Tag Archives: Sutton Hoo

East Anglia, Sutton Hoo and Rainy Day Caravan Holidays

Suffolk

Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk so this holiday was my opportunity to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

Today we drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutton Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England because it sheds light on a period of Dark Ages history that is on the margin between myth, legend, and emerging historical documentation.  It is the site of an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

This is King Rædwald…

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The discovery is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  Local folk reported seeing ghostly figures wandering around the mounds and in response the initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers as labourers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

The most significant artifacts from the burial site were those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a collection of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

It is a good story but it has some holes in it.  These mounds had been there for a thousand years or so and must surely have generated some interest before Edith Pretty financed the operation.  And so it was because four hundred years earlier Henry VIII (no less) authorised a dig to search for treasure and those entrusted with the task began their excavations.  They discovered one tomb and made away with the loot but failed to make their way into King Rædwald’s ship and gave up rather prematurely.

The point is if people knew there was treasure in the field in 1540 why did no one look again until 1940.  Did everyone just forget?

So is it the most important archaeological site ever uncovered in England?  There are some challengers for the title.

The Staffordshire Hoard represents the largest find of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. Consisting of over three thousand, five hundred items found by an amateur detectorist buried in a field in Staffordshire. The discovery is said to have completely altered our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England and the hoard accounts for over 60% of all the Anglo-Saxon items conserved in English museums.

The last Plantagenet King of England was Richard III and he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and hastily buried somewhere in the city of Leicester. The Richard III Society are obsessed with the King with a bad reputation and one member in particular, Phillipa Langley, was convinced that she knew where he was. She persuaded the University of Leicester to finance an excavation in a city centre car park, pointed to a spot, the excavator started to work and bugger me there he was!

All we need to find now is King John’s Treasure lost in The Wash in 1216 somewhere between Spalding and King’s Lynn, somewhere down the A17 and whoever finds that is going to be very famous and very rich.

Watch this short clip to see what it is all about…

The Detectorists TV show.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply to say that we have been there for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artifacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift and most valuable made to the British Museum by a living donor.  Edith Pretty was either very generous, very stupid or very rich anyway.

After five days of glorious sunshine it was raining today, pouring actually, so this cut short our visit to Sutton Hoo and with no chance of any improvement we made our way back to the caravan at Kessingland and sat inside for the rest of the afternoon.

This was exactly how I remembered caravan holidays when I was a boy.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

Coming Up – A Week in Suffolk, UK

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Earlier in the year my daughter invited us along on a camping holiday.  Not being a fan of tents I turned the opportunity down but offered the alternative of a modern luxury caravan.

She didn’t take a lot of persuading, it turns out that she is not such a big fan of camping either!

Suffolk

East Anglia – Anglo Saxons and East is East

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Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk and my travelling companion was rather astonished to hear this admission and saw it now as his personal responsibility to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

We drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutto Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England – an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

It is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  The initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

The most significant artefacts from the burial site are those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a suite of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

I was pleased to visit but I have to say that the story is a whole lot more interesting than the site.

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artefacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift made to the British Museum by a living donor.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

It seemed somehow that we should be staying longer in such a significant place but two hours was quite enough and so just after midday we began the drive back towards Norfolk and Great Yarmouth.

More or less following the coast road we stopped first at the seaside town of Aldeburgh famous mostly for being the home of composer Benjamin Britten and which is a genteel sort of place where people of a certain age (my age, I confess) visit to walk along the pebble beach and pass judgment on the scallop sculpture which seems to be the most controversial thing about Aldeburgh (half the town love it, the other half hate it) and later find a tea shop for a cucumber sandwich and a slice of Victoria Sponge cake.

Aldeburgh Suffolk Beach Scallop Sculpture

I rather liked the sculpture but we didn’t stop for cake and moved on intsead to nearby Southwold.  Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

Southwold Suffolk Beach Huts

There isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there and so after only a short stop and a drive around the busy streets we continued our drive planning to stop next at the Suffolk port town of Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but not a bit of it.  Rather like Sutton Hoo, I thought there should be more.  There is no visitor centre, no souvenir shop and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England).  There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.  Rather like Sutton Hoo I just enjoyed being there.  I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

Goliath wind turbine Ness Point Lowestoft

I was reminded that a couple of years ago I was at the most Westerly point in the British Isles on the Dingle Peninsular in Southern Ireland where we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

The ‘Visit Lowestoft’ web site proclaims that, No trip to Lowestoft is complete without a visit to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the United Kingdom”  As far as I could see this is about the only reason to visit Lowestoft so with nothing to detain us longer we headed directly back now to Great Yarmouth and the Cherry Tree Holiday Home Park where we squandered the rest of the day in the unexpected evening sunshine.

I liked Suffolk but I have to say that I won’t be rushing back and this probably explains why it has taken me over sixty years to go there in the first place.

Ness Point Lowestoft Suffolk