Parish Summary: Runton

This Parish Summary is an overview of the large amount of information held for the parish, and only selected examples of sites and finds in each period are given. It has been beyond the scope of the project to carry out detailed research into the historical background, documents, maps or other sources, but we hope that the Parish Summaries will encourage users to refer to the detailed records, and to consult the bibliographical sources referred to below. Feedback and any corrections are welcomed by email to heritage@norfolk.gov.uk

The parish of Runton is situated in on the north Norfolk coast. It lies west of Cromer, to the east of Sheringham and north of Aylmerton and Felbrigg. The name Runton derives from the Old English meaning ‘Runi’s or Runa’s enclosure’. The parish has a long history and was certainly well established by the time of the Norman Conquest, its population, land ownership and productive resources being extensively detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086. In particular this document mentions the presence of woodland and pigs as assets belonging to Runton. 

Aerial photograph of excavation of the West Runton elephant.

Aerial photograph of excavation of the West Runton elephant. (© NCC)

Before discussing the archaeology of Runton it is worth mentioning the West Runton elephant. The remains of this elephant (classified as a species of mammoth) were found at the base of cliffs in West Runton in 1990, around 600,000 years after it had died. Although Norfolk Archaeological Unit successfully carried out the excavation of the remains the elephant does not appear amongst the archaeological records for the parish. This is because fossils, like the elephant, are unrelated to human activity and as such are not strictly speaking part of the archaeological record. Nevertheless, displays about the elephant can be seen in the Cromer Gallery and in Norwich Castle Museum and further information may be gained from the Norfolk Natural History department.

Regarding archaeology, the earliest recorded monument in Runton dates to the Neolithic period. This takes the form of a possible long barrow located south of Stone Hill (NHER 39144) and visible on aerial photographs of the area. Although the barrow here has not been excavated burials from this period have been excavated, with two Neolithic skeletons (NHER 6370) dug up at Woman Hithe. Perhaps this cliff top location was a favoured burial location for early people as a Bronze Age cremation urn (NHER 2278) containing small fragments of burnt human bone was also found here.

Of course, the majority of the prehistoric archaeology from the parish takes the form of artefacts. In this regard Runton is blessed, as there are a great number of finds on record. Several Palaeolithic flint handaxes (NHER 6358, 6360 and 40158) and a flint chopper (NHER 35162) have been recovered from across the parish. Pleasingly, there are also quite a few Mesolithic flint tools and arrowheads (NHER 6407, 6410 and 6411) from Runton. This trend is possibly related to the coastal location of the parish as marine resources were often favoured by people of this time. The polished flint axeheads and scrapers so characteristic of the Neolithic period are also well represented in the archaeological records for Runton. However, the most exciting prehistoric object found in Runton is a saddle quern (NHER 34334) from ancient Egypt that was probably dumped on the beach by a collector of antiquities who no longer wanted it!

Few artefacts from Runton can be dated to the Bronze Age with any certainty although a nice copper alloy axehead (NHER 6371) was found during 1924 in a barn opposite the church. Rather more Iron Age artefacts have been recovered and these mainly take the form of coins and include a rather rare drachma of Ambracia (NHER 17511) and two gold coins of the Iceni tribe (NHER 30894) which may once have been part of a hoard. Part of a possible Iron Age field system (NHER 39140) has also been identified by cropmarks on Roundabout Hill in the eastern part of Runton.

No Roman sites have been identified in Runton, despite the presence of earthworks at the so-called ‘Roman Camp’ (NHER 6387) near to the caravan site on Camp Lane. The name assigned to these features is misleading as they relate to an alarm post/telegraph station dating to the period of the Napoleonic Wars. The number of Roman artefacts does seem to indicate some sort of presence in Runton and these range from quern stones (NHER 6380), storage jars (NHER 6375) and bricks (NHER 29552) to terrets (NHER 31069), coins (NHER 6377, 11453 and 24331) and brooches (NHER 20209). Sadly, the location of the most significant discovery, a first century brass coin hoard (NHER 6381), was not properly recorded in 1943.

The Saxon era is poorly represented in Runton. Excavations at an unspecified date recorded an Early Saxon cremation cemetery (NHER 6383) containing several crude black urns filled with burnt bones but the exact location of this exciting site is unknown. Metal detecting finds comprise a Late Saxon box mount with openwork decoration (NHER 31688) and Middle Saxon runic coin (NHER 29345).

Holy Trinity Church (NHER 6423) in West Runton is the most prominent reminder of the parish’s medieval past. The majority of this church dates to the 13th/14th century and it is designed in the Decorated style. The church underwent restorations in 1854 and 1886; at which point much of the window tracery was replaced. Any visitors should note the pleasing portrayal of worshippers through the ages produced by H. J. Stammers of York in 1959. No other standing medieval buildings remain but documentary evidence suggest that a windmill may have been located at Mill Hill Plantation (NHER 22720) as early as medieval times. This would tally with the picture of agricultural exploitation provided by the cropmarks of the various medieval field systems (NHER 6384, 6385, 38311) that have been reported. The finest medieval object on record for Runton is an inscribed silver finger ring (NHER 40476) found to the northwest of East Runton village centre. Other more mundane finds include pottery sherds, tile fragments and a bell found in a ditch near to Farm Cottages on Beach Road (NHER 29554). 

The early post medieval period saw the erection of a number of buildings still visible today. The most impressive of these is Old Hall (NHER 33869) on Top Common which dates to the early 17th century but was remodelled in 1909-10 by Baillie Scott. The interior features double ovolo-moulded beams in the south room and the garden is said to have been designed by Gertrude Jekyll. Manor Farm House (NHER 33870) on Top Common and Flint House (NHER 33899) on the High Street comprise the other period properties worth a look by those interested in vernacular architecture. The most merit worthy artefact from the post medieval period recovered in Runton was a gold finger ring with black enamelling (NHER 29345). Its inscription suggests that it was probably a mourning ring.

During the late post medieval period Runton began to involve itself in manufacture and trade as well as agriculture. 19th century brickworks have been identified at Orwell Cross (NHER 17191) with a tall conical kiln similar to the one at the brickworks in Mundesley. A group of post medieval lime kilns (NHER 6422) were also noted on ground now occupied by a caravan site at Newell Crescent. However, these no longer survive as they were incorporated into World War Two defences. The Old Mill in East Runton (NHER 6474) was also in operation during this period, having first been recorded in 1826. It was last used in 1908 and has been restored and renovated in recent years.

By the 19th century the movement and trade of materials from Runton would have been aided by the presence of the two railway lines that served the parish. The Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway (NHER 13585) opened in the late 19th and ran from East Runton to North Walsham, and sections of this line still operate today. Surviving features include Paston and Knapton stations, a number of bridges and embankments and the viaduct at East Runton. The Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway north to south line (NHER 13584) also ran through Runton on its way from Norwich City Station to Cromer and was fully operational by 1887. All but the Cromer to Sheringham section closed to trains in 1964 but several 19th century stations, signal boxes, bridges and embankments still remain as a testament to its former glory.

Due to its coastal location, Runton was an important location during World War Two and consequently had numerous defences to guard against possible Nazi invasion. These coastal defences sit within a much larger spread of World War Two defences and military sites, which provided coastal protection and training areas along the cliff tops between Sheringham and Cromer. Those located in Runton included trenches like those dug on Six Acre Hill (NHER 18327) and Town Hill (NHER 30588) as well as defences on the beach itself, which took the form of concrete blocks, barbed wire fences, minefields and scaffolding (NHER 38316 and 41567). There were also pillboxes (NHER 24399) at the cliff base and tank traps further into the town (NHER 42682). A command post and series of tunnels were also situated on Incleborough or Wrinklebore Hill (NHER 30589) but the only evidence of their former presence is a collapsed tunnel entrance resembling a badger set with an iron bar upright in front.

Runton was also an important training area and had several training sites located along the cliff tops. Aerial photographs taken by the RAF in 1946 show a number of these training sites in the area around Incleborough Hill (NHER 38547 and 38548) with practice/slit trenches, weapons pits and gun emplacements visible. Indeed, it is likely that there were gun emplacement along the cliffs here, with many being standalone structures intended to defend against aerial attack. Two such gun emplacements (NHER 38899) were noted within a field boundary on the cliffs between Runton and Cromer. Of course, there are many more World War Two sites in Runton and the ones mentioned here are merely intended to give a flavour of the tightly knit defences along this stretch of the Norfolk coast. 

Thomas Sunley (NLA), 26 March 2007.

 

Further Reading

Brown, P. (ed.), 1984. The Domesday Book (Chichester, Phillimore & Co.)

Mortlock, D. P. and Roberts, C. V., 1985. The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches: No.3 West and South-West Norfolk (Cambridge, Acorn Editions)

Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B., 1999. The Buildings of England, Norfolk 2: Northwest and South (London, Penguin)

Rye, J., 1991. A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place Names (Dereham, The Larks Press)

Norfolk County Council logo Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Powered by HBSMR-web and the HBSMR Gateway from exeGesIS SDM Ltd, and mojoPortal CMS
© 2007 - 2019 Norfolk Historic Environment Service