The Story of Sutton Hoo
Edith Pretty and her husband, Frank, had been living at Sutton Hoo for eight years when Frank died, leaving Edith to grow ever more inquisitive about the land they had moved to as newly-weds. Edith decided to excavate the land. She approached Basil Brown, who worked as an archaeological contractor for Ipswich Museum, in 1938 he began the excavation. At first, the excavation yielded slim pickings but in 1939, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time- a 1300-year-old ship entombed beneath a huge mound was found -inside the space, where the ship had once provided a royal tomb a treasure trove of over 250 artefacts including coins, gold buckles, weaponry, silver cutlery and a unique full-face helmet was found. The helmet together with the other objects confirmed to the excavation team that they had discovered an Anglo-Saxon settlement at Sutton Hoo, previously believed to be Viking.
The urgency of the excavation was heightened by the prospect of war. When the War was declared on 3rd September 1939, the treasures were buried once more, but this time in a disused London Underground tunnel. They survived the Blitz, but the plans of the ship were not stored underground, and went up in flames.
And the site is still yielding its riches. More recently, Byzantine objects have been excavated and the armour of a warrior who was buried alongside his battle horse. Only around two thirds of the area has been investigated.
The ship-burial treasure was presented to the nation by Edith Pretty, and was at the time the largest gift made to the British Museum by a living donor. The Sutton Hoo site was given to the National Trust in the 1998.
The Book and the Film
The captivating story of the excavation has now been re-told, a book ‘The Dig’, written by John Preston was published in 2007 and the film of the same name, directed by Simon Stone and starring Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan and Lily James was released in January 2021.
Sutton Hoo Today
Now owned by the National Trust, today as visitors walk up from the River Deben to Sutton Hoo’s Royal Burial Ground, they are walking in the tracks of those Anglo-Saxon mourners that struggled to haul the great ship which weighed 10 tonnes and measured 27 metres in length to its final resting place. During the 1,300 years it remained hidden in the soil, the wood gradually rotted, leaving only a shadowy trace sprinkled with rusty iron rivets. The ghost of a former ship.
As well as being home to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time, Sutton Hoo is also home to a abundance of wildlife. With beautiful countryside, woodland, open fields and views overlooking the River Deben there are plenty of walks to explore across 250 acres of the Sutton Hoo estate.
For guests staying in Bungay, Sutton Hoe is an easy drive and takes less than an hour to reach.
A short guide to the royal burial ground at Sutton Hoo is available here.
‘The Dig’ film trailer can be viewed:-