Day Trips From London: Sutton Hoo, an Anglo-Saxon Royal Burial Site

Updated on January 17, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I love to travel and explore new places. I hope my articles encourage you to visit them too.

Replica of the face-mask helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, England.
Replica of the face-mask helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, England. | Source

Last Resting Place of King Raedwald

Sutton Hoo is the site of some remarkable archeological finds. Chief of these is a 30-yard-long ship burial (27 meters) similar to those previously found only in Scandinavia. The boat itself has rotted away leaving just a “ghost” imprint in the soil. A collection of gold and silver objects found within the earthen mound indicate this buried ship was the grave of the East Anglian King Raedwald (died circa 625 AD). There are about eighteen earthen burial mounds on the 255-acre site. Only a few have been excavated to date, but there are plans to investigate more of them as finances permit.

The fine detail on the artefacts led historians to rethink their view of the Dark Ages. The materials used in the gold death mask-helmet (see photo above) include garnets (a red semi-precious stone) which must have been traded from India or East Asia. There is also fine gold filigree work which would require considerable technical skill at metalworking. These treasures are so valuable, they are kept at The British Museum in London. Replicas have been made for the onsite exhibition at Sutton Hoo and these can handled during special “out-of-the-case” sessions.

Anglo-Saxon golden belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, Suffolk (England). 7th century AD. Original displayed in the British Museum.
Anglo-Saxon golden belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, Suffolk (England). 7th century AD. Original displayed in the British Museum. | Source

A Story of Landed Gentry and Buried Treasure

To get a feel for the excitement generated when the burial ship was first discovered, I recommend you read The Dig by John Preston. The book is fiction but it tells the story of real people. The key protagonists are Edith Pretty, the widowed landowner of Sutton Hoo and Basil Brown, the amateur archeologist whose perseverance made the excavation a success.

Mrs. Pretty was a wealthy widow with an interest in the afterlife. She heard local stories of ghostly knights on horseback haunting the burial mounds on her land. Her curiosity about the eerie sightings led her to employ Mr. Brown to investigate further. With more luck than skill his excavations led him to the sand shadow of the buried ship and thence to the treasure trove. However, war intervened and the dig was halted.

The burial mounds date from the 7th century and grave robbers looted them for treasure many times across the years. In addition, even though the sand imprint of the ship was found in 1939, the mounds were used by the British army during the Second World war for artillery practice. Some damage to the land occurred but fortunately, most of the archeology survived.

The estate was gifted to The National Trust in 1998 by the heirs of Edith Pretty to be cared for in perpetuity. The National Trust is a registered charity that cares for heritage sites for the benefit of everyone, both now and in the future. New discoveries on the Sutton Hoo estate continue to add to our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon period.

A Brief Overview of the Discoveries at Sutton Hoo

Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon Ship Burial

Archeological interest in Sutton Hoo, East Anglia is relatively recent. In 1939, a private excavation of some of the many burial mounds on site found a sand imprint of a ship dating from the 7th century. The ship’s timbers had rotted away. All that remained were a few Anglo-Saxon rivets and a “shadow” of the boat left in the sandy soil.

World War 2 interrupted the dig and it was not until the 1960s that further examination of the treasure trove of objects found within the mounds could begin. The objects included finely worked gold buckles and shoulder clasps, gold coins and iron weaponry. The most exciting find was a decorative golden death face-mask helmet. Taken together, these objects indicate this site was the last resting place of at least one East Anglian king, possibly more.

Sutton Hoo Is Less Than 100 Miles From London

show route and directions
A markerSutton Hoo -
Tranmer House, Woodbridge IP12 3DJ, UK
get directions

The Sutton Hoo estate in Suffolk is cared for by The National Trust.

B markerBritish Museum -
Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, UK
get directions

British Museum, London has the original gold artefacts from Sutton Hoo.

The Sutton Hoo Archaeological Site From Above

Visiting Sutton Hoo

The Sutton Hoo treasure hoard remains one of the UK’s most significant archeological finds. You can walk around the 255-acre site unaccompanied or you can take a guided walking tour of the mounds. There are also occasional study days where you can learn more about specific characters from history who are linked to the mounds.

On-site is an exhibition hall with replicas of all the treasures. (The originals are kept for security and insurance reasons at The British Museum in London). During opening hours there are regular “out-of-the-case” sessions where you can touch the objects and get a close-up view of the incredible skill of the Anglo-Saxon workmen.

The site is not open everyday so check The National Trust website before your visit. There you will find information about upcoming events as well as opening hours and current entry prices.

The nearest train stations are Melton 1¼ miles, Woodbridge 3 miles with services from Ipswich and London. There is also a bus service from Ipswich.

Sutton Hoo is close to the coast and the winter months can be cold. Make sure you wrap up warm and wear flat shoes to get the most from your visit.

An Archaeologist Discusses The Buried Treasure

Who Was King Raedwald?

The most famous of the Sutton Hoo burial-mounds is Mound One ... which was found to contain the remains of a funerary vessel of an early seventh-century Wuffing king.

It is believed to be that of King Raedwald, the greatest of the kings of the Eastern Angles and overlord of Britain from circa AD 617 until his death circa AD 625. Raedwald became High King of Britain after defeating Aethelfrith, King of Northumbria, at the Battle of the River Idle, circa AD 617.

— Dr. Sam Newton Wuffings.co.uk
Midwinter at the burial mound, Sutton Hoo.
Midwinter at the burial mound, Sutton Hoo. | Source

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • CYong74 profile image

    Kuan Leong Yong 7 weeks ago from Singapore

    This would make for an interesting excursion! Definitely something different from the usual castles, countryside houses, etc.

  • Guckenberger profile image

    Alexander James Guckenberger 7 weeks ago from Maryland, United States of America

    I would love to visit such sites. I am part British by race, and I would like that sense of connection to my roots.

working