the door telling you to Come in and Pray, which briefly made me optimistic. But the notice is faded, as if praying in a church were no longer fashionable, or even thought particularly necessary. A newer notice beneath it proclaims that the church has No Safe, No Silver, No Money, while a third notice above observes that all children are welcome at our worship, rather wistfully I thought. Looking through a window, we saw that the sills were decorated with silk flowers, and the building was full of light. It seemed an attractive space, and I wished it had more to offer than just being a fortress, or a venue for the Sunday club.

  come in and pray
   

Simon Knott, September 2009

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