Parish Summary: Runhall

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

This parish contains the villages of Runhall, Welbourne, Brandon Parva, and Coston. The parish is approximately 15km from the centre of Norwich, situated south of the A47, between Norwich and Dereham. As well as containing a number of villages, the south of the parish is also crossed by the River Yare, around which a number of drains have been cut. 

The majority of the place names in the parish derive from Old English, with  ‘Runhall’ thought to mean nook by the fallen tree, ‘Welbourne’ refering to words for spring or stream, and ‘Brandon’ meaning broom hill. Only ‘Coston’ is different, being derived from the Old Norse, and is thought to mean Karr’s enclosure.

Evidence from the earliest periods of occupation has been recovered across the parish. This is limited to two concentrations of prehistoric flakes (NHER 40080, NHER 40562), a Mesolithic flint core (NHER 14306) and a fragment of a Neolithic polished axehead (NHER 8864). There are also a number of Bronze Age objects, including a spearhead (NHER 11428), an axehead (NHER 39894), and excitingly some Late Bronze Age casting waste (NHER 35819) discovered near the church in Welbourne. Also potentially dating to the Bronze Age period are two ring ditches, (NHER 31553, NHER 18820), which are situated just 70m apart in the southwestern corner of the parish. 

Unfortunately only a single Iron Age object has been recovered from the parish, a brooch (NHER 35819) discovered to the north of All Saint’s Church at Welbourne.In comparison, a number of Roman objects have been recovered, a large number of which have been pottery sherds (NHER 17694, NHER 25694, NHER 40563). Other objects have also been recovered, including a spindle (NHER 8845), a seal box lid (NHER 25680), a brooch (NHER 35819) and a finger ring (NHER 39894)

There have also been a number of objects from the Saxon period. Again, a number of these are pottery sherds (NHER 40562, NHER 49042), however there have been a small number of interesting artefacts. These include a matching pair of Late Saxon box mounts (NHER 25403), two brooches (NHER 35819, NHER 36067), and a particularly stunning 7th century gold pendant (NHER 40897), which had been made from a Roman solidus of the Roman emperor Honorius.

There are no surviving monuments or buildings from the Roman or Saxon periods, however all three villages apart from Coston are mentioned in the Domesday Book. The earliest surviving buildings in the parish are the churches, of which there are four; one for each of the villages. Possibly the oldest structure is All Saints’ Church at Welbourne (NHER 7318), which retains its original nave building and may date to the early Norman period. The round tower, curiously blind except for a small window at head-height, dates to the 12th century and like the rest of the building is largely of flint. 

Also of early date and retaining more of its earliest features is St Michael’s Church, Coston (NHER 8886). This church is an unusual and important ecclesiastical building for Norfolk, as its largely 13th century structure remains in many places.  

All Saints' Church, Runhall, showing the 12th century round tower, the nave and the site of the demolished chancel.

All Saints' Church, Runhall. (© NCC)

The majority of All Saints’ Church at Runhall (NHER 8887) dates to the 13th to 15th centuries. The north and south doorways of the nave date to around 1300, as does the window next to the north door. Inside is a rare and exciting door surviving in the base of the tower. It is wooden, bound and studded with ironwork, the earliest of which has been dated to the 12th century, and may be the first and original tower door.  

Photograph of All Saints' Church, Brandon Parva.

All Saints' Church, Brandon Parva. (© NCC)

Perhaps the latest of the four churches, All Saints’ Church at Brandon Parva (NHER 8882) is a strong and solid building, with a well-proportioned 15th century tower, completed in 1508. The church also has a particularly nice tower arch, around which trailing vines entwine around the hood mould, as well as a good chancel roof. 

The medieval period is dominated by the presence of the church, and one of the few other medieval buildings is also ecclesiastical. Situated just north of St Michael’s church at Coston, and closely linked to it, the site of the palace of the Archdeacons of Norfolk (NHER 21233) is now overbuilt by later buildings. The Archdeacons took possession of the church in 1267, and were largely responsible for its current form. 

Of possible medieval date is Bayfield Hall (NHER 8880), which was situated very close to the southern border of the parish. It was apparently associated with a moat and later subdivided into cottages, but was irrevocably damaged by fire in the 1970s. The only other site associated with a medieval building is a site (NHER 8865) near to Frogs Hall. Excavations recovered massive flint and mortar foundations, and some earthworks thought to be the remains of medieval embankments were also noted. 

Fortunately, the number of medieval objects recovered greatly outnumbers this small number of monuments. As can be expected coins (NHER 39894, NHER 39654), pottery sherds (NHER 7306, NHER 40563, NHER 40562) and small metal ornaments (NHER 40080, NHER 39993) make a large proportion of the finds. Less common finds include fragments of a bucket mount (NHER 37210), as well as two seal matrices (NHER 35819, NHER 40897).

From the post medieval period similar objects have also been recovered; again dominated by pottery sherds (NHER 40564, NHER 28373), and coins (NHER 39654, NHER 36561). Of more interest are the small number of buildings in the parish listed by English Heritage as of architectural interest. These are scattered across the parish and a number, like Coston Hall (NHER 21234) are of 17th century date.  

World War Two pillbox

A World War Two pillbox. (© NCC)

Also of interest from this period is a 17th century flint-coursed well (NHER 16519), discovered during an excavation in 1980. A number of records also indicate the positions of buildings which have since been destroyed. These include Hardingham Windmill (NHER 8859), which was burnt down during the filming of ‘The Shuttered Room’ in 1966, as well as the site of a post medieval brickworks (NHER 8881). Of more recent date is a World War Two searchlight battery, pillbox and defensive structures (NHER 32930) situated across Church Road north of Coston.

Ruth Fillery-Travis (NLA), 20 February 2006.


Further Reading

Knott, S., February 2006. ‘St Michael’s Church, Coston’. Available: Accessed: 20 February 2006

Knott, S., February 2006. ‘All Saints, Runhall’. Available: Accessed: 20 February 2006

Knott, S., February 2006. ‘All Saints, Welbourne’. Available: Accessed: 20 February 2006

Knott, S., February 2006. ‘All Saints, Brandon Parva’. Available: Accessed: 20 February 2006

Morris, J. (General Editor), 1984. Domesday Book, 33 Norfolk, Part I and Part II(Chichester, Phillimore & Co)

Pevsner, N., 1997. The buildings of England: Norfolk 2: Northwest and South (London, Penguin Books)

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

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