We rarely get a chance in our lives to make history and build a legacy for future generations. The extraordinary tale of uncovering an immense Anglo-Saxon King’s burial ship and its golden treasure at Sutton Hoo is a story for all ages, recounted in the Netflix film “The Dig”. The treasures from within the buried hull are in a special gallery in the British Museum.
The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company is recreating the ship and needs your help!
We have been able to start the journey because people who hear what we’re doing are excited about the project’s huge potential. Since we embarked on the actual build project in 2019 thousands have made donations, large and small, or sponsored metal fixings. Volunteers have put hundreds of hours of time and energy into organising, research and building models to test our plan.
So why do we need to raise funds now?
Much time has been lost since March 2020 because of restrictions resulting from the Covid19 pandemic. The oak for our ship’s keel was felled last autumn and the 12.8 metre (42 ft) log arrived in Suffolk in January 2021. Now the build team needs to move quickly so that the wood can be used while it is still green and easily worked.
We are running against the clock. The carefully planned schedule of work has had to be rewritten more than once. We need to move ahead with critical tasks, to capitalise on the progress made to date and make use of the timber we have whilst it is in peak condition.
This campaign will help pay for the critical next stage of the project - laying the keel this Spring and planking up a water-tight hull by Spring 2022. We will then be back on target to trial our ship on the water in 2023.
Who are the Sutton Hoo Ship's Company?
We are volunteers with a shared passion. In 2016 we set up the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company - a charity with the objective of reconstructing the 7th century Anglo-Saxon King’s burial ship and testing it on the water, using records from when it was first uncovered in 1939.
We are carrying out what is probably the biggest experimental archaeology project in the whole of Europe. Whilst it is embedded in our local community in Suffolk, the findings will be of significant national and international importance.
The burial mounds at Sutton Hoo were originally excavated by Basil Brown, an amateur archaeologist who worked for Mrs Pretty, the widowed owner of the estate.The retelling of their story in the Netflix film ‘The Dig’, is capturing peoples’ imagination all over the world. The first hurried excavation at Sutton Hoo was in 1939 on the cusp of the second World War. Since then, we have learned a lot about the treasures that were found. But over eighty years on there is still a lot to learn about the ship that the treasure was buried in.
"Working on the film The Dig has given me a compelling insight into the history of Sutton Hoo. I am very excited that a team of volunteers at the Sutton Hoo Ship's Company are actually recreating King Raedwald's famous vessel.... I can't wait to see it when it is finished. I wish everyone involved all success in this great project!" Ralph Fiennes
Why are we building the Ship, and how are we going about it?
We set off on this huge endeavour because this ship is unique, a national treasure; building it and seeing what it can do links us to the people who buried it in the seventh century. How did they create such a huge ship, and what did they use it for?
When the burial mound was excavated all that remained of the ship was an imprint in the sand where wood had been and the rusty remains of thousands of iron rivets that had fixed the planks together. Three years of research, based on the archaeological records, and modelling using the latest digital technologies means that we now have accurate plans to rebuild a ship as near as possible to the one that the Anglo-Saxons buried.
The Longshed where we are building the ship, is directly opposite Sutton Hoo on the bank of the River Deben. Working on this site carries on a long tradition of boat building in Woodbridge. Like the original, our ship will be a vast 27metres in length - that’s over 88 feet (almost the length of two and half London buses), and beautiful as well with a serious scientific purpose.
Our ship will take a dozen or more good-size oaks, about 4000 nails, and many thousands of hours of labour to complete.
Volunteers from all walks of life, ranging in age from their early 20’s to over 80 are taking part in the build, under the guidance of our professional shipwright, and other experts.
With help from archaeologists, historians, expert shipwrights, and academic support from the Universities of York, Southampton and the Institute for Digital Archaeology in Oxford, the team are using tools and materials as close as possible to the ones that would have been available to the craftsmen who built the Sutton Hoo ship in the 7th century.
Will you join us on the next step of the journey? Now that the end of the severe Covid restrictions is in sight, we are keen to power ahead towards the goal of launching the ship ready for sea trials in 2023. Our existing build team are impatient to get back to work and new volunteers are queueing up for training. Everyone who donates to this campaign is helping get the project back on target and in doing so contributing to the continuing story of a magnificent ship built for a King in the 7th century.
We have got some fantastic rewards on offer:
specially designed canvas bags, leather aprons , limited edition postcards and prints, a signed copy of Professor Martin Carver's book about the Sutton Hoo burial mounds, opportunities to hear about the project direct from members of the team, join us in the Longshed, or sponsor your own oar for the ship.
Seeing at first hand the scale and challenges of turning raw timber into a great ship puts the skills of 7th century craftsmen into perspective.
We are excited that as restrictions ease, we will once again be able to welcome visitors to the Longshed to show off what we are doing. For those of you who can’t make it to Woodbridge, we will document and share every step of the build through videos, online media, regular news bulletins and live discussion. We sincerely hope that in time you will also come and see our ship in the water.
Here are comments from some of our best known supporters:
"Imagine how excited I was to learn that this ship is being reconstructed.... It will be amazing to see that 1300-year-old ship "in the flesh"- but the archaeologists will also learn an enormous amount through the construction - and even more perhaps when she sets sail. Good luck to the team - and I can't wait to see the result!" Professor Alice Roberts
"I have stood on that Sutton Hoo hill and gazed at the site of the ship-burial trying to imagine the vessel when it was interred. I've stood in Room 41 at the British Museum and had similarly piecemeal visions. How amazing that the ship is coming to life again. Seeing it will, I'm sure, fix my faulty imagination and Sutton Hoo will seem more real, more exciting, than ever" Frank Skinner