English Church Architecture -
NORTH RUNCTON, All Saints (TF 647 159) (May 2018)
(Bedrock: Lower Cretaceous, Sandringham Sand Formation)
This is one of Norfolk's rare eighteenth century churches, erected after the tower of its predecessor collapsed on the nave, demolishing thereby almost the entire building. Constructed 1703-13, it belongs very much to the late Stuart Baroque tradition rather than the austere classical style shortly to become popular under the Hanoverians. The architect was Henry Bell (1647-1711), a contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren and twice Mayor of King's Lynn (Wikipedia), who designed the Custom House on the quayside there, described by Pevsner as "one of the finest late C17 public buildings in provincial England". (See the photograph above, taken from the south-southeast.)
All Saints' church consists of a chancel with a small cross-gabled S. organ chamber, a nave, and a W. tower with little lean-to vestries to north and south. The chancel is rubble-faced with brick dressings but the nave, of perfectly square plan save only for the very slightly projecting pedimented central bays, has been rendered and given mock rustication at the angles. The roofs are tiled. The tower rises in three stages to a plain parapet, urns acting as pinnacles at the angles, and a small surmounting cupola. The building is entered through the round-headed W. doorway (illustrated in the thumbnail, left), set beneath a broken pediment supported on engaged semicircular shafts. Principal windows in the church (in the chancel E. wall and the central bays of the nave) are predictably round-headed and divided into the usual sections by wooden tracery bars, and the smaller subsidiary windows in the east and west bays of the nave are topped by low segmental arches and oval windows above.
The church's striking interior comes somewhat as a surprise. (See the photograph above, taken from the west.) The plastered nave ceiling is divided into nine square panels of which the outer eight are flat and white while the central section is provided with a tall square dome in Wedgewood blue. It is supported at the corners by round columns standing on tall bases, marred by insignificant volute capitals which show how ignorant English architects were at this date of classical rules of proportion. The nave communicates with the chancel through a large central arch and two much smaller ones, one each to the left and the right, that may have been inserted later. The resulting transverse arcade is supported by two pairs of columns, set next to each other, east to west, with deeper, more successful capitals.
As for the chancel itself, according to Pevsner the sanctuary (seen above) was completely reorganized in 1887 when the fluted and gilded Corinthian pilasters that now separate the bays were brought here from St. Margaret's, King's Lynn. They are by no means out of place, however, for they too are the work of Henry Bell, ascribed by Pevsner to 1684. The paintings inside the bays depicting the four Evangelists and the Ascending Christ, are the work of Giotto Lamponi, a late nineteenth century Florentine painter, and although now badly in need to cleaning, still manage to hint at their underlying vibrant colours.