A Short History of Mundham & Runcton
This brief history is largely based on the Victoria County History which can be found in the County Library and is recommended as a good starting point for anyone researching more detail.
The Parish seems to have been nationally recognised in 680AD when Caedwaller King of Wessex, gave Pagham with North and South Mundham to Bishop Wilfred who subsequently transferred the Manor of Pagham with South Mundham to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas A Beckett). At this time Pagham was an important and busy port which may have attracted national interest. Both Mundham and Runcton feature in the Domesday Book (1086) and from then until the beginning of the 19th century the Lordship of the Manor and the associated land frequently changed hands.
In 1162 one William St John gave one-third of the Manor of Mundham to the Norman Abbey of La Luzerne. Two hundred years later, on the outbreak of war with France in 1340, the lands at Fisher and Brimfast belonging to the Abbey were sized by King Edward III and in 1441 these estates were given to endow Henry VI’s new College at Eton. After one or two changes of mind the Manors of Brimfast and Bowley were confirmed in the gift of the College. In 1862 Bowley Farm and Manor Farm, South Mundham were purchased by the Ecclesiastical (now Church) Commissioners. Since 1986 there have been regular exchange visits by parishioners with the people of La Lucerne d’Outre Mer.
In 1540, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the Manor of Runcton had come into the possession of King Henry VIII who sold it to Thomas Bowyer, a merchant from London and his wife Joan (the beautifully illuminated letters patent are held in the County Records Office). Thomas also brought the Manor of North Mundham from the King in 1544. Thomas died in 1587 and his tomb can be seen behind the northern choir stalls in St Stephen’s church. The manor passed through a succession of descendants of the Bower family to John Ballet Fletcher who was Lord of the Manor in 1812 and was succeeded by his son, W H Ballet Fletcher who held the position until his death at the age of 89 in 1942.
In 1874, the primary school was built in its present location on land donated by the Lord of the Manor (under the terms of the Education Act 1874). The school opened in 1876. In the same year an Act of Parliament was passed requiring Pagham Harbour, having become unnavigable due to silting, to be drained. This involved closing the entrance between Selsey and Pagham and by 1889 the whole harbour had been reclaimed and was in use mostly for grazing cattle. In the great storm of 1910 the man-made barrier built in 1876 was breached and the sea reclaimed its own, flooding 1,000 acres in about two walls.
Subsequently, the Pagham north wall, originally built in 1778 to reclaim land to the north of it, was strengthened and has since undergone a number of further improvements. The harbour has remained open to the sea but dries to mudflats at low tide and in 1964 was designated as part of the Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve and is now an internationally renowned haven for sea birds.
In 1882 the Reverend John C B Fletcher, having been introduced by his brother the Lord of the Manor, was inducted as vicar of the parish at the age of 27. The Fletcher family was very wealthy and between them the brothers were great benefactors to the parish. In 1883 the new vicar started his tenure of office in a burst of Victorian zeal by major additions to St Stephen’s church (chancel and vestry). The original building was erected in the 13th century by an awe-inspiring community effort and the tower was added in 1550. The organ was donated in 1874. Among his many activities John Fletcher started the Village Flower Show in 1894. With a couple of wartime interruptions, this show has been an annual event to the present day and is now incorporated with the Gala.
The population of the parish changed very little between 1801, when it was 324, and 1901 when, after rising to 495 in 1841, it had declined again to 326. In 1931 the figure was 598, in 1951 it was 766 but in 1991 the population had jumped to 1134. The majority of this increase was concentrated in the two northern villages of North Mundham and Runcton which, since 1945, have expanded significantly.
During the second millennium the Parish boundaries changed frequently until the Local Government Act of 1894 introduced the modern Parish Councils to take over some of the civil duties previously discharged by the ‘vestry’ or Church Council. The first North Mundham Parish Council was formed in December of that year with five councillors elected by a show of hands at a parish meeting. Parochial Church Councils were formed in 1929 to manage Church affaires. Since 1894 the civil parish boundary has remained more or less unchanged. The northern boundary was fixed when the Chichester bypass (A27) was built in 1938/9 (the dual carriageway was completed in 1959). The parish now elects a Parish Council of nine members but shares a Chichester District Councillor with the neighbouring parish of Oving.
The Village Post Office was established in about 1900 and the telegraph installed in 1903. In 1970, having moved a couple of doors along the lane it was substantially extended to incorporate a larger village shop but after initial prosperity and several changes of ownership the Post Office/store has now closed and the building has become a private house.
In 1942 Mr W H B Fletcher, Lord of the Manor, died. He had no heirs and left the Lordship of the Manor to St John’s College, Cambridge, his old college. However, by this time there appears to have been no associated estate and this feudal relic had few powers except the patronage of the benefice. In 2006 the Bishop of Chichester exercised his right to suspend this patronage and appointed the latest incumbent himself. Mr Fletcher left the rights to the freehold of the school (should it ever cease to be a school) to a local hospital and they have now passed to the N.H.S.
During the Second World War (1939-45) an airfield known as Merston airfield was constructed at Runcton, north of the Walnut Tree Inn. It was a satellite for the dispersal of aircraft from the major airfield at Tangmere, the base for many fighter aircraft during the Battle of Britain. This development had a great indirect effect in North Mundham where hutted accommodation for RAF personal was built in the vicarage garden and paddock. After the war the RAF huts were converted into temporary housing for civilians and progressively replaced by a substantial council housing estate of 68 houses (Fletcher Place). The main mess hall was purchased in 1950 by the Parish Council and used as a village hall until 1979 when it was sold for development (Church Mews) and the proceeds used toward the building of the New Village Hall north of the B2166. In 1996 most of the airfield was designated the Runcton Horticultural Development Area (H.D.A).
During the post war years a further Council estate (Palmer Place) was built in North Mundham together with two private estates (Hermitage Close and The Hermitage). In 1955 the vicarage was sold and converted into apartments now owned and extended by the Hanover Housing Trust. Meanwhile, in Runcton, a Council house estate of 10 houses (Elm Grove) was built in Mill Land and private houses built first in Brookside Close and later in Goodwood Gardens, and other small estates.