December 10 – An afternoon at Sutton Hoo

A 7th century burial chamber thought to be that of King Rædwald

Hello from 1066 – a Medieval Mosaic

Today the intention was to go to Sutton Hoo but we woke up to snow and it was still snowing. By about 1.30 we realised that it had stopped snowing and so took the opportunity to go to Sutton Hoo. At this time of the year it is only open on Saturday and Sunday and from next weekend we will be working at the Medieval Mosaic every weekend so this was our only chance. It is only a short drive from our exhibition to Sutton Hoo and the snow really adds to the atmosphere.

Sutton Hoo was a burial ground of two cemeteries from the 6th and 7th centuries. There were originally around 18 mounds but many were robbed, mostly in the Tudor times and most of what was found there was lost. Two mounds escaped this fate – Mound One and Mound Seventeen. The Anglo-Saxon ship burial found in Mound One is the richest burial ever found in northern Europe. 1400 years ago, a king or great warrior of East Anglia was laid to rest in a 90ft ship, surrounded by his extraordinary treasures. The most likely candidate for the man who belonged to this grave is King Raedwald, a great King of East Anglia. The 90ft Anglo-Saxon boat from Sutton Hoo no longer exists. It was made of oak and after 1,400 years in the acidic soil, it rotted away leaving only its ‘ghost’ imprinted in the sand.

In the 1990’s, the Sutton Hoo site was given to the National Trust. In 2001 they built an exhibition building, cafe and shop. The exhibition is fascinating with all its information about the site and displays of the artefacts found. The ship-burial treasure was presented to the nation by the owner, Mrs Pretty, and was at the time the largest gift made to the British Museum by a living donor. The principal items are now permanently on display at the British Museum in Room 41. A display of the original finds excavated in 1938 from Mounds 2, 3 and 4, and replicas of the most important items from Mound 1, can be seen at the Ipswich Museum. Basil Brown, a self-taught archaeologist, made what he described as ‘the find of a lifetime’ in 1939. We owe a great debt to this quiet man who painstakingly uncovered the largest Saxon boat found in the UK so far. The Sutton Hoo helmet is a decorated Anglo-Saxon helmet discovered during the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial. It was buried around 625 and is widely believed to have been the helmet of King Rædwald of East Anglia with its elaborate decoration.

Three rooms of Tramner House have been set up as a Christmas from 1939 when Mrs Pretty lived there and the train set was particularly interesting.

On our way home we called into the Medieval Mosaic exhibition and completed the setup and tidied everything away so that the mosaic is ready for its opening.